"It's like taking a nap on that little rug when you were in kindergarten."

Real Storytelling – Mom, You Should Have Done Stand-Up!

“Ah wit, where is thy sting. To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous storytelling.”
William Shakespeare (well, not quite).

storytelling, mom, someecards

This fact will surprise most people:

I do not come by my incredible mediocre storytelling and wit, naturally. Though it appears effortless forced, my gift of spinning a yarn was not really a gift. It was honed through years of careful observation.

Mom could tell a story.

Like nobody’s business.

“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller.”
John Steinbeck (East of Eden)

I would sit around listening to her when we would go “visiting” other relatives. Not that my uncles, aunts, or any of the other relatives were boring. Because they weren’t. But mom, she could spin-it-to-win-it.

mom, storytelling, baby mj

The Master Storyteller
holding baby MJ.

And like fine wine, her storytelling only got better with age. Just a few short years ago, MLB and I were soaking up one of her many stories and laughing to the point of crying. The kind of laughter where you can’t breathe, and you might even pee your pants … a little.

It was maybe the next trip after that one when we came back to my hometown, Omaha, because of the stroke mom suffered. I, for one, knew she’d bounce back – she was that kind of hearty, Midwestern folk.

But, I felt sorry for me.

Though she has recovered as much as one can from a stroke, it’s difficult to get the right words out in the correct order. The brain is fascinating in that regard. She knows the right word, but when she verbalizes it, the wrong one can come out. It’s just the way the wires are firing now.

Getting back to me …

I no longer get to hear the rambling build up, dramatic pauses, and the pinpoint delivery of the punchline from mom. Physically, she just can’t string together the right words in the right order.

So now it’s up to my brain to remember and pass on some of the great stories that she told. I only wish I could do it as well as she did.

It is my loss.


Where did you learn about storytelling?


  1. My mom, too. She was one funny lady. Mom’s are the best.

  2. I learned from a number of sources – my parents and family, but I also learned from the books I read. Mostly, I’m a hopeless academic, so I launched myself into the thing and taught myself a lot of stuff and read important sounding books and annoyed other writers and professors to teach me things. Also, I learned from having my work shredded mercilessly by editors.

    • Good for you for reading books and anything else you could get your hands on. I’m totally self-taught. Including writing – as you can tell. :)

      But I’m learning from a lot of other writers out there. People like you. Editors – whole other story there.

  3. My father. He tells stories to keep people at a distance, a way of having a conversation without really ever revealing anything. He’s never, to my knowledge, tried to write a story. His are always full-on performances, much like it sounds like your mom’s were.

    I turned back to writing as a creative outlet in the aftermath of slaying my first love, theater. I hadn’t written much in 20 years beyond boring business periodicals. A person in my circle on Facebook started a blog, and I thought, “Damn. I bet I could do better than that.”

    Whether or not I HAVE done better, I enjoy writing now more than I did when I first started. It has become a different way to slip into characters and try to figure out what makes them tick, and it has yielded a productive outlet for my wanton hyperactive mind.

    • I get your dad telling stories to keep people at a distance. I used to be that way, and almost painfully shy. Especially around girls. Too bad he hasn’t written.

      Hmm, I want more scoop on “slaying my first love …”

      You were 100% right about being able to write better. You are very good! And there are many of us who are glad you took it up. There is definitely a storyteller in there.

  4. I didn’t learn much about storytelling from either of my parents. I would have to say my step-grandfather, he could spin a tale like nobody’s business. He loved to talk and talk. His favorite thing was to gather us grandkids around so we could listen to all of his stories about the old days.

    • There is nothing like the stories of the good ol’ days. Thank goodness for your step-grandfather – we get your great storytelling now. You must have paid attention to him.

  5. Moms are best in whatever they do. :)
    But unfortunately just like Darla, I did not learn storytelling from either of my parents.
    I learnt it from one of my aunt, who used to tell me stories based on mythology. People say my grandfather was a really good writer. But I could not have that luxury to learn this art from his, as he died when I was 2 years old. So it was my loss.

    • It’s too bad you didn’t get to learn from your grandfather about writing. Do you have any of his writing on paper anywhere? That would make a great post to take something he wrote and expand on it.

      • Yes, I had only one book written by him with me. But it would be really difficult to convert that one in to a post. Still I will give it a try someday.

