Saturday, February 28, 2009
The Rest of the Story
I'll never forget those days in our warm Illinois kitchen, sitting at the table, listening to the radio over a warm bowl of tomato soup with cheese sandwiches, or chicken noodle soup with a side of Saltines. Maybe it was raining, or snowing, or an otherwise dreary day, but we were warm and dry, and in spite of the occasional static from the AM bandwidth, we'd hear the tinny voice of Paul Harvey coming into our home to tell us stories.
I remember long car trips from Illinois to visit family in Minnesota, or maybe in the upper peninsula of Michigan, crossing long stretches of the midwest, in all weather, but listening to the voice of Paul Harvey tell us about things both known and unknown in our experience.
It was on a long car ride on a rainy day that I heard the story of the Lonely Hitchiker. As the rain beat against the car windows, as we passed or were passed by truck after truck, we heard of the semi driver who picked up the Hitchhiker, on a day just like that one. We passed truck stops and I looked through the bleary rain wondering if Paul Harvey was talking about one of those drivers.
You see, he had a gift...the subjects of his stories were real people, even if they were fictional. He made us see PAST the story, giving us a glimpse into the lives of people who passed through the words. We didn't just get "the story", but we were introduced to the people who made up the story.
Every time we listened to his show, even when I was fussy or crabby and contrary, I quieted upon hearing his voice, and gave in to the images his descriptions brought to mind. Often he spoke in a way that brought my own young memories to the forefront, helping me to understand even though I really had no other reference. If he spoke of truck drivers, I thought of those we saw on the highway, or of our neighbor, who was a truck driver.
Whatever he spoke about had an impact of some sort. And often, Mom would tell us stories, too, jumping off of what Paul Harvey had said. Sometimes because she had to explain things, sometimes because he made her remember her own stories. And so, there, around the kitchen table, or maybe in the car, we got to hear stories of the lives of real people.
So it was that often our lunches were silent; all Mom had to do was turn on the radio and even in the midst of bloody sibling rivalry, we'd stop, slurp our soup or pull the crusts off our sandwiches, and let the stories told by Paul Harvey fill our kitchen and our minds. And we all knew the famous line was coming, Paul Harvey's trademark: "....when we come back, I'll tell you....the REST of the Story..."
Sometimes we'd wait in silence. Sometimes we'd rehash what he'd already said. But always...always, we were involved. We were engaged. We wanted to know the people he was talking about.
And we felt like we knew him. He was like the uncle we never met, a long-lost relative who told us about other relatives we only wish we could know. Every show was an adventure. Every story had meaning, everything had a moral, even if it wasn't stated as blatatly as in "Stories from Aesop" we watched on the cartoons every afternoon.
Sometimes I wonder if my own penchant for storytelling comes from him; I was so entranced by his words, his ability to tell a story, I wished I could make things that interesting, too.
As I got older, I realized that some of his stories really WEREN'T that interesting, although he told them in such a way one could not help but be affected. For he had the ability to find the nugget of gold in anyone's story, and bring it to light, no matter how humble. And the listener couldn't help but be touched, for it wasn't necessarily the story that was so important, but the person, or the situation. He made it PERSONAL.
Many of us have fond memories of Paul Harvey, and will never forget his voice coming across the airwaves. We will never forget the typical background of radio static, always there, once an annoyance, but now, making up the sound of nostalgia in a fond memory of a voice we'll never hear again.
Rest in peace, dear Mr. Harvey. Thanks for the stories, for the warm kitchen memories, and the introduction to storytelling so unwittingly given to a couple of fractious children in midwestern America. Your legacy isn't the news as we know it, but the intention you so clearly held...to bring real people into the spotlight, so that we all might understand life a little more clearly.
Perhaps, one day, we'll finally meet so I can shake your hand and get...the rest of the story.
God bless you, Mr. Harvey, and Rest in Peace.