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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #341

Something Different This Year

I did receive questions for this mailbag, but I decided to do something a bit different and skip the questions on this final Monday of 2020. I hope no one minds and, for those of you who did submit questions, I promise to address them next Monday.

It’s been a hell of a year. Very little seems normal in 2020, so an abnormal Mailbag is perfect as this year draws to a close.

The Mail Room!

The Mail Room!

The Best Storyteller I Ever Knew

He was never famous. He was, in fact, quite normal. He did some farming, back in Iowa, pre-Depression days, but after the economic collapse of the country he loved, and after a World War altered the landscape of his reality, he and his wife moved out west, spring of 1949, to Tacoma, Washington. He and his mate lived out the remainder of their lives in a small, two-bedroom cottage, scraping by on retirement funds.

James O’Dowd was my grandfather, my mother’s father, a gentle man, quiet voice, back bent from decades of hard work. It seemed, to me, he was always old. I never knew him vibrant or young. He was Grandpa to me, an old man sitting in his rocker, always calling me over to him, “sit on my lap, Bill, and I’ll tell you a story,” and when each story was finished, he would reach in his pocket, pull out a quarter, hand it to me, and shoo me on my way.

All great storytellers, but Grandpa was the best!

All great storytellers, but Grandpa was the best!

The Setting

This was a time when Radio was still the king, albeit a weak one, slowly losing its grip on the populace, the new kid in town, Television, stepping up to the podium and promising wonders never imagined. As a young child I would sit, with my family, around the radio and listen to serials play out, The Shadow, Ellory Queen, The Falcon, stories coming to life, entertaining, thrilling, catapulting the listeners to another place, another time.

I loved stories. I loved escaping with those radio storytellers. My vivid imagination could envision everything they told us, take me from Tacoma, transport me to faraway lands, a free ticket to adventure and wonder, so when my grandfather offered up one of his stories, I was eager to hear them.

Stories of faraway lands!

Stories of faraway lands!

The Stories

He told me of Indians, pardon the decidedly-un-PC name for Native Americans, but in the 50’s it was Indians, end of story, scantily-clad warriors on horseback, marauding and threatening. He told me stories of young children living during tough times of deprivation, and a brave man named Franklin who came riding to the rescue through huge dust clouds and bullets raining.

Hoboes became more than simple beggars, but real people, “just like you and me, Billy Boy, just had the cards stacked against them,” and loggers braving the cold of Alaska, chokers and line-grunts, blizzards and frozen fingers chopped off by the carelessness of a bone-weary man named Yukon Jack.

Perhaps the seeds of storytelling were planted at that time, on his lap. I suspect so. He was the only member of my immediate family to take a shy kid and feed his creative soul, and ever since those early years I have been fascinated with storytellers, their craft, and their passion for their craft.

A Poem to the Storytellers

“Listen to me, people

I’ll take you on a journey

To a place far away.

Hold on tight and listen

From my mind

To yours today!”

Scroll to Continue

Remember That, Please

What all of you do is important! Storytelling is our heritage, dating back centuries. It is how we learn of different cultures. It is how we gain an understanding of different peoples. It is how we share our imaginations with people we have never met, and it is how we give the gift of entertainment, a release from the bondage of a mundane life, or a troubled life, or a life devoid of hope.

There’s a place in the world for the storytellers, still now, still in 2020, surrounded by craziness and fear and confusion. We are needed as much now as ever before, over seven billion strong, sitting on the laps of the countless authors, listening to the magic of the written word. We deliver escapism and I’m here to tell you, a dose of escapism is needed from time to time, reality being a bit bleak, for many, for far too long.

Remember that, please! What you do is important. What you do is needed. But remember, also, that you carry a responsibility to be the best storyteller you possibly can be. Work on your craft. Do not rest on complacency. Your sales may be few. Your online views may be meager. But if you entertain just one, it may be the one who needs you most.

Carry on the tradition!

Happy New Year to you all!

And Grandpa, wherever you are right now, thank you!

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 01, 2021:

Thank you, Linda, and Happy New Year to you in B.C.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 01, 2021:

Happy New Year, Devika!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 31, 2020:

This is a lovely article, Bill. Your grandfather sounds like an interesting person. Thank you for sharing your memories. Happy New Year!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 31, 2020:

Happy New Year to you and Bev.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 31, 2020:

I love that you grew up around storytelling, Mary. What great memories to have. Thank you for sharing that, and Happy New Year to you.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 30, 2020:

You are lucky to have your Grandpa. I was lucky, too, that when I was growing up, I liked going to the farm and stay with relatives. I enjoyed it better than the farm and at night, with no television or any other form of entertainment, uncles and aunts took turns to tell us stories. Often, it was of the Second World War as that was the most remarkable experience they've had. Personally, I enjoyed it so much.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 30, 2020:

NIthya, I was blessed with a wonderful childhood and a very loving family. Yes, it was wonderful to listen to those stories. He was a good man.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on December 29, 2020:

It must have been wonderful to listen to your grandfather’s stories. We need storytellers to draw us into another world and escape reality especially during these tough times.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

MizB, that is so cool that the teacher had you tell stories to the class. The nuns who taught us would have never done that. You must have been a very good storyteller for a young girl.

