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.}

Amos Lee had a profound effect on me, but my lasting memory of him was one of disappointment. If Amos Lee were nothing more than a quiet, unassuming man, my expectations might never have come into play, but when he decided to turn it on, the man could leave me breathless with anticipation. He created that expectation. He created the problem.

Amos Lee could spin a yarn as well as anyone I’ve ever met. Were any of his stories accurate portrayals of the life he led, I didn’t know at the time, and I didn’t care. Were any of his stories original? I found out later that they were not, but I didn’t care then, and I still don’t. 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 his stories even more fascinating.

To the young person on his lap, it appeared as though Amos Lee spent a lifetime accumulating these stories. I don’t know if he was the master storyteller that I recall, or if I was the literary equivalent of a dehydrated man in the desert, dying to hear a quality story. Whatever the case was, his stories captivated me to the point that I could’ve sat on his knee for hours, listening to this man weave a tale. Amos Lee’s stories varied so much that he appeared to have a story for every occasion. He was magic to a young mind seeking knowledge, adventure, and excitement, and 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. When he told this particular story, he told it as if it was a page from his autobiography. When I would later learn that Amos Lee hadn’t accomplished much in life, I was stunned without realizing why. I now know that it was because the stories he told were so beautiful, precise, and invigorating. The Purple People story was the first story I could remember that left me panting for more, while wanting it to end quick and peaceful at the same time. This was the first time, that young person on his lap learned of the power and glory of a great story.

Those that love a great story drop the word captivating a lot, to the point of cliché, but when Amos Lee told the story of The Purple People Eaters, I was there with him, fighting these monsters. Amos was in his element. He displayed the patience of a gifted storyteller, but he also appeared to struggle with that restraint, in the manner quality joke tellers will struggle 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.

The young precocious person on his lap would ask questions, and Amos would stop and answer almost all of them, but he would refrain from answering those he deemed harmful to 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. The grin informed the listener of Amos Lee’s passion for the story, but the grin also suggested he loved the young boy’s reaction. He smiled again, after a brief look of fear arose on his listener’s face, and it dawned on him that the story might be too much for a young mind unable to discern the fine line between fantasy and reality. He followed that second smile with a reassurance 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 with little 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 this young boy entered his life. He was up in years, but he was far 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 his stories, but he enjoyed sitting on his couch smoking a pipe, and sleeping, more.

At one point, the glorious stories reached a conclusion, and so did Amos Lee. Amos Lee then expected this young boy to climb off his knee and go play marbles. After hearing what he considered the greatest story ever told the young boy considered this request unreasonable. He wanted more. He wanted to spend the rest of the weekend, if not the rest of his life, listening to these stories.  

Amos was done though, and when the young boy would argue with Amos Lee that he did not want this moment to end, Amos Lee’s wife would enter into the room to whisk the young boy off his grandfather’s knee to participate in whatever she could dream up to fulfill Amos Lee’s need. The young boy would fight with her, as she would play the role of the villain in this story. The young boy would tell her that he didn’t want to do whatever she had dreamed up to give Amos his space. He would tell her that he didn’t want it to end, and he would blame her for ending it. The young boy couldn’t get enough of these stories, but Amos could, and she knew it.

Amos Lee’s stories taught lessons without the condescension the young boy expected from adults telling such stories. Amos Lee also told the stories in a direct manner, without the customary, adult lesson voice, and he didn’t have the follow up lines one normally uses in lessons to display the idea that the storyteller knows something the listener doesn’t.

Amos Lee never patted this young boy on the head and told him that everything was going to be okay, but in Amos Lee’s company, everything was. This young man believed that if he had any questions about how the world worked, Amos Lee would be his go to man. The young boy was confused about the world, and he experienced some confusion with just about everyone he encountered. In the company of Amos Lee, however, everything seemed to make sense, and that which confused the young man seemed to lock into place.

I remember being quite precocious, but I might not have been as precocious as I remember, until I sat on the knee of Amos Lee, my grandfather. Amos Lee had an unusual talent for tapping into something that inspired thoughts in me that I never would have arrived at on my own. He also said somethings that were plainly obvious, but something about the way he said them made me think I had never considered it before. He appeared to have answers to 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, at that early point in my life, it all started to make sense. The confusion that dominates young minds, moved away, if just for a second, like a cloud moving to reveal a bright Sun. It was my first experience with that form of euphoria, and I never wanted it to end, but Amos Lee wasn’t able to fulfill the expectations I had for him, or he didn’t want to fulfill them. I write the latter as a full-fledged adult that now know the ways of childhood adoration, and the tiresome task of continuing to live up to it. I know that some of the times an adult cannot live up to the expectations a young child has for him, and I know that some of the times an adult just doesn’t want to do that.

“You can’t do that!” I wanted to say to Amos Lee. “You can’t just sit there in your chair, smoking a pipe. You’re too important.” I couldn’t tell him that, for doing so would’ve revealed to both of us what a disappointment he was to me. I couldn’t tell him what kind of man I thought he was when he wasn’t around, or what type of man I thought he could be. 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, as all children will, when I learn that my grandfather’s story was over, but there was something different about these tears. I couldn’t properly define the feelings of emptiness I had at that young age. I couldn’t understand why I thought all hope was lost, and I couldn’t understand why I was crying as hard as I was, but I do remember thinking that life would never be normal for me ever again. I remember the day my mom pulled the car off to the side of the road to inform me of Amos Lee’s death as if it were a week ago.  

I wept with the basic idea that I would never be able to speak with him again, that I would never be able to mow the lawn 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 irrational belief that that my sole 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 comparison. I also wept over the fact that Amos Lee would never have 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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