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From Plot Twist to Punch Line

The Joy of a Good Story

By Darin Colucci

If you could invite any three people over for dinner—from any time throughout history—who would it be? Someone recently asked me this question, and it took me several minutes to come up with my guest list. Then, when I announced my three names, the inquirer asked me the next obvious question: “Why?” My answer: “Because I bet each person would tell some great stories.”

I can’t answer for anyone else, but I would never invite someone over just to look at them. If you had this magical, made-up opportunity, how could you squander it by asking a person who was known to be boring, quiet, contemplative, introspective, or any other adjective which in effect means “uninteresting” to those around them? You wouldn’t.

The most enigmatic, engaging, funny, and all-around interesting people seem to share one common trait—they’re great storytellers. They keep you on the edge of your seat, somehow enthralled by whatever tale they spin. And the best of them can transport you to a different time or place, making it seem as though you were somehow a part of the story or a fly on the wall, taking it all in.

The most enigmatic, engaging, funny, and all-around interesting people seem to share one common trait—they’re great storytellers.

My father passed away nearly eight years ago, and of all the things about him that I miss, his storytelling is first and foremost. My dad, who was a rather reserved, sometimes (often) cranky guy, told great, vibrant, hilarious stories. He came alive when he had the floor and commanded attention. It always felt like you were on the verge of laughter or a “Get the hell outta here . . . No way!” moment. And because he was such an expert at it, there was always a payoff.

My dad had one friend, Mr. Carafello, who only came over to our house on Thanksgiving. Once a year—that’s it. His first name was Bill, but my father only called him Willy, in a tone meant to convey both familiarity and good-natured chop busting. Neither seemed to mind. Mr. Carafello had the biggest, toothiest smile you ever saw, and I looked forward to seeing it on full display every year. The two of them would go shot for shot on stories about where and how they grew up, and more importantly, with whom they grew up. As the years passed, I felt like I got to know these guys, too. There was Spike, Wahoo, Frankie Emma, Joe Burns, Freddie the Bug, and Stanley La Bruno. After a while, I felt like I grew up right down the street from all of them. I loved it. The house was full of laughter from the appetizer to the coffee and whatever dessert my mother would serve. And even if cell phones had been around, there is no way I would ever have looked away from all that was going on. It was too entertaining, and in some ways, a living history of my father’s life.

I could see my dad and his friend laugh until they cried as they reached each punch line, kicker, and unexpected plot twist—their shenanigans almost always ending in unmitigated disaster.

I worry that storytelling is becoming a lost art because of technology and about how the current generation stays disengaged from dinner-table discussions. Will they even have a fond memory of being with their family at Thanksgiving? I wonder. Maybe it’s our fault as parents. Maybe our stories just aren’t as good as our parents’ were and consequently don’t command attention. I just know that if I could travel back to any point in my life and relive one day, Thanksgiving circa 1979 would be right up there. I could see my dad and his friend laugh until they cried as they reached each punch line, kicker, and unexpected plot twist—their shenanigans almost always ending in unmitigated disaster. True or not, it always seemed funnier when it blew up in their faces, I guess. But such is the nature of excellent storytelling. It leaves you laughing or in amazement, always wanting just one more.

I miss my dad and his stories. So, here’s to the Riverside Gang, as he called it. Next Thanksgiving, I think I’ll tell my son about when they sank the boat. No, I’ll tell him the one about when they tried to beat the bookie. Yeah, that one’s great.

— V —

Darin Colucci is an author, motivational speaker, and attorney from Duxbury, Massachusetts. His book Everything I Never Learned in School: A Guide to Success is available for purchase as paperback and e-book on Amazon.

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