Updated: Oct 21, 2019
I get my story telling from my Appalachian Dad. He prides himself in being born in the heart of the Virginias on the southern border of the West.
He says that Appalachians are storytellers. He says that the Appalachians ‘tell it like it is’ and if someone gets mad about it ‘they’ll get glad again’. I grew up with true stories of all the interesting kin I had back in the hills. I grew up with what seemed like tall tales of life in the holler. I never tire of hearing about the twins from college named Forrest Horace and Horace Forrest. The one that was fat was nicknamed ‘Slim’ and the skinny one was nicknamed ‘Fat’. True story.
He taught fifth grade in the inner city of Baltimore in the early sixties. Last year, as we downsized my parents’ home, I discovered stories from that 5th grade class penciled in their own penmanship preserved perfectly. Here were fifty-five year old stories tucked in a file folder that he carried along with him through 27 moves, countless attics and storage crates. Those children never knew how dedicated their teacher was nor how much he valued the stories of each of his students.
I grew up hearing his stories about special needs students for whom he advocated. He championed the elderly that he visited and counseled in nursing homes. He told stories of people in hard places and the importance of telling them the truth. He believes with all sincerity that people deserve the truth.
Which brings me to my story. As much as Dad liked a good story, he hated mine. Back when colleges could call parents when their 19 year old child needed them, my Dad got a call in winter that there were witnesses to my abuse. I was in a toxic relationship. Everyone knew it. He was 13 hours away and the angst a Dad must feel in that circumstance hurts my heart.
He knew these kinds of stories don’t end well.
So he got to telling me the truth. Whereas North Star (my mother) listened and didn’t voice her wisdom ‘for fear of losing me’, Truth Teller couldn’t keep silent for the very same reasons.
I still remember standing at the pay phone in the lobby of the gym before basketball practice. Somehow, my mother had convinced me to ‘call your Dad’- he wants to talk to you. And I did. I dialed the collect call to reverse charges and he answered.
As I stood there weeping, my Dad told me the truth. I argued. I denied. I didn’t accept his truth. I told him it wasn’t so bad. I made excuses. I did all but lie. I rushed him through his calculated pleading and raced back into shooting free throws and running suicides. But he did his part and I remember the call like it was yesterday.
Then he sent me a letter. I have it stashed away in some wad of memorabilia that my daughters will likely go through one day when they downsize their elderly parents. I don’t read it often because it makes me weep every time. And he told me the truth again.
My Dad’s voice scares me so the phone call, though tender, conveyed his frustration and demanded my response in my Dad’s more aggressive ways. But the letter was poetic. His truer and tempered voice written in ink. He was telling me a story with pen over paper. He was telling me the truth.
I wept. I stuffed it into my backpack and tucked it away for another time. But my Dad was faithful to communicate his love, the price I would pay for staying in a violent relationship and the steps it would take to extricate myself from the love triangle of me, the (Un)incredible Hulk and violence. He did his part. He trusted me with the truth.
My Dad took risks to our relationship that he deemed worth taking. And I am so grateful. He believed the old adage that my mad would ‘get glad again’.
It’s important to tell the people in your life caught in abusive situations the truth. Both the victim and the victimizer. Know the fine lines. Be wise. Granted, some things aren’t your business. Don’t let your own avid opinions complicate ‘the truth’ —but at the end of the day, don’t confuse self-preservation with wisdom either. Don’t fear someone being mad or the relationship compromised and equate that with bravery when it is simply cowardice to not speak. Don’t whisper half truths behind backs when you can trust them face to face with the truth. Everyone deserves the truth.
The Bible talks about telling the truth in love. And that is the only way to tell it. Love is the only motive but love is also motive enough.
If you can’t speak it in love, write it in love. If you can’t write it in love, give them a book to communicate the truth in love. If a book isn’t the loving choice, give them music or a movie that tells them the truth. Hand them poetry. Some caught in the webs of mistreatment and despair, abuse tendencies and arrested development simply don’t see it. They have toilet paper dragging from their skirt and they don’t know. No one is telling them. They have food in their teeth and the whole world is ignoring it as some semblance of being polite. That’s not love, it’s negligence. In love, help a sister out. In love, help a brother out. Tell the truth.
My Dad loved me enough to tell me the truth. Sometimes, it seemed harsh or exacting. Sometimes it seemed a lecture from an old fuddy-duddy who could not possibly understand. It was a hard truth fueled by a deep Love. It did not immediately become my moment of truth. I did the exact opposite of his advice for at least six months and he didn’t hound. He didn’t badger and nag. He didn’t repeat himself. He only wrote one letter. But it became a part of my grander story. It was the foreshadowing to my decision to finally leave the relationship and to seek counseling for the first time.
I believe my Dad helped pen my story with his courage to speak.
I often want to deny my Appalachian heritage and opt to focus on my more noble line. But that’s an imaginary story that simply doesn’t run through my veins. What does run through my veins is my Dad: the Appalachian storyteller.
Truth hurts. Stories, once told in the open, lose the aura of those hidden behind a veil of secrecy. It took me years to realize that the truth of my abuse was not less than the reputations and well-being of my abusers. So much order came to my mind and heart when I told the truth. It took me even more years to be able to tell it in love. Please don’t lug your untold story around for fifty-five years. Pull it from the attic- someone values your voice.
Truth sets you free. A common indicator of abuse is the deception, lies and secrecy involved in maintaining an imaginary story line that all is well. It takes courage if you are the one in the circumstance. It takes courage if you are an onlooker to an abusive situation. No matter, we are freedom fighters. Courage is the norm. Truth is your belt -- your big ‘ol Appalachian
My story doesn’t include Forrest Horace and Horace Forrest. You know, Slim and Fat. That is my Dad’s story. My novella has Mr. Magoo and (Un)incredible Hulk as some of the main characters. It includes Steel Magnolia and Mr. Barnabas and four Little Women. It reads like a tragedy but it’s really a Cinderella story. It’s really a story of redemption and transformation, healing and hope.
Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Tell it any way. Tell it like it is. Tell your story. More, tell the truth.
There once was a girl with an Appalachian Dad. If he had an Indian name passed down from his Cherokee great great grandmother it would be ‘Truth Teller’. Just a man from the hills. Was he lawyer, doctor or preacher man? No. He’s just my Dad.