When my girls were around ten or eleven, I used to let them host a sleep-over with some of their girlfriends in the neighborhood. As a single dad raising three girls, I tried whatever I could to make their lives special and secure.
Every so often, I let them invite three friends each to come and have hot dogs, ice cream floats and dance to the latest records (they wore out more 45's than I can count). Along about seven o'clock, they all decided it was time to go to bed. For the kids who had been invited before, they knew that bedtime meant scary story time.
As soon as everyone was washed up and tucked away in their beds or sleeping bags, I would come up the darkened stairs with a lit candle and a smokey old corn cob pipe and sit down on an old stool that always magically appeared from out of my bedroom to just beside the door to the girls' room. The phrase I uttered was something like…"Is anyone in here interested in a story?" The answer was usually a chorus of little girls screeching…"Yes, please" muffled by ruffled covers and sleeping blankets.
When I first started telling stories, I would tell the standards – you know – "Three Billy Goats Gruff", that sort of thing. They and I quickly got tired of that. So I started to make up stories, like…"The Fog" and "The Swap Amoebia" I had no idea what an Amoebia was, but they didn't mind. It sounded scary to them, so I went with it. All during the telling of the story, I would lull them into the details of the scene and then shout something horrible and grab at them. The usual result was a chorus of screams followed by excited laughter. I would pull that stunt two or three times throughout the session and then leave. It usually took them a half an hour or so of excited giggling to finally fall asleep.
The next day, I had breakfast ready, fed everybody and chased all the other girls home – since they all lived in the neighborhood and could walk home in a few minutes.
During that time I would tell them stories that probably wouldn't scare any kids today. But back then a room full of little girls would shriek and hide their heads under their blankets in mock terror at the stories. Then they would ask me to tell another one.
Many years later, when they had their own children, my daughters asked me to tell the grandkids the same stories. When I set the tone (minus the pipe and stool) and began to tell the stories, my daughters - who were in the room snapping pictures - interrupted me to say I wasn't telling the story right. Go figure.
Today, our children are used to so much "blood and guts" from TV and DVD's that many of them would find my act pretty boring. But it seems to me that the point of storytelling is less about the story and more about the connection with another generation. That, sadly, is what is fading away. There may be hope yet, I'm waiting for the great grandkids to get a little older so I can try my "scary" stories out on them.