Still no snow here, but lots of freezing fog, and that we can do without, so we'll pass it on to you. That's what friends are for.

Happy New Year my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

I hope so, Flourish! I hope so.

Happy New Year, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

I'm glad, John, that you were able to listen to stories from your grandmothers. I think it is so important that family stories be passed down to the next generation.

Happy New Year to you and your family!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

Bill, that is so cool, you meeting your great-grandparents. No way mine were alive, but I would have loved to have met them. Thanks for sharing that, and Happy New Year to you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

Thank you, Denise, and Happy New Year to you.

Blessings always


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

That would make me happy, Meg! Thanks for that thought!

Happy New Year my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

I would have liked him, Ruby! Thanks for mentioning him. I think making wine was pretty common back then. I had a couple relatives who did the same.

Happy New Year my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

I appreciate that, Alyssa! Thank you and Happy New Year to you and your family.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2020:

Thank you Rasma, and a Happy New Year to you!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on December 28, 2020:

A different mailbag, but a great one, Bill. Isn't it wonderful that you had a grandfather to mentor you into the great storyteller you are today. What a great way for you to say goodbye (and good riddance!) to 2020.

My father was the great storyteller in my life. He could keep my imagination running for hours, and most of his stories had a ring of truth to them. After I got older, I realized that he embellished some of them a wee bit, but what the heck.

After I started school, I began to tell stories to my classmates, and sometimes the teacher would have me tell a story to the class just to give her some time to grade a few papers. I even got a few requests from classmates, probably because they were tired of studying.

Anyway, isn't it wonderful that today we have the internet on which we can perfect our craft? By the way, the weatherman says you are sending another cold spell our way. What's the matter? Tired of cold weather or are you just happy to share that, too?

Hope you had a great Christmas. Happy New Year to you and Bev, my friend.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 28, 2020:

This was a fitting tribute to your grandfather the storyteller. I bet he is glad that his craft lives on in you.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on December 28, 2020:

Certainly a different mailbag, but a fitting one, Bill. Yes, I am sure it was your grandfather’s tales that lit the storytelling spark in you. I never knew my grandfathers well. My mother’s mom left her abusive husband before I was born, and the other died when I was four so I have only a few memories of him but gained a clearer picture from what my father shared.

My grandmothers, however, were both great storytellers so I didn’t miss out. This was a good way to end the year Bill. Have a great New Year.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on December 28, 2020:

What a wonderful way to end the year. I have recently also been thinking back to my younger years when my grandparents were alive. My aunt recently posted some photos on FB of their wedding day with my great-grandparents, who I was fortunate to have met when I was very young, but have a vivid memory of. My grandparents taught me many lessons about life. A Happy New Year to you, Bill.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 28, 2020:

Those are truly words to live by. Thanks for the inspiration and admonition. Happy new year to you and yours.



DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on December 28, 2020:

What a great introduction to storytelling you got from your grandpa. I am sure it has stood you in great stead. Maybe now, he is listening to all the new stories you are making up for him!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on December 28, 2020:

You brought back some good memories, my Grandfather, my mother's father was a good story teller. He was a farmer and raised cattle and horses. He also loved to make blackberry wine. He was a character who loved life. As Bob Hope would say, " Thanks for the memories. "

Alyssa from Ohio on December 28, 2020:

This was truly beautiful, Bill! Happy New Year!

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on December 28, 2020:

Wonderful memories and a magical time thank you fero taking me back. Happy New Year to you and Bev and many blessings

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Thank you Brenda! I do believe I was lucky to grow up during the 50's and 60's. I was shaped by them, and a loving family.

Happy New Year to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Thank you so much, Chitrangada Sharan! I appreciate you very much. You are always so supportive and kind with your comments.

Bless you in 2021. Happy New Year!@

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on December 28, 2020:


I can picture your grandpa speaking words of wisdom through his stories.

You were very fortunate to grow up in this era that obviously sparked your imagination.

So glad you carry these memories with you.

You are right that if our work touches only us worth it.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Happy New Year!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Thank you very much, Umesh! Happy New Year!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

That was amusing, Peggy! I love that story of yours. I'm sitting here smiling as I type this. Thank you!

Happy New Year to you! May 2021 be a bounty for you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

In this drama called life indeed, Manatita, and the real cool part is we keep writing new chapters each day. I wake up each day and ask myself what kind of chapter I want to live that day. :)

Happy New Year, my friend!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on December 28, 2020:

This is a wonderful way to end this year. I loved reading it, especially about your grandpa. I remember the same about my grandparents. Those stories are still fresh in my mind. They all had some lessons in them, which are imprinted in my mind forever.

You are right that the storytellers have a responsibility towards the society.

Thank you for sharing this mailbag, a different and thoughtful one indeed.

Happy New Year to you and your family. Always the best wishes for you.

