I come from a long line of storytellers I enjoy listening to a good tale, and have some decent stories to pass along myself, if I do say so. Of course, I have few opportunities to tell anyone around here, as the folks around here are only interested in hearing stories about, well, people around here. I believe this is what the dictionary would describe as provincialism. I should not complain, however, for it is only a minor annoyance and given everything else that is going on these days, it hardly qualifies as a real problem. I do not do nostalgia or cheap sentimentality and so resort to listening mode here in my small town. But get me around my friends; or better yet, my cousins, and the stories will fly.
I was talking to my son this morning, hearing the latest goings-on in what might be called Tbilisi café society. Living as an expat in a foreign capital is not without its adventures, apparently. But we also discussed the implications of the recent death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. John wondered how things might have been different if the Hashemites had not been given the shaft by Wilson et al at the Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles. I warmed to this subject, as one of my favorite themes of historical discourse is that most global problems of the twentieth century can be traced back, one way or the other, to Woodrow Wilson. (And the fact that George W. Bush's foreign policy was often characterized as "Wilsonian" offers a key insight into my animus towards his administration.)
Then John made some offhand remark about the time our Uncle Bill met the king. I said "What?" He replied, "you know, the time he met the King of Saudi Arabia." No, I did not know. As a 17-year old, my Uncle Bill dropped out of school, hopped a freight train to California and joined the Coast Guard, this being his ticket out of Depression-era Texas. When the war came, he joined up with the Navy and served 26 years, retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer. He really did see the world during that time, circumnavigating the globe three times. He had tons of stories, and I liked nothing better than sharing a pot of coffee with him and listening to them roll out. I had a keen ear for his stories about growing up in central Texas. The Navy tales, however, ran together in my hearing. As much as I enjoy hearing of other lands, I did not have an overriding interest in sailing or the sea.
Uncle Bill kept a lot of memorabilia from those days, and I guess I looked through all the pictures at least a half a dozen times through the years. Yes, I do recall there being one snapshot taken on the ship where Bill and two or three other sailors were relaxing on deck. One of the men had a monkey on his shoulder. My son remembered Uncle Bill showing him the same picture, but he thought to ask the obvious question that only a child would know to ask, namely: "Where did the monkey come from?" To which Uncle Bill replied, "the King gave it to us." I remember that Uncle Bill spent a lot of time in the Persian Gulf area, and had visited Saudi Arabia more than once. I'm not exactly sure of the date, so it could have been either Ibn Saud or Saud, but apparently the king had an extra monkey to offer to the crew.
John has a much more precise and exacting memory than I do. I am pleased (and proud) to realize that he has been there all along, listening, and perhaps salvaging some of the stories I let slip through the cracks.