The Weird and the Strange XI: Amos Lee

{Disclaimer: The name Amos Lee was arbitrarily chosen to conceal the true identity of the person in this character profile.  I have chosen this name, because I do not know an individual that has this name.  If there are any individuals that have this name, and they believe that I have damaged their reputation in any manner, please notify me by replying to this post.}

It was a disappointment to those of us that wanted to adore Amos Lee that he wasn’t more than he was.  When he decided to turn it on, Amos could leave a person breathless with anticipation.  He created that expectation.  He created the problem.

Amos Lee could spin a yarn as well as anyone I’ve ever known.  Were any of his stories original, I didn’t know at the time, and I didn’t care.  I found out later that they weren’t original, but I still don’t think that matters.  As Mick Jagger once said, it’s the singer not the song.

Amos was an economist of words and delicate with his detail.  He didn’t use typical words.  He didn’t use big words.  There were no flowery descriptions or exclamatory words in Amos’ stories, and the listener was never sure how they arrived at the emotional reaction they did.  His patterns and progressions were all foreign to those of us that expect patterns and typical progressions in stories, and that made them all the more fascinating.

To the young person on his lap, it appeared as though Amos Lee had spent a lifetime accumulating stories.  He appeared to have a story for every occasion.  He was magic to a young mind looking for those special stories that involve knowledge and adventure in the same sentence.  Every story was better than the last one.  Then, as if Amos had been holding his best for last, he told the story of the Purple People Eaters.

The Purple People Eaters were horrifying to the young boy who sat on his lap and listened with wide-eyes.  Amos loved that story.  His eyes were on fire when he told it.  It was his story.  It was the first story the young person on his lap heard that left him panting for more, while wanting it to end quick and peaceful at the same time.  It was the first time this young boy had learned of the power and glory of the story.

Every exacting detail lit that room up.  Amos was in his element.  He appeared to struggle with restraint while telling the story, in the manner a joke teller struggles to restrain themselves from progressing to a juicy punch line too quick.

Amos only told the story one time, but by the middle of the story the young boy on his lap had it memorized.

Amos couldn’t help himself when he got going.  He sought reaction, but that wasn’t obvious to his listener.  The listener simply thought they were getting reality punched into their heart.  Amos would move through the horror of his story with the grace of an Olympic skater.  He would punctuate and intone his stories with a mastery that the young boy wouldn’t see again until he was nearly a full grown adult.  Whether you wanted it or not, you were there in the land this man described, and you were experiencing the travails of his main character.

The young precocious person on his lap would ask questions, and Amos would stop and answer all of them. He would refrain from answering if he deemed the answer harmful to the story, or the pace and progression of his story.  Amos would delve into his imaginary world, until it became too much for the young boy who sat on his lap, and to that reaction Amos grinned.

The grin wasn’t one of a mean-spirited nature, nor was it one of an old man having fun with a youngster.  It was a grin that told you he loved telling the story as much as he thought you enjoyed hearing it.  He smiled again, after a brief look of fear arose on his listener’s face, and it dawned on him that the story may be too much for a young mind unable to discern the fine line between fantasy and reality.  That second smile was accompanied by a coo.  He assured this young boy that The Purple People Eaters were make-believe, and that we had nothing to fear from them, and the young boy believed that as much as he believed the horrifying details of The Purple People Eaters.

The problem was that Amos could create such moments without effort, and with little effort comes little restraint.  The man could cause intense fear and inner peace in the space of a few sentences.  He could leave a child dizzy with emotion in the stories he told and in the sympathy he showed afterwards, but the eventual truth of Amos Lee would arrive when that young boy wanted to hear more than Amos Lee was able to deliver.  Amos was old by the time he met this young boy.  He was up in years, but he was older than his years.  He had spent too much time sitting by himself, sleeping, and in all other ways aging at a rate greater than an active man would.  He enjoyed telling those stories, but he didn’t enjoy it more than sitting on his couch smoking a pipe, then sleeping.

That was it.  The story was done.  Amos was done, and you were expected to then climb off his knee and go play marbles.  Who could do that?  Who could just go on with life, as if nothing happened, after hearing what they believed to be the greatest story ever told?

Amos was done though, and when I would argue with him that I did not want this moment to end, his wife would whisk me away with whatever excuse she dreamed up for Amos.  I would fight with her.  I would tell her that I didn’t want to do whatever she had dreamed up to give Amos his space.  I would tell her that I didn’t want it to end, and I would blame her for ending it.  I couldn’t get enough, but Amos could, and she knew it.

Amos Lee’s lessons were taught without the condescension adults normally used.  His lessons were point blank.  They weren’t told with a lesson voice, and they didn’t have the follow up lines one normally uses in his lessons to show that he is proud that he knows something the listener doesn’t.

Amos Lee never patted me on the head and told me that everything was going to be okay, but I felt like if I had a question about the world, Amos Lee would be my go to man.  Everything seemed to lock into place when he said something to me.

I’m not sure if I was as precocious as I believe I was at that age, but I do know that my thirst for knowledge was unquenchable on his lap.  His stories and advice were intoxicating.  He could say something that was plainly obvious, and make me think I had never considered it before.  He appeared to have answers for questions I hadn’t even thought of yet, and he could do it all in the space of three to four sentences.  For the first time in my life, at that point, it all started to make sense.  All that confusion moved away, like a cloud moving ever so slowly to reveal the bright light.  It was my first experience with euphoric knowledge, and I never wanted it to end, but all he wanted to do was sit in his chair and smoke a pipe.

“You can’t do that!” I wanted to say to him.  “You can’t just sit there!  You’re too important!”  But I couldn’t tell him that.  I couldn’t tell him how important he was for fear of disappointing us both when he failed to deliver.  I couldn’t tell him what kind of man I thought he was when he wasn’t around.  I had to just sit there and realize that I was the powerless little kid in our conversations.  I was on his schedule, and I had to wait until he felt like indulging me.

I cried, like all children cried, but I don’t remember crying those all hope is lost tears, until I learned that Amos Lee’s story was over.  I wept with the idea that I would never be able to speak with him again, that I would never be able to play catch with him again, and that I would never be able to spend another moment on his lap, listening to him weave a master tale.  I also wept with the knowledge that my source of wisdom and reason was gone, and that my life would seem a little more random and chaotic in the aftermath.  I cried with the notion that I would be left to my own devices without him, or that those that took the reins were novices by comparative analysis.  I also wept over the fact that Amos Lee would never be granted the opportunity to live up to the hype he had generated in the mind of one eager, perhaps precocious, young mind that Amos had never taken the time to live up to.

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