Let me tell you a story about my Grandpa Gass.

Lee Gass
November 12, 1994

Let me tell you a story about my Grandpa Gass. He was really neat. He had one finger with the end twisted. The end of his finger was twisted about 30 degrees and ran slonchwise with respect to the normal axis of symmetry for index fingers. I can't believe how neat that finger was to look at, especially when he rolled cigarettes with one hand without spilling any tobacco. He took it out of a little cloth bag and spread in a trough he made in a piece of paper, then licked the paper in a funny way before rolling it into a perfect white cylinder and smoked it with obvious pleasure. This was always out doors, only partly because Grandma wouldn't let him smoke in the house. Especially cigars. I think the main reason we went outside when Grandpa wanted to smoke was that he felt at home out there. That sort of brings me to what I want to tell you about him.

I loved to hear Grandpa tell about how his finger got that way. I don't know if that was my favourite story, because I had a lot of them even then, but it was right up there and still is. He got it roping a horse from the back of another horse on his homestead in Montana. I wasn't there when it happened, of course, so I have to either leave out or make up some of the details. But I wouldn't make up anything important. Believe me.

In my story it was wintertime. It was snowing, the wind was blowing, and the sky was dark the way it gets in the daytime when there's a big storm. Dark warm horses stood out starkly against that barren landscape that Grandpa loved and Grandma hated with a passion. I'll tell you about Grandma later if you really want to know, but right now I can't wait to tell you about Grandpa's finger. The horse Grandpa wanted to catch was running, and Grandpa's horse was running after it. They weren't running straight, but in a zig-zag kind of dogfight in 2-D, the horse trying to get away from the horse and rider (I always wondered if the horses knew each other and what they thought about what was going on). Grandpa had a rope lasso, and he was swinging it in the air as he galloped, just like in a movie. It didn't take long, and pretty soon, Grandpa threw the loop of his rope out into the air.

I can't tell this part the way Grandpa did, because I've never been on a horse and never tried to stop one when it was running. I've thrown a lasso, though, so I'll give it a shot. That rope went out slow through the blowing snow, descended gently over the head of the fugitive, and settled on its neck. The loop tightened suddenly as Grandpa wrapped the rope around the saddlehorn and his horse slowed quickly toward a stop. It was fantastic, my Grandpa doing stuff like that! The only trouble was that he had a loop of rope around his finger when this happened, and when the rope tightened it spun the tip of Grandpa's finger around like a top and it stayed that way until he died. I don't know what it would be like if that happened today, but that was then. Once winter came they were stuck on the homestead until spring and had to take whatever they got. Grandpa got a twisted finger. Even in the summer it took all day long to get to town with a horse and wagon, and in the winter they couldn't get out at all.

That reminds me of something else, dammit! I'll never get to what I wanted to tell you about stories and what makes them important in my life. Have you got time for another one? Remember I said Grandma didn't like it out there? She just didn't, and I don't think she liked Grandpa very much either. Well, her mother stayed with them one winter. Maybe it was the first winter they were there, I don't know. But all three adults and two little kids were there, stuck in a small, dark log cabin until spring. I got to see the cabin one time when I was about eight. It was a sort of pilgrimage, because Dad wanted to show us what it was like on the homestead. For whole a year before we went he was full of stories about being out there. He couldn't tell stories like Grandpa could, but I still liked to hear them. Like in the morning before Dad went to school. He was the oldest kid in the school, which was another log cabin a long way away through the snow, and he had to walk over and light the fire in the stove before breakfast. When we finally went to Montana it was summertime, and it was exciting when we got to the last town before the homestead because Dad had been telling us how it took all day to get to town in the wagon and how bumpy and rutted the road was. Well, the road was smooth and paved, and it took about ten minutes in the car. This surprised Dad a lot, but I don't think Mom was very surprised. I'm not sure why. When we got to the last little rise before the homestead he stopped the car and walked slowly by himself way out in front. He stood there for a long time, and we wondered what he was thinking about. Then he came back shaking his head back and forth and got in the car. The main thing I remember is him saying, "I could have sworn that schoolhouse was a half mile away". It was right next door.

I was going to tell you about my Dad's Grandma. Not too long after it had snowed and they were stuck for the duration, her false teeth disappeared in the middle of the night and they couldn't find them. They looked everywhere, not that there were all that many places to look. They kept looking for a few days, but after a while they had to give up because they couldn't find those teeth. My Great Grandma Styvers had to spend the whole winter gumming potatoes and steak, or whatever they ate. One of the kids finally found the teeth in a packrat nest the next summer, but it didn't help her very much then.

