Sleeping arrangements were tight - my four brothers slept in the basement, one room with two sets of bunk beds. The baby slept near my parents. And me? I had my own room. Near the kitchen. Perfect! Because after dinner - with the dishes cleared, homework done, and everyone admonished to, “Get in bed and stay in bed,” my Mom would sit at the kitchen table. She'd smoke her Parliaments, and read the paper. Dad was stretched out on his Lazyboy a few feet away in the living room. I faked being asleep as I lay perfectly still in my bed, straining to listen. Faint cigarette smoke would sweetly waft into my room and I would hear Mom casually clearing her throat and slowly flipping the pages of the newspaper at the table.
Finally, I would hear it. Mom would turn on the kitchen-table radio and adjust the dial to the local St. Paul station. Prayers - answered! Now I could relax under the covers as the program announcer would do his slow, deep-throated introduction, announcing 'The WCCO Radio Mystery Hour.’ The show would begin in the middle of the story, starting where it had ended. That was rather confusing but I didn't care. The plot lines were familiar, usually involving a dead body, a gun and an unknown killer. The melodramatic background music, the accentuated sound effects, and the hint of possible motives, added to the already vivid imagery.
I lay there in bed, piecing together the details about the main suspects - the inquisitive gumshoe detective, the squeaky voiced secretary, the snide gambler with unpaid debts. Who was lying? If only my Mom would turn up the volume. I'd be a fool to let her know I was hanging on every word. The last thing I wanted was to hear was her calling out, “Are you still awake?”
Suddenly, to my disappointment, the announcer interrupted, “ . . . and stay tuned to find out what happens next week on 'The WCCO Radio Mystery Hour."
Family, stories, and low-level mischief - I remember it like yesterday.
People often ask me when I first realized the importance of story. Perhaps this is one of those times.