When I was a child, my bedroom was 12 feet down a short hallway from my parents’ room.
In those days when windows were opened wide for the smell of honeysuckle and the choir of crickets to drift in, I would lie in bed and listen to the sounds of the night. If my door was open a bit — and usually it was — I could hear Mama and Daddy as they lay in bed, talking about the day or discussing decisions to be made.
I was on up in years before I realized what a privilege that was, to have parents who enjoyed conversation in the still of the night. Daddy would stretch out his arm and Mama would lay her head on his shoulder as they talked. This I know because sometimes, if I couldn’t sleep, I would slip out of bed and take big tip-toe steps in my gown tail to their door and ask, “Can I talk, too?”
Daddy would chuckle. “Yes, little’un, climb up here.”
I would tumble over the solidness of his six feet and squeeze down between him and Mama. There, both she and I would lay on his arm and talk in the darkness of the night. About what, I can no longer remember except that sometimes I would tell a story that I had made up and Daddy would laugh at my imagination.
“How on earth do you come up with these things?” Mama would ask.
I’d shrug my 6-year-old shoulders and say, “I don’t know. It just comes to me.”
One night I remember that I said to Daddy, “Now, you lay your head on my arm.” I was always taught to give and not just take. He obliged but in mere minutes, my tiny arm was aching so I said, “Time to switch back.”
When I begin to drift off, Mama would nudge me, “Ronda, get up and go back to your own bed.”
I loved to eavesdrop (but we always called it “easedrop,” which makes more sense anyway) on my parents. Many are the times that I napped in the back seat of the car or on the living room floor, drifting off to the stories they told.
“You have big ears for a little girl,” Mama would say. Yes, I did and that’s what carried me into a career of storytelling. It all started with those blissful nights when their soft conversation carried down the hall and into my room.
Daddy smoked, a habit picked up from World War II when the soldiers were given free cartons of cigarettes. It was the only thing that his strong will could not overcome. “Somers” around 3 in the morning, he’d wake up to have a cigarette. He’d sit on the side of the bed and, as he smoked, he talked to the good Lord. He always spent that time in prayer. Many are the times, I slipped from my bedroom to the bathroom located between our rooms and I’d see the orange glowing embers of that cigarette. Daddy’s elbows would be resting on his knees and his head bowed.
If he happened to hear me, he’d say quietly, “Hello, little’un,” then return to prayer.
In the movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” there is a scene where Scout is lying in bed, listening as Atticus has a conversation on the front porch. Horton Foote adapted the screenplay from Harper Lee’s book. An interviewer once asked him if that scene had come from his own childhood experiences.
He explained that his parents sat on the porch, near his bedroom, and talked every night. “I listened to them talk about everything that happened in the town.”
Horton Foote’s storytelling would win him two Oscars and much acclaim.
And for both of us, from those nights of listening in, would come the kind of memories that you can’t make up no matter what kind of storyteller you are.