When I think of the social dynamics of that microcosm of conflicting cultures it blows me away. Especially because they were all trapped there together. They couldn't even go outside a lot because it was so cold. I never heard directly about the conflict, of course, but it was in the air. I think that was one reason Grandpa and I always went outside when he wanted to smoke. Especially cigars.

You probably guessed that they didn't stay very long on the homestead. They stayed a few years, but then they moved to town and the asymmetry shifted. Grandma got to live in a city, had lights and running water, and Grandpa swept floors for a living. The best places were two theatres that he cleaned up every night after the movies, and sometimes I got to go with him. Did you ever get to run up and down the aisles of a movie theatre as fast as you could go without worrying about getting caught? Because of the rugs and the slope, you can get going really fast on the way down, and if you are galloping your horse it is pretty hard to get around the corner at the bottom without running into the stage, because there's no rug down there. I always slowed way down to go through the swinging doors at the top, because Grandpa didn't like it if they banged. Movie theatres don't really have a stage; it just looks like one. Grandpa didn't want me to go up there and look at the screen, but I always wanted to see what made it work. He said I could see it just fine from down in front; I think he thought I might poke a hole in it or something.

After I got tired of running up and down I always helped him. He never let me help in the bathrooms, but I didn't want to anyway so it didn't matter. The fun part was the popcorn boxes. They were neat. I liked to stack them up in a big tall stack, like the clean ones by the popcorn machine behind the counter only lots taller. I always wondered what it would be like to touch the ceiling with a stack but there were never enough boxes to do it. When my stack got really high I had to add new ones from the bottom because I couldn't reach the top. That was hard because they are too big to hold with one hand and sometimes I dropped them. But they stuck together OK and I could usually pick them up again. Sometimes I found a full box and knew some kid had dropped it. I always wondered what the kid's mom said to him about being careful, and whether she let him get another one. There wasn't any way to tell. Grandpa didn't want me to eat any stuff I found on the floor, even if the popcorn box was still standing (I asked). He said there might be germs on it, and I knew there might be dirt because it was on the floor. I always thought of sneaking bites, because it would have been easy, but I never did.

It was great to run with a stack of popcorn boxes, because you had to lean it just right or it wouldn't work. You had to lean the stack way forward to speed up, so you could run underneath it, and lean it way back to stop. Going around the corner at the front was really hard, because you had to lean the stack way over to the side and keep running. How far you have to lean it depends on how fast you speed up and slow down and how fast you turn. It doesn't depend as much on how fast you are going, and that's really interesting. I found out that it doesn't work to stop while you are turning even though it should be easy. I never got it figured out, but I guess it was just too hard to lean it over and lean it back just the right amount while I ran, all at the same time. I didn't practice as much as I could have, though, because it was such hard work.

I also liked to kick coke cups, because Grandpa didn't care. I kicked them mainly down toward the front because they went farther that way and made more noise. I had to be careful, though, not to kick my shin against the chair if I got carried away. If Grandpa was almost caught up with me with his pushbroom he didn't like it very much if I kicked stuff up past him. He didn't yell at me or anything, and he didn't even seem to mind too much. But I still knew I'd have to go get the cup and bring it back down. Grandpa held his mouth funny when I did things like that, and it seemed like he was trying to make up his mind whether to yell at me. He never did, though, ever. Not about anything, but I could tell anyway. He usually didn't even say anything, but I could still tell. It was usually when I was doing something I knew I shouldn't do, and it was also usually something fun. After a while I learned to "see" myself through Grandpa's eyes. It gave me a view of myself that was useful, and because I was pretty good at imagining things it showed me how I could be. Grandpa never told me any of this stuff, but I could tell. We usually didn't talk about that kind of thing. I know this doesn't make any sense, but I wanted to tell you anyway. Isn't it strange how that works?

When I did stuff like that, you know, kicking things back up past him while he swept, I'd go up and get it right away, and take it all the way down to the front so he wouldn't have to sweep it. Sometimes it took a while to find it if I got a good kick in, because I couldn't tell which row it was in and he didn't want me to get down on the floor where there wasn't a rug. He never said anything, but I could tell it made him happy when I took the cup down in front for him. I could kick a lot harder uphill than downhill because of the way the seats went up between the arms of the chairs and I didn't have to worry too much about my shin, but I didn't do it very much. But once I hauled off to kick one of those coke cups uphill and got myself in the Achilles tendon on the back of the seat down the hill behind me. That hurt so much I almost couldn't stand it. I got tears in my eyes but I didn't cry. Grandpa didn't laugh at me, even though I think he thought it was kind of funny, and he even said stuff like "It sure hurts when you do things to yourself, don't it, Lee?" That really helped, because it made me think of his finger and how much it must have hurt him when he did that to himself.

