My father knew how to tell a story. Every Sunday night over tapioca pudding he’d regale us with tales of his childhood and his exploits during the war.
Dad never told us a story without a lesson or moral in it and some bear repeating:
I remember one evening dad told us a story about gratitude. He began in a solemn voice, “When I was a young boy in Holland we were very poor. So poor that we often had to do without. I hated black beans but one night for dinner that’s all there was. Your Grandma explained that we should be grateful for whatever food we get. But I was stubborn and wouldn’t eat them. ‘Fine,’ she said, ‘then you can go to bed without supper.’”
“I’ll tell you boys I was so hungry the next morning that I could hardly wait for breakfast. Grandma ladled out porridge to my brothers and sisters but guess what was on my plate? Those same black beans! Well, I was as stubborn as Grandma and I refused to eat them.
At lunchtime, I opened up my lunch box. And guess what was inside? Black beans! I was so hungry by then that I gave in and ate one. And you want to know something? It was pretty good so I ate them all. Now what have you boys learned from this story?”
My brother Jay exclaimed, “We don’t ever want to go to Holland because Grandma will let us starve.”
Another time my dad sat us down to discuss pride. With great solemnity he began, “Listen up boys. I was so poor that I had to wear my mother’s shoes to school. But I was grateful that my feet were dry. So what can you boys learn from this story?”
Jay said, “I saw a man on TV yesterday wearing women’s shoes. They were high heels and he was singing like Judy Garland. Dad can you sing like Judy Garland?”
“No, absolutely not! Look I’m just trying to explain to you kids that you should be proud no matter what your station is in life.”
“I don’t remember what station he was on. Does that matter?”
“Never mind. Just go play!”
One Sunday evening dad taught us how to stand up to bullies. “Boys, it isn’t easy being a sergeant in the army. I had a couple of goldbricks named Hans and Eric. So I made them take four mile hikes with a full pack until they smartened up.”
“What was the worst thing that they did, dad?”
“Well boys, they weren’t only lazy but thieves too. I’d put my pudding in my locker for a late night snack and if I turned my back my pudding would be gone.
“So what did you do, dad?”
“Boys, I spit in my pudding right in front of the whole platoon. And when I got back later my pudding was still there! And when I ate it everyone laughed. You know why? Because they knew I’d bested Hans and Eric.”
Jay piped up, “dad, how do you know that when you were gone Hans and Eric didn’t spit in your pudding too? Maybe that’s why everyone was laughing.”
Dad was quiet. A few seconds later his face began to turn an odd colour — it was a rather interesting shade of green. He motioned for us to go outside.
Oddly that was the last time we had tapioca pudding for Sunday supper.
As I said, my dad knew how to tell a story. I’ve learned a lot from them. That’s why to this day you’ll never see me eating black beans or tapioca pudding in high heels while singing ‘Over The Rainbow.’