  6. Mark Twain

  7. My dad loves to tell a story. But telling a FUNNY story? Now that was always the golden ticket in our house growing up. We all aspired to that.
    And I love the kind of laughter that takes your breath away–
    Great story MJ :)

    • Sounds like our house. All seven of us (kids) competed at who was funnier, and still do when we’re all together – though it’s been several years now.

      Glad you enjoyed it, Coleen, and thanks for dropping by.

  8. Oh, MJ, we had similar growing up experiences, so maybe we’re related. I grew up in a family of hillbillies and good ol’ people. Dad was the storyteller. As you say, I wonder if we’re losing that art with all this internet communication. Maybe I’ll go bore my kid with a story or two right now…whether he wants to hear it or not.

    • Oh, you have to tell your kids stories. Sometimes they’re embarrassed and sometimes they love them. But they always remember them. We’ll have to keep the storytelling alive through them.

      I think you’re right, we may be related, Barb.

  9. I know I would just love your mother, I can tell from that smile she was a funny mom! A good sense of humor is a wonderful thing to inherit indeed.
    As much as I wanted Mike & Carol Brady to be my parents, I am VERY happy to have had more of an Edith & Archie, without the bigotry pair. My siblings and I are all funny and so are our children. It’s clearly genetic! When my dad passed away we were telling stories and I think we all peed our pants…some more than others. Now our kids will say…”tell me the story about grandpa squirting the Jehovah Witnesses off the step again…please” Ok…Once upon of time…hahaha

    • I’m sure you would love her. I love your description of your parents. Funny, that was kind of our house in a way, as well. Also without the bigotry.

      You sound like one of the members of my family. We just laugh and laugh. Our kids are the same way, too.

      I would like to see a blog post on the JW’s on the steps. :)

  10. I bet you do tell stories like your mother and you just don’t think you compare. Love this post. For me, I have no idea. I’m a horrible storyteller! I forget what I’m saying mid-sentence.

  11. I feel bad about your mom—-my brother was a great story teller, and he too, had a massive stroke 4 years ago. He hardly talks now, and when he does, he gets so frustrated because he knows EXACTLY what he wants to say and can visualize the word but it rolls off his tongue completely different and he gets upset. I’m at the point where I’m one of the few people who really does understand what he is saying, and he seems relieved when I do. I miss his stories. My whole family thrived on humorous tales and we a had a knack of poking fun at ourselves but in a light-hearted way. Guess that’s where I get it from.

    • Sorry to hear about your brother. So tough for him, especially someone so verbal. It’s just good that you can understand him.

      You are an excellent storyteller. One of the reasons I was so drawn to your blog. Such a great sense of humor.

      We all loved poking fun as well, amongst the brothers and sisters, but haven’t all been together for a few years now.

  12. Oh, MJ, this brought tears to my eyes. How frustrating for all involved, most especially for your Mom. I know how frustrating it was to try to tell a story in French when I lived in Europe. It was awful, I could never find the right word, the right phrase (the right wine — but that’s a different story). But still I can’t imagine her frustration level.

    We’re Irish, so Mom, Dad and all five of us are story tellers. There are fewer of us now — only 3 left — but even still it is difficult to get air time around my family.

    • I’m touched by your comment, Elyse. I do think she gets frustrated by not being able to speak the words she knows in her brain. But over time, she may be used to this being what she has to deal with. My dad left a comment – very unusual – below, that gives some insight into the fact that she is still able to communicate and have fun.

      Ah, I believe I had forgotten that you were Irish as well. The best ones are, right?? Boy, my poor wife is an only child, and she can almost never get a word in when she’s around my family.

  13. Judy Berman says:

    Michael … Both my parents could spin a good yarn. But my Dad was the jokester as well. He did have us hanging on every word.
    Your Mom taught you well. I can tell from your description that you must have honed your talent for story telling from her.

    • You certainly inherited, or learned, the craft as well, Judy. The fact that you were in several media, as well as your stories on your blog, attest to that.

      I’m not sure if I’ve “honed” yet, but I’m working on it. :)

  14. I learned storytelling from a family friend, Darlene. Mom and us kids went to Darlene’s for coffee a lot of mornings. Her toothless smile and bright blue eyes greeted us, and before long we were in stiches laughing at her antics and stories. Even during serious times, Darlene managed to find a way to coax a smile or some giggles. She was such a beautiful soul.. and I miss her greatly.