I never got tired of hearing about that finger. Grandpa was visiting us by himself one time (Grandma had something else she wanted to do or something). We were getting ready for bed one night up in my room. I had bunk beds, sort of. Two beds, up pretty high, built right in to the wall. Dad planned it that way, or Mom did, but he built the whole room himself when I was pretty little. I got to help. It had knotty pine siding everywhere and the boards were stained green except for the knots. They were all shiny and wood coloured and the walls were neat to look at. It's still like that upstairs. Each knot was a different size and shape from all the others and I used to look at them all the time. I knew the knots used to be branches, so I tried to look through them like they were pipes or something and see if I could tell whether the trunk was behind the board or in front of the board. I never got that figured out, but I think I figured out which way was up on the boards.

While Grandpa and I were getting ready for bed that night I kept thinking about his finger; especially how neat it was that my Grandpa had a finger like that. I kept wondering if he was going to tell me the story before I went to sleep. I couldn't get it off my mind, even when I was trying to stand on one foot to get my pajamas on. I almost fell down because of it, but didn't - - I didn't want Grandpa to see me fall down with my pajamas part way on, so I stopped thinking about it for a minute. I couldn't stand it, because it was so neat to go to sleep imagining him roping that horse in the snow. It was so much better to think about it right after he told me; especially when he was right there in the next bed. Even when I was almost asleep I still knew it was him. He didn't snore or anything, just breathe, and I think he went right to sleep as soon as he turned off the light. Not me. Grandpa had lots of long black hairs sticking out of his nose, and I wondered if that was what made it sound like that when he breathed. His middle name was "Black". I knew it wasn't because of the hairs in his nose, but it was still fun to think of it that way (I never told him).

While I was going to sleep I never thought about how much it hurt him to get his finger twisted. I don't know why, but I mainly imagined the horses running through the snow and Grandpa swinging the rope. Sometimes I'd imagine being Grandpa, or being a horse, but most of the time I just sort of "saw" it, like a movie, and it was really real. I can even see it right now, up close or far away, and from any angle. Except for down under the horses. I often wondered what it would look like from down there and knew I could do it if I tried, but it was too scary even in the daytime, and especially when I was going to sleep. I never even tried that one, and even now it scares me to think of what would happen if I did. If I just imagined it, I mean. I have a pretty good imagination, and it worries me that I might be too good at imagining what it would be like if a horse stepped on my head when it was running, or even on my finger. I don't even want to think about it.

Somehow I got my pajamas on, and then after I climbed up the ladder into bed and got down under the covers, but the light was still on, I asked him: "Grandpa, before I go to sleep will you tell me the story about how your finger got twisted up?" I really wanted to hear it, but when I asked him, Grandpa got really serious. He told me it wasn't a story, and that it really bothered him that I didn't believe what he said.

That was confusing because I liked him so much. And I knew it was true what he told me. Not just that, but other stuff too. Lots of stuff. He had stories about everything, and I really liked to listen to them. It wasn't just what he said in the stories, either, but everything about the way he told them. It was just true, and I could usually even see what he said while he talked. I have a pretty good imagination, but I still don't know how anyone can do that just because somebody says some words to them. But I could almost always do it if the story was good, and I still can. In fact, one of my problems is that if the story isn't really good I imagine things to make it better, and if the story is lousy I usually end up way out on a tangent imagining things that aren't even in the story.

Usually Grandpa's stories were so good that they made me forget about everything but the story. I even forgot that I was listening and forgot that Grandpa was telling me, and then it was really neat! It was real, and it sure felt good. Maybe that's why I didn't want to try to imagine it in the bad parts, like down under the horse. When it was something like Grandpa's finger getting twisted, I still listened, but I never forgot about other stuff and didn't imagine too hard. I just listened, even though I knew he wasn't going to tell me the worst parts. If I had imagined too hard and forgot about everything, I would have forgotten that he wasn't going to tell me the bad parts, and that would have been too scary. It was better to just listen and watch Grandpa's face while he talked. Especially around his eyes, the way the lines would change direction as the story changed. But I listened to what he said, almost always.

