I believe that everyone has a story to tell. But is everyone a storyteller? Find out in this guest post by James Vescovi as he recounts how he wrote his foodie memoir Eat Now, Talk Later. Welcome, James!
Don’t believe you’re a born storyteller? Read on.
by James Vescovi
I once took a New York City cab ride with a driver who grew up with my mother. My father once gave a ride to an elderly woman in Italy to discover that, 60 years earlier, she ‘d been one of his father’s girlfriends.
People ask me, “Where does your family find these stories? And how did you come up with the stories in your new book Eat Now; Talk Later: 52 True Tales of Family, Feasting and the American Dream?”
My response is, “We don’t come up with them. We simply keep our eyes open in the same way a radar detects approaching planes.”
There’s nothing special about this “radar” of ours. It isn’t a gift handed down by the gods. Truth is, all humans have this radar system if they simply turned it on. In our day-to-day existence, we have words, signals, and images, and information coming at us all the time, but how do we find stories amongst all that white noise?
It’s easier than you think. In fact, there’s no need to really hunt for stories. If your radar is on, they reveal themselves.
(Image courtesy James Vescovi)
It’s that simple. And there’s more good news.
Stories are not always born by amazing events. In fact, an experience that might, at first, seem mundane and uninteresting often contains a story. Here’s a brief story that appears in my book. It almost passed me by because, at face value, it’s really about nothing terribly important. It’s called “The Ring.” My grandmother, Desolina, had an eagle’s eye. She could spot a fresh shaving nick from across a room. If you came in with a Band-Aid on your elbow, she wanted full details about the mishap. She took note of unbuttoned collars, crooked socks, and torn fingernails.
My wife, Gina, once visited Desolina without her wedding ring. The weather was hot and humid, and the ring was giving her a rash. As Gina sat down to lunch, Desolina asked her, “Dov'é il tuo anello?" “Where’s your ring?”
The implication was clear: It was improper for a married woman to be seen without her wedding band.
Embarrassed, Gina lied: “I forgot to put it on this morning,” My grandmother ladled out the tortellini, then turned to Gina and asked, “Did you forget to eat breakfast this morning?”
“No,” Gina said.
“Allora, domani, non scordati l’anello,” she said. “Good. Tomorrow, don’t forget the ring.”
How does this work as a memorable story?
1. It shows something unique about Desolina; she was old-fashioned, having grown up in a time when women wore their wedding rings come hell or high water;
2. It also shows something rare about Desolina; she had this ability to see things most people would miss—like a shaving nick or a missing wedding ring;
3. Finally, there’s humor—peasant humor. Desolina only went up to the third grade because she had to leave school to work on her family’s farm. Yet, the logic she uses in scolding Gina is fairly sophisticated because it’s indirect. She doesn’t say, “Do you want people to think you’re a loose woman?! Wear that ring!” Rather, she asks her, “Did you forget to eat breakfast?” No? Well, neither should you forget to put on your ring, the idea being that, in her world, bodily sustenance is as important as one’s reputation.
You don’t need to have climbed Mt. Everest to have a good story to tell. Simply turn on your radar.
You’ll soon see you have stories to tell.
About James Vescovi
The USS Essex and the Birth of the America Navy (1999), which sold 13,000 copies, and Eat Now; Talk Later: 52 True Tales of Family,Feasting and the American Experience (2014), a collection of stories about his eccentric grandparents (www.eatnowtalklater.com).
Connect with James on Facebook.
Synopsis of Eat Now Talk Later by James Vescovi: Prepare yourself for a feast consumed in delicious bites. This collection of stories can be read before bed, on a lunch hour, or waiting in line. They can even be shared with friends who complain they have enough to read. Together they ask the question, "How do you make modern life run smoothly for parents or grandparents who grew up in an era when oxen were used for plowing, children left school after third grade to tend chickens, and meat was eaten only twice a year? When Tony and Desolina Vescovi arrived in America, they collided with the 20th century. Born around 1900, they were stumped by telephones, banks, fast food, TV wrestling, and supermarkets. It was up to their only child, a son, to serve as their shepherd, and it wasn't easy For example, how to explain that his job was taking him and his family 700 miles away when, in their day, sons stayed put to work the family farm? Or that it wasn't wise to hide $10,000 in the bedroom? Or that the ice cream they just tried and enjoyed is called 'Chubby Hubby'? This collection of 52 bite-size stories offers a twist on the American immigrant tale and is a testament to love, loyalty, and frequent half-truths.