    My Dad had a stroke at 62 that changed his personality (a good thing), and forever changed his lifestyle. I know he was frustrated in the beginning, but he worked to gain strength, and he didn’t let the changes in his life get him down. Two years later a massive stroke took him from us. I will always remember his resilience and willingness to do the best he could. The personality change had been a blessing as well. He became a man with emotion and expression, easily baring his soul.

    • Darlene sounds like one of those great Nebraska characters. Love those down to earth, keep it real, storytelling folks. She obviously taught you a lot and you certainly are a good storyteller.

      Sounds like your dad’s first stroke was a blessing in disguise and gave him two years to be able to truly share how he felt. I’m sure you all appreciated those two years tremendously.

  15. I learned my storytelling skills from my Mom’s friend, Darlene. Mom and us kids went to Darlene’s house for coffee a lot of mornings, and we were always greeted with dancing blue eyes and a toothless grin! Before long we were laughing and holding our bellies, listening to Darlene tell stories and give advice. Even if something was of a serious nature, she managed to coax a smile or a giggle. She had a way of making a person feel better. Her laugh was especially contageous… it was kind of like Woody Woodpecker’s laugh.

    • Love your description of Darlene’s laugh being like Woody Woodpecker’s. I can hear it now.

      You should do a post on Darlene sometime. Sounds like you would have a lot to say about her.

  16. I’ve never posted anything like this before so I hope it goes through . . . and is in the proper format. MJ described his beautiful mother to a “T”. She was, and still is, a lovely lady who can still make us laugh. Some of her incorrect words become even funnier than the more proper word would have been. We have been married for 57 years and, even after her stroke took much of her bigger words away, she can still get the point across to me . . . vividly. :-)

    MJ, I wouldn’t have missed your comments or the great comments from all the others for anything. Thank you so very much. Please give our love and prayers to all, MJ. Love and prayers to all of you and God bless you for your wonderful comments. This will definitely be shared with Mom. Love ya, Dad

    • The comment came out formatted just fine. Thanks for stopping by, Dad. This is a very rare treat. Wish we weren’t so far away so we could hear the laughter more often. So glad she’s still able to continue the fun.

      And thanks so much for the kind words about the post, and about all the great commenters who dropped by. So glad you’re sharing this with Mom. It was an honor and a pleasure to write about her.

    • …OK, this comment from MJ’s proud dad made me cry. I was already teary from reading the post!

      Thank you for giving us some insight into this amazing blogger/writer/person and his clearly amazing family.

  17. Wow, MJ. So beautiful — love this post, and I love love LOVE your dad’s response.

    It sounds like the amazing stories are still there … but now it’s your turn to tell them and make mom and dad laugh!


  18. Jodi from Heal Now and Forever says:

    I learned it from my favorite authors. I am a voracious reader. A sucker for a great story!

    • Reading is a great way to learn storytelling. I must say, I read quite a lot as a child, and read shorter things now. I don’t finish too many books. I’m too easily distracted. Even by good books.

  19. sunshine says:

    Oh, that was sooo wonderful your papa came over and shared with us a few words…a very special treat indeed!
    On learning about storytelling, hmm, a little from my parents but at an early age, mom made sure we got to the library to clear off a few of the shelves. I hope the librarian appreciated our help–dust never collected in our public library, that is for sure!
    This was a great read, MJ. Thanks!

    • Hey Sunshine, thanks!

      Libraries are fantastic. I LOVED going to them as a child. Because of the internet, I have rarely gone in the past 10 years. I’m sure I could get caught up if I ventured into one today.

  20. I feel for you, MJ. It’s a void when the storyteller can’ do the storytelling, still worse when you can both remember how it used to be. It sounds like you learned from a master. Good luck in the retelling.

    • This is probably true for most families, don’t you think – when the storytelling moves to other generations. Sometimes it’s a legacy and other times it’s simultaneously.

  21. I learnt it from my gram! I loved/love her to bits. She passed away 10 years ago though but hey I can still love her right? :)

    Your mom seems like a funny and gorgeous lady! Lovely picture of the two of you! <3

    I can't wait to hear more of your stories! :)

  22. I think I learned the art of telling long, drawn out stories with too many insignificant details from my mom. I’m so lucky! 😉

  23. Similar to Lisa, my parents were Archie but not Edith – my mom was, is, and will forever be Maude. She tells great stories that, over the years and now with declining memory, have morphed into revisionist history. Everything is different than it was, more like I think she wished it had been. But still good stories. Entertaining and funny as hell. If not a bit repetitive.