No matter how many times I listened to a story it was always a little different, so I listened as hard as I could and imagined. Sometimes there were surprises in Grandpa Gass's stories, but not usually. That was Grandpa Dale. Grandpa Gass sort of slowed down when he got close to scary or surprising places, or something, maybe to give me a chance to catch up. But he didn't really slow down, because he kept talking at the same speed. Maybe he said more words for the same amount of stuff or something. I don't know what he did, because I already told you that I didn't really pay attention to anything but the story. Maybe what he did helped me to stay with the story longer and put off watching his face instead of imagining. But he did do something that made it get really really exciting just before exciting stuff happened. And he could do it even with a brand new story that I had never heard before. I never got scared in his stories, but I sure got excited.

I never got scared by Grandpa Dale's stories, either, but they had lots of surprises. He made up silly stuff all of a sudden, like "I knew a boy by the name of Lee. He rode his bicycle up a tree. HaHaHaHaHa!" It was surprising because I never knew when he was going to do something like that. Grandpa Dale did one thing that surprised all the little kids and they really liked it. Well, they didn't really like it, because it was too surprising. He could always catch us by surprise, even when we knew he was going to do it. I know that doesn't make any sense, but he knew how to do it. What he did, was, he would get you in the bum with his fingers and bark really loud, just like a dog. Really really loud. It didn't make any difference if you knew he was going to do it; it still scared you that it might be a real dog. Not scared, really, because we knew it wasn't a real dog, but it sure sounded and felt like one. It never hurt when he bit us with his fingers, because he never pinched, just goosed. But he could make it feel just like a dog without teeth biting me. (We always called it "barking", because we knew it wasn't going to hurt, just scare us. Well not really "scare", but you know what I mean.) It was weird, because every time he did it you would jump clear across the room, hips first, and your heart would go real fast when you turned around to see if it was a dog or just Grandpa Dale. Sometimes he would laugh, but usually he just pretended he hadn’t done anything and didn't even see us when we jumped.

I know this stuff is true, because when I got older he didn't bark at me very much, maybe because he knew that I knew what he was thinking, and he also knew that I could turn around really fast and catch him. Sometimes he would get me anyway, though, even when I was big, and I never caught him; not even once. But he still did it to the little kids and I got to watch. That's the way it was. Some kids would get mad at him and tell him to stop, but he never did. And they always walked past his chair just like I used to do, pretending that they weren't thinking about it and hoping he would bark at them. They weren't any good at pretending, because they couldn't keep from putting their hands behind their bums so the dog wouldn't bite them.

Oh! I forgot to tell you what I wanted to tell you, about stories. That night, after I asked Grandpa Gass to tell me about how his finger got that way and he told me it wasn't a story, I don't know whether he told it to me. But it doesn't matter. While I went to sleep I wondered lots of things about what stories really are, and I kept wondering for a long time after, even now. I never got it all figured out.

When I woke up in the morning that day, Grandpa was already up. He always was, because he liked to get up early. He and Mom would drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and talk. She didn't care if he smoked inside, because she did too, and I think he liked that. Dad drank coffee with them when he was home, but he didn't smoke. He wasn't home very much then, because the war was on, or just after, and he had to work on the railroad all the time. When he was home he usually slept so he could go to work again, but it was nice if we could all have a big breakfast together. Anyhow, when I woke up that morning Mom knew it somehow. She came right upstairs and told me that Grandpa had been pretty upset with me when he came downstairs. He told her that I didn't believe his stories. He probably didn't say "stories", because he thought stories weren't true. I don't know what he said, because I was still asleep and wasn't there, but he probably said I thought they were just stories or something like that. I don't know, and I never figured any of this stuff out. For me it didn't make any sense, because I knew stories could be true. They don't have to be true, and lots of good ones aren't. But they can be, and the ones Grandpa Gass told me always were. Grandpa Dale made a lot of his stories up, but not always, and I could always tell by the way that he told them and the look on his face (he didn't have hairs coming out of his nose, but they would have been white if he did). Mom said she knew I believed Grandpa's stories. She said "stories", and that made me feel good. Mom usually said stuff I could understand. She said Grandpa just meant a different thing by "story" than I did, and not to worry. Then she said he was ready to have breakfast with me as soon as I got dressed and washed my face. I think we were having waffles. Mom liked to make waffles, because we liked them so much.

