By Mark Magnan
I grew up in a time when there were no reality shows. Well, I guess we did have a reality show, Gilligan’s Island. There was another show that was about a family that thought they were normal, yet the rest of the world was repulsed by them, and that seems to fit a few reality families these days, the old show was The Munsters.
I was lucky to have been around some family friends that were wordsmiths of war stories or even Grand Poobahs of entertaining tales. I was in the presence of a wide variety of characters. Some of the older friends dated back to WWI. I remember some stories about this particular war. I didn’t realize until later, how bad that first world war really was. These initial stories prompted me to read more about that part of history, something I most likely would not have done had I just ignored my “old” family friend. I was privileged to have a few others that experienced the wars that formed our current culture. I learned about WWII, Korea, and the most modern, Vietnam. Not everyone had a lot of detail or wanted to revisit their experiences in war. I did get to see some photos, and a few videos, known then as home movies, as well.
The most appealing thing about these friends and their tales was that they were quite different from my father’s stories. My father’s stories were often told with a hidden meaning, meant to teach me some lesson. He might have had some interesting facts and tales, had they not followed his complaints about something I did wrong recently. The family friends didn’t care if I learned a lesson, they wove those tales for me regardless. And I found them quite interesting, even if they walked the same distance and in the same amount of snow as my father had. It wasn’t just war stories, but stories about everyday life. Life during different times, different places and mostly different circumstances.
In the small town where I spent my later youthful days, we had a small cafe on the square, a barbershop and other places where you could find entertaining topics. We even had a blacksmith shop, yes that is what it was labeled. He did more welding and just metal work than any real blacksmithing. We did have some farriers in the area as well.
To my father I was soft, I had a TV in my room. Now by TV, it means that it was a device that did in fact resemble a normal television set. However it was rather small and black and white, with rabbit ears. Even the TV set in our living was more appealing, with the greenish tint. Like most kids I did spent time in front of the “tube”. However we had cartoons on Saturday morning and few channels to choose from. Hanging out at the neighbor mechanic’s house was something I would rather had been doing anyway. The fact that he had an attractive daughter played into it a bit, but working on cars and listening to the stories he and his friends told was quite a draw for this young man.
There was also a couple of older gentlemen that lived almost next door. Every evening they would sit outside, weather permitting. They actually avoided the news and most TV shows. These two guys lived next door to each other, one owning the big house and the other renting a small garage apartment. They seemed very old to me and told stories about days gone by. I often would just hang around and listen to their travels and even the trouble they got into as young men. I had no doubt they were tough as nails. I heard tales about going to small towns to gamble and running from both the cops and irate losers. One of these guys had actually been to prison, and yet he didn’t worry me one bit.
As I grew up I remembered these times and I am glad that I was able to be around some of these colorful characters. Knowing what life was like long ago probably didn’t change my life’s path, but it did give me an outlook that I may not have had if I was “spending all day glued to the tube” like my father thought. I was happy that some of my relatives shared their stories and related their experiences with me, even if it was something as unpleasant as war. I have a few stories, I am not sure if anyone will every really care enough to sit down and listen to them. Perhaps I will never get to share them with an eager young person. I was the lucky one in those conversations so many years ago.