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A family here in Birmingham had a reunion, with about twenty people – cousins, in-laws, scattered brothers and sisters – gathered at one of the family members’ homes. The mother of the family invited me to come tell a story after dinner: she thought that after a whole day together, the relatives might like some diversion from each other. Maybe she was even a little worried that they might not have much to talk about by the end of the day.

After the meal, people were instructed to head into the den for “a surprise.” They gathered in the big, open room with dessert and coffee, lounging on the floor, perched on the arms of chairs and sofas. I was introduced, and when people learned that I was there to tell stories, someone said, “Do you remember the story Aunt Bet used to tell about the time…”

As you might expect, one memory led to another. They hadn’t told those stories earlier in the day, because everybody in the family already knew them, and had heard them a hundred times. But with me there as an eager, new audience to entertain, everyone had an excuse to trot out his or her favorite family tale: “Burying Grandpa Jack;” “The Day Bicky’s Face Exploded;” “It’s A Southern Thing;” “Saying Goodbye to Bud,” and the unforgettable “Ordering Pie in Des Moines.” By the time we all finished laughing and crying, it was nearly 1 a.m., and time to call it a night.

They thanked me for a great evening of storytelling, and sent me home with a nice check and a big plate of homemade brownies – and all I had to do was keep my mouth shut and let the stories happen.

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