I didn't drink coffee then because it tasted so bad, but Grandpa did. You should have seen how he did it. First he poured some coffee in his saucer. Then he swirled it around and blew on it, then drank it off the edge of the saucer. He said it got cooler that way, and that he wasn't used to drinking really hot coffee. It seemed like a good idea, but Mom wouldn't let me try it with my hot chocolate. Grandpa never spilled a drop, even though when he was there they used those funny cups with the little handles on the side, the ones people drink tea out of but we never used if somebody wasn't visiting. I still don't see how people can hold those cups; I never figured out how to do it even though my fingers are pretty strong.

Watching Grandpa Gass drink coffee was almost as neat as watching him cut slices of apple with his knife and lay them on his tongue. He always ate apples that way, except for the core. He ate the core, too, just like me, using the stem for a handle. I usually finished the regular part before he did, because I took such big bites. I liked to take really big bites of apple, especially the snappy kind, because they made such a big sound when they snapped off. When you first bit down on the bite it was pretty hard to keep your lips closed, because the pieces were so big and had to move past each other so you could chew. But you have to keep your mouth closed, because snappy ones have so much juice. Otherwise juice and pieces come right out when you chew. If you took too big a bite it was embarrassing, because stuff came out all over. I tried not to do it that way but sometimes I couldn't help it.

Grandpa never snapped his apples, even outdoors. He always used his knife. And the amazing part was that he never cut his tongue even though his knife was so sharp it could cut anything. I got his knife after he died. He said he got in the habit of keeping his knife sharp a long time ago, just in case. He didn't tell me when "a long time ago" or “in case” were, but his knife was always really sharp and it sliced right through the apple like it wasn't even there, even if it wasn't a snappy one. Sometimes he made a really really thin slice when it was a snappy one and gave it to me, right off his knife. Not on my tongue, though. That would have been too scary, because what if I sneezed or something and cut off my tongue? He just held it out on the tip of the knife, usually so it stuck way out on both sides and was easy to get. He always said, "You be careful of that knife, Lee", and I always was. After I took the slice off the knife I always held it up to the light and looked right through it, almost like a window. Well, not like a regular window, but I knew about those paper windows in trappers' cabins, with grease all over them so they would let the light through. I never saw one and never understood what the grease did, but I knew you could see just light and not stuff. For example you couldn't see if a bear was outside and wanted to get in unless it was right up close to the window and its shadow make it dark. Then you could tell it was a bear. Thin slices of apple were sort of like that, except they were pretty and little. You could also see around their edges and tell there weren't any bears, and they didn't have any grease.

Those thin ones are neat, because when you lay them down on your tongue something special happens. I don't know how to tell you about it, but it tasted and felt neat. You should try it some time. You have to use a really sharp knife if you want to make thin slices, and then use it for a spatula to lay the slice where you want on your tongue. Grandpa's tongue didn't stay out very long, but he could put slices anywhere he wanted on his tongue. He was quick, and I always wondered how he could keep from cutting his tongue off. He must have been paying close attention, but he did it so fast that I always wondered.

After I got married my wife didn't like how I ate apples. You know, snapping them like I told you. She said it wasn't polite, and said she wanted me to eat them some other way. I kept my knife pretty sharp and did it Grandpa's way sometimes, but she didn't like it that way either, especially if kids were around. She said it would give them ideas. She never told me how she wanted me to eat apples, just "some other way". I discovered only one other way to eat apples that was any good, but she said that way was even worse. So I usually snapped them. Most of the time I went outside to eat apples so I could snap them without worrying about whether it was polite or anything. I never smoked cigars, but I always thought of Grandpa Gass when I went outside to eat apples.

Maybe I should tell you about that other way to eat apples in case you want to try it. If you know of some other way that works I'd sure like to hear it, because I'm always looking for good ways that don't get me in trouble in polite company but still let me enjoy myself. Sometimes I think the whole idea of polite company is to not have any fun, but I don't really know. None of that stuff makes much sense to me and I've never figured it out. This other way to eat apples is best indoors, and most people don't mind it too much if you don't get carried away (except at the end; some of them say that part is disgusting). You cut thick slices, maybe 3/4 of an inch across the skin, cut off the core, and put the thick slices on a saucer, maybe with some cheese. It works best if you put them on their backs, like little boats with red or green bottoms. The boats will rock back and forth, but I wouldn't try that in polite company if I were you. Somebody will always say, "Don't play with your food!", and it doesn't make any difference how old you are. More slices will fit on the saucer if you put them that way, and they are easier to pick up.