    • What a great description, Julie: morphing into revisionist history.

      I can certainly appreciate her making it more like she wished it had been. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that “do over” in the real world?

  24. Let me get my falling-all-over-myself self out of the way first.

    >The Master Storyteller holding baby MJ.
    – Aww!

    Your mum reminds me of old TV programmes! And TVs with bunny ears! And checkered aprons! Essentially, everything wholesome about childhood.

    >So now it’s up to my brain to remember and pass on some of the great stories that she told.
    – If there aren’t any that are too private, please share them with us.

    You certainly are following in your mum’s footsteps by telling some great stories out here yourself.

    >I no longer get to hear the rambling build up, dramatic pauses, and the pinpoint delivery of the punchline from mom.
    – I think this was the trademark of the earlier generations.

    I remember my grandparents had very different styles of narrating stories than we do today. The vocabulary was noticeably different, as was the cadence and the emotions were full on with thunderous scowls and a belly jiggling laughter. Those were reason enough for me to enjoy their tales.

    >MJ Monaghan’s proud dad
    – *squeal* Your daddy wrote!

    Psst, MJ. Please tell your dad that I am very pleased to, um, meet him out here. Yeah, too shy to do it myself.

    >We have been married for 57 years
    – My parents were married for 52 years when Daddy passed away.

    >and, even after her stroke took much of her bigger words away, she can still get the point across to me . . . vividly.
    – Just like Daddy in his last year.

    He survived 17 years after his stroke. His left hand was completely paralysed and he swung his left leg at the hip to walk with a walking stick. But only in his very last year did we notice more pronounced deterioration.

    He lost interest in reading the newspapers, novels, watching his favourite Nat Geo and Discovery channels, and cricket. But we’re grateful, for his sake more than ours, for 16 years of overall excellent health.


    • Goodness, Kate, I answered this days ago, and now I come back to check my previous post for comments, and …

      BOOM!! My comment didn’t register. It was so good, too.

      Okay, try again:

      >Your mum reminds me of old TV programmes! And TVs with bunny ears! And checkered aprons! Essentially, everything wholesome about childhood.
      – Oh, it was definitely old school childhood. And very disciplined, which I’m grateful for.

      >If there aren’t any that are too private, please share them with us.
      – I’ll share as long as people are willing to listen. :)

      >You certainly are following in your mum’s footsteps by telling some great stories out here yourself.
      – I thank you very kindly for thinking that, Kate!

      > I think this was the trademark of the earlier generations.
      – Definitely.

      >I remember my grandparents had very different styles of narrating stories than we do today.
      – Times change storytelling as well. I bet it becomes more truncated.

      >*squeal* Your daddy wrote!
      – That really surprised me, too.

      >Psst, MJ. Please tell your dad that I am very pleased to, um, meet him out here. Yeah, too shy to do it myself.
      – He was pleased to meet your virtual acquaintance and couldn’t believe how kind you were.

      I know you are continuing your Daddy’s legacy and he’s VERY proud of you. :)

  25. I had a good english teacher in both high school and matriculation college; both encouraged writing and reading. Reading you can do just about anywhere; writing needs a little more effort. My fathers side of the family are good with words, my mothers side are better at story telling through other mediums. I’ve only started ‘writing’ (if that’s what blogging is) in the last year, and certainly I have a long way to go crafting this skill. My story telling is a work in progress!
    I have to say MJ, this post is up there with your Fathers day post :)

    • You’re well on your way, Kanerva. And yes, blogging certainly is writing. In fact, there are a lot of bloggers that are more talented than a lot of published authors. So keep it up.

      Oh, I really appreciate the kind words comparing this post to the Father’s Day post. That’s one of my favorites as well.

  26. I’m sorry to hear that your mother’s stroke affected her storytelling, MJ. My grandmother had a stroke as well and never fully recovered her razor-sharp sense of grammar and diction.

    You tell wonderful stories, though! Every post of yours is great, so I don’t think there’s any worry about you carrying your mother’s storytelling torch and making her proud. :)

    • Stroke is a difficult thing to deal with, isn’t it? Sorry to hear about your grandmother.

      Thank you so much for saying so about continuing the storytelling. I really appreciate that. You have quite a gift yourself, and must have learned a lot from grandma.

Love to hear from you.

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