Introduction: Have I Told You This Before?

Six Signature Stories

by Larry Danielson


“You’ve told that one before, haven’t you?” Indeed, I had. 

I had just finished a practiced recounting of one of those proverbial stories that one “dines out on.” I cannot recall whether the occasion really was a meal together, but I still can picture the sly grin of my questioner. In her ironic way, she seemed to appreciate not only the comic intent of my story that day, but also the long-honed delivery, familiar phrases and accustomed pauses for laughs. Story telling is one of the pleasures of conversation and of living.

To be a person is to have a story and to be a story, write Gary Kenyon and William Randall in the introduction to their intriguing book Restorying Our Lives.  Their statement seems a fitting epigraph in the introduction to my own brief collection of personal stories. 

My first recollection of a compelling personal story dates back to when I was a toddler. Our family lived in the Rochert community of Becker County, Minnesota, a few miles north of Detroit Lakes. Neighbours had gathered at the home of elderly Peter Palm, perhaps to celebrate his birthday, and over coffee and cake the guests sat spellbound, listening to real-life adventures of David Wennerstrom, our county sheriff. Then a man in his early sixties, David likely was recounting his pursuit of a murderer some twenty years before. An unknown assailant had shot and killed the marshal in Hope, North Dakota.  The solution of the case appeared hopeless, but David pursued a hunch and over a two-year period tracked the suspect through Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, eventually capturing the man and bringing him to trial and justice. None of my stories are as dramatic; my life has not been adventurous in that way. Yet I have never forgotten the love of such true stories as Sheriff David shared that night.

My first story is also the one most recently composed—“Quarantine Cuts, Pandemic Looks.” It is not a hair-raising story, but rather one related to the cutting. The real hero of the piece is my wife Myra, who not only obliged my years-ago request for a free trim, but also repeated the effort more successfully during these times of pandemic caution.

“Dairy Queen Daze” is one of several stories that I first wrote to share as an entertaining talk at our local Toastmaster club. Since that spoken version was shaped by a particular audience and formal time constraints, I have subsequently revised it. Kenyon and Randall, in Restorying Our Lives, talk about “signature stories.” These are the ones “we like to tell,” the tried-and true, practiced and polished “tales about ourselves that we trot out at parties when meeting someone new…”  Certainly that is true for me with the anecdotes in this “Dairy Queen Daze” story. Kenyon and Randall also note that such stories “can reveal a great deal about us.” Likely, that also is true. I often wonder why I return so often to these stories when I have had many other employment experiences in the ensuing decades. Quite possibly the reasons relate to that half year of work as a short-order cook being my first job when I immigrated to Canada. It was a time of significant transition in my life and I like to remember the comic upside of it all.

“Wings – The Lesson of Daedalus” is another story that I developed as a member Pembina Valley Toastmasters.  I share it with fond memories not only of my 2003 visit to the City of Brussels, but of my late brother Lyle. Lyle was the real storyteller in our Danielson family and I dearly miss his comic tales of mishaps and the bursts of laughter that always accompanied them. 

“It Didn’t Seem Funny at the Time” includes a mixture of my own experiences and those of others that have caught my attention. Like the two preceding stories, it first was written for presentation at Toastmasters. Of the three stories, it retains the most of its original speech flavour. On re-reading it, however, I decided it contained enough of the personal anecdotes I often share to include in this collection.

I wrote “The Library Banquet – No Food on the Table” at the request of my brother-in-law, the late Eldon Dean Nafziger. During some of our travels together—in India, Greece, and the Canadian Rockies—he kindly listened to many of my tales, including this one. Since our prankster gang had publicly confessed to the Dean of Men this highest-profile of our college “extracurriculars,” I could see no harm putting the story into print. Mea culpa.

The final story—““Fed Up in Bandung”—is one of my favourites. I wrote it, but it is not my experience. At my age, I am not likely ever to visit in Indonesia. My friend Allen Harder, an international consultant who has worked in Africa, Asia, and Canada, also is a consummate storyteller. With his permission, years ago I recounted in first-person one of the many experiences he has shared. If it seems that the best story in this short collection is one not my own, I take consolation in the example of Rusticello da Pisa. An Italian romance writer in the 13th century Rusticello found himself in prison in Genoa. One of his fellow inmates was a Venetian businessman who, having fallen on hard times, had grown weary of repeating to each newcomer his stories of his marvellous travels in the East. Rusticello relieved him of the burden and honoured us and posterity with The Travels of Marco Polo.