Thank you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Wouldn't it be something if I had, Ann? :)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Sha, wouldn't that be something if I had written that poem? That would debunk all of that nonsense I've been saying for many years. :)

Happy New Year, my friend, and thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

It is my pleasure, Linda, and thank you for doing your part. You make food articles come alive, and I didn't think that was possible, so well done to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Pamela, I'm sorry you were shortchanged. lol Happy New Year to you as well, my friend, and thank you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Indeed, Mr. Happy, one must travel to the storytellers. My relatives live on a reservation in North Dakota, and several times, while visiting them, I have had the pleasure to sit and listen to stories from elders.

Happy New Year to you, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Ann, I'm jealous. I would love it if snow fell, but there is none in sight for at least ten more days. Sigh! I have some new boots I want to try out in the snow.

Thank you my friend! Happy New Year to you! Let's hope 2021 treats us with a bit more respect than 2020 did. :)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Thank you Rosina, and Happy New Year to you. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2020:

Thank you Mary! I would be outside with that tomboy, running across the fields and through the woods, and I would probably be thinking of a story to write while doing it. :) Happy New Year!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 28, 2020:

Well expressed snd well presented.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 28, 2020:

Your beautifully told story about sitting on your grandpa's lap and hearing stories takes me back in time. Like you, our family gathered in the kitchen listening to stories on the radio, when the dawn of television was new. I heard stories from all three of my living grandparents.

I was young when I repeated a story that fascinated me to one of the nuns at the Catholic school. The only problem was that I told it as if my mother had experienced that tale, not my grandmother. The nun asked my mother about it one day, and they had a good laugh. I had placed my mother back in time to the horse and buggy timeframe, long before cars. That story, and the laughs we shared in later years about my mistake, has stayed with me to this day.

Thanks for the memories! Wishing you and your loved ones, including your furbabies, a happy new year ahead.

manatita44 from london on December 28, 2020:

Well, a different take and yes, I grew up with this too, Anancy stories. Never really knew if they had anything to do with 'real' life, but definitely necessary.

2020 is a sort of story too ... one which I have told in performance poetry, starting all the way in Wuhan, China, to the current deal of the Brexiteers and the dawning of another tomorrow. Excellently re-told Bro! Your story is the precursor to another blossoming adventure, in this drama called life. Sweett!!

Ann Carr from SW England on December 28, 2020:

I wondered if that poem was yours too!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on December 28, 2020:

Bill, I think this mailbag is the perfect message for closing the year.

The memories of your grandfather and the inspiration he embedded in you have nurtured your creative soul. As such, your stories will live on just as Grandpa's stories will be told for generations to come.

What a legacy he left, Bill! He would be proud to see you follow in his footsteps.

BTW, is the above poem yours? (She asks him who says he can't write poetry.)

Happy New Year to you, Bev, Maggie and Tobias, my friend!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on December 28, 2020:

Bill, what a wonderful way to close out the year. Before there was the written word, there were storytellers. That's the only way that knowledge of "us" was passed down, from generation to generation.

It's a beautiful and much-needed craft that is fading away. Yes, there are and will always be writers, but what passes as "writing" is literally a dime a dozen via self-publishing. It's just words on paper; it's not storytelling. Thank you for helping to keep the craft alive.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 28, 2020:

I think your article carries an important message. I have always read books, and I was told stories by my grandfather also. I did not recieve a quarter, however. Haha

I enjoyed reading this article, Bill. Happy New Year.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on December 28, 2020:

Nice! I like your encouraging piece of writing (towards writing/story-telling).

You know, those "Indians" You spoke of, they're full of stories. The thing is, they're not writing them much. One has to go to where the stories are told. I for one try. This year was not great for going places to listen to stories but I'll keep my fingers crossed for the coming year. I see some clearing in the future.

You have yourself a joyful ending of the year and all the very best for 2021! Stay sane and safe lol Cheers!

Ann Carr from SW England on December 28, 2020:

What a delightful message, bill! You are indeed a storyteller par excellence and I'd bet anything that your grandfather is a key player in that ability because he encouraged and fed your appetite for stories. My family handed much of that down to me, and I'm sure that's why I love writing too.

Your mother's father sounds a lot like my mother's Dad - quiet, kind and perceptive.

You've given me a boost for getting on with my stories, bill, so thank you for that. We need a reminder that we are important and that we must give of our very best, and aim to improve that standard all the time.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that 2021 is kind to you and yours.

Snow threatens here but I'd love that - I'm not too old to build a snowman!!


Rosina S Khan on December 28, 2020:

I must say, Bill, this mailbag was a real gift to storytellers. I thoroughly enjoyed it. A Very Happy New Year.

Mary Wickison from USA on December 28, 2020:

I don't think we had a storyteller in our family, or perhaps I wasn't a good listener. I can recall only once, when I was in my 20s, that I sat still to listen to my grandmother. That was when I asked her about our ancestry. I was a tomboy and always on the go outside.

Your grandfather shaped your career, and I'm sure he'd be pleased with how you've shared your stories and advice.

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