Storytelling school

OBLEY COLUMN: Storytelling as Personality Quirk | Sports

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a storyteller.

The first story I wrote was for an assignment in CM1. It was 12 handwritten pages, front and back, single-spaced, with illustrations in the margins and at the top of the pages.

It was a scam The Amityville Horror. The only problem was that I didn’t know what The Amityville Horror was about. I knew there was a house and a car in front of the house and that’s all I understood in the movie before my mother chased me out of the living room and laid me back down.

So I decided it was about snakes in a car. The car does not start. The man opens the hood. Outside jumps a snake. I can’t remember the rest of the details, but I managed to make it last 12 pages.

I returned it and a few days later Mrs. Thompson – my teacher – told me to stay back when we were released for recess. She sat next to me, my story in hand, a bright red “F” in all its glory circled at the top of the first page.

“Patrick,” she said. “It was a wonderful story, so descriptive and original…but you were supposed to write about George Washington.”

I only heard the first part of what she said, of course. I took the loss, glad she liked it. In those days, if you got an “F” on anything, you had to take the assignment to your parents, have it signed, and return it.

This was, of course, my introduction to counterfeiting.

Shortly after that day, I was in the confines of my school yard during recess, digging holes. I came across a strange rock that sounded like a piece of metal when I dropped it on a hard surface. It was a piece of iron. With my advanced fourth grade scientific knowledge, I determined that it was a meteorite.

Instead of being too engrossed in what could have been an amazing discovery, I wondered where it came from. How long had he traveled the cosmos before landing in Topeka, Kansas?

How long was it in Topeka, Kansas?

I wanted this inanimate piece of anything to tell me its story. From that moment, I suddenly had an idea of ​​all the different inanimate objects around me and realized that everything – and everyone – had a story.

So my writing homework got weird. Asked to write a report on the history of Ohio, I started the story from the beginning – when the landmass that became North America broke away from Pangea.

A first-grade social studies assignment on the Emancipation Declaration began with the Tower of Babel. I was particularly proud of this one.

I almost failed this class.

In each case, teachers applauded my descriptive imagery, grudgingly approved of my thoroughness, and bludgeoned me for completely missing the point of the assignment.

I was unique among my peers, they said, but they didn’t really understand why I was the way I was.

Alas, I was particularly alone in my way of seeing the world around me.

Everything changed one summer.

Mom sent me to summer school to learn to drive. The class was on the other side of town from where we lived, so I had to take a bus, which dropped me off at a Woolworth’s pharmacy opposite the school.

One day class ended early and I had time to kill before the bus arrived. I wandered around Woolworths and came to a paperback shelf.

There, staring at me, was the book that would change everything. Intrigued by the cover, I read the author’s introduction and had found my soul mate.

The book was “Trail of the Spanish Bit” by Don Coldsmith.

It was the first of what would become “The Spanish Bit Saga” – a series of over two dozen books spanning two decades. It all started in a place that I could completely relate to.

As Coldsmith wrote in this introduction:

I found the Spanish bit in a junkyard barrel in northern Oklahoma. The sign said “Your choice, $1.00”. Most of the stuff in the barrel was pretty worthless. Rusty clamp rings, old Whifflettree fittings, much like what hangs on the nails in our old barn.

But there was little. A ring bit, Spanish model, apparently very old. I bought it and took it home to think about. It was almost identical to one I had seen in a museum in Santa Fe, showing Coronado’s expedition equipment.

How then, did my piece find its way into a hunk barrel in Oklahoma? And who took care of it for all the years that followed? It was in good condition and had apparently been protected from the weather.

One possibility continued to intrigue me. A few Spaniards were known to have been captured by Indians along the Gulf Coast and then adopted by the tribes. Suppose this could have happened on the plains. He probably would have been an officer, as most enlisted men traveled on foot. Being a professional military man, he would have great respect for his equipment and give it the best care. As he married into the tribe, his children would have extreme respect for the equipment. In a generation or two, the original use might even be forgotten, but the reverence for the objects so honored by its ancestor would remain. The family tradition would require continued respect and care. …

With this initial speculation arose a series of books that followed the Native American lineage of this fictional Spanish officer from the 1500s through the late 19th century. It is considered one of the best of the Western fiction genre.

All because of a piece of metal found in a junkyard.

Coldsmith became my first non-sports idol. Over the years, reading these novels, I have refined my own voice while learning more about the origin of his.

Coldsmith lived an incredible life. Before joining the army as a medic during World War II, he had worked as a muleteer. During the war, he took care of Japanese prisoners. One of these prisoners – Hideki Tojo, one of Japan’s highest-ranking and most infamous generals.

In the years following the war, Coldsmith returned to Kansas and worked at the Topeka YMCA, attempting to desegregate the pool, many years before the famous Supreme Court case, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.

He practiced medicine until his retirement in 1988. By then he had launched his Spanish Bit saga in addition to writing a regular column in the local newspaper.

In 2009, I finally had the courage to meet my idol. I wrote a letter and was about to send it when I heard the news – Coldsmith had passed away.

I was devastated. I berated myself for being too cowardly to reach out years earlier.

In time, I finally reached out to one of Coldsmith’s children, Glenna, to tell her how much her father’s books meant to me. We struck up a friendship and remain friends to this day. When a stray cat we were caring for had kittens, Glenna adopted a pair, naming them Ava and Boyd after characters from the TV show “Justified”.

By a quirk of genetics, Boyd poked in the fluffiest orange floof I’ve ever seen.

One day when Glenna was moving, she gathered up some of her father’s various trinkets and books and gave them to me. As I write this, my keyboard is lit by a jade-colored banker’s lamp that once sat on his desk. To my right is a curious chuck of green glass. My pens are collected in a tin cup that he must have found one day while shopping at the junk. On my wall is a Western painting that once hung in his house. On my bookshelf, a collection of his books.

Best of all is a sculpture made of a heavy chain and railroad spikes of a man steering a cattle plow. You would have to see it to understand it, but it’s amazing.

I guess this whole exercise is just another example of me telling a story and missing the point of the task. This is the sports section, after all.

So I’m sorry.

But I will probably do it again.