There are two good things about this way that you might like, but my wife didn't like either of them. You put the skin of a slice on your bottom teeth, close your top teeth just a little bit (don't bite down), and bend the apple down. If the apple is really good the slice will snap a little bit when you do this, which is great. It isn't very loud, but my wife could hear it from anywhere in the house. I think that's because when you do that your mouth is all round inside like the Mormon Tabernacle and the sound goes everywhere. After you snap the slice you can peel the skin off the part in your hand because it is still in one piece. If you are really careful you can peel the skin off the other half too, and then lay it on your tongue (it feels weird because it is so thin, and sometimes it sticks to your tongue). Just give it a try and see if you like it. I do, but I prefer to snap whole big bites off the apple in the first place. The core is better that way too, especially if the stem is still on. People usually don't like it too much when I use my knife in polite company. I think they get nervous about whether I'll cut my tongue or something, but I never do. They probably worry that it will give kids ideas, too, but I don't know what difference that would make. It's fun to have ideas, but I guess some people don't like fun very much. I'm not as quick with my knife as Grandpa Gass, but I'm pretty good.

Last year when we started Science One, there was a reception over at Cecil Green mansion. It was a big deal with smoked salmon and things like that, and the Dean, the Vice President, and some of the department heads made speeches. I felt out of place with all that pomp, but it was fun to eat smoked salmon and talk with the students. There was a big bunch of students on the lawns, and one of them, Andrew, told me that his sister had been in my class eight years earlier. She told him it would be fun for him to be in my class and told him he would learn a lot, but she also said she always wondered when the stories would stop and when I would start teaching. Everybody laughed, but I could tell that Andrew hadn't said everything so I asked, "What was the answer?"

She said "They never do!"

That's exactly right. The stories never stop. It isn't that I plan it that way or anything; it just happens. Sometimes I think I don't know how to talk or listen except in stories. I don't know what else there is, and I'm getting worse instead of better now that I'm a grandpa. People sometimes think I'm just being difficult when I say things like that, but I'm not. There may be something strange about me in this sense. I don't know. I just don't know any other way to do it than to tell stories. At least not any really good way that makes students forget all about themselves as students and just listen and learn. They remember better that way, too, if I can pull it off, in spite of the fact that they forget to take notes. It works best when they forget all about everything and then get mad at me because I didn’t make them take notes.

Weird. Sometimes students remember more than I actually tell them. Sometimes when I leave little things out they get them anyway; they usually do if I tell the story right. It isn't that they remember wrong things, just more. And you know what? The things they remember but I didn't say usually really are part of the story. I just didn't say them. This kind of thing works a lot better if I tell the students I'm not trying to teach them anything with the story; that I just have something I think they'll find interesting. I don't know what this means, but it sure is interesting. Well I do have ideas about it, but this isn't a good time to tell you about them. Right now I'm fascinated with the whole idea of stories and how they function in the personal and public lives of languaging beings like us. I'd rather stick to that if it is OK with you.

Sievert Rohwer said one time that science is about telling stories, and many other people have said the same thing. But lots of other people say it isn't that way, and sometimes scientists get pretty hot under the collar over this issue. This just makes me wonder what people on both sides of the argument think stories are. I wonder whether they might be talking about two different things but calling them by the same name. The more I think about it, the more I think it makes a big difference whether I was right when I was little and stories can be true. I know now that it isn't really that the best stories are always true, and I can tell you all about the dangers of storytelling in science, but I'll save that for later. Right now the thing that fascinates me is that even if they are wrong, good stories hang together in a way that attracts attention and keeps people interested. It seems to me that as long as there are ways to tell the difference between stories that are true and ones that are not, then the telling contributes something important.

All of this raises an important question about stories, about teaching and learning, about families, and about all kinds of other things. What is there about a good story that weaves together the separate elements of a body of information into a tapestry that reveals their essence in relation to others in the pattern? What makes a story one whole thing in addition to its being a collection of parts? How does that 'oneness', whatever it is, help us to remember the elements and understand them almost in spite of ourselves, even if we never actually hear all of them?

Luis Sobrino said that understanding is "a bright light that shines in the mind." If this is a good way to describe it, then what is there about a good story that turns on the light? Luis also insists that we don't understand anything unless we know how it works. He was speaking as a scientist when he said that, but he also reads poetry, literature, and philosophy and is a sailor, so I don't know exactly what he meant. In either case, how does a story illuminate functional aspects of systems and allow us to "see" how they work? Even if it were true that stories can't explain anything in any ultimate sense, I think they somehow make it clearer what it is that requires explanation. I want to know how they do this. I don't know about you, but this stuff fascinates me.