A story is more than words

Jerry Apps
Stories help us recall the past while opening a window to the future.

Those who know me are well aware of my love for stories. I grew up hearing them. My dad was a first-rate storyteller, so were several of our farm neighbors. Beyond the great meals, as the neighbors gathered for threshing, silo filling, corn shredding and wood sawing, were the stories. Told after the meals. Told during the breaks in work. Driving by a field of shocked oats triggers for me stories about threshing days. Corn shocks remind me of corn shredding crews.

Stories are important, well beyond their entertainment value. Stories help us recall the past while opening a window to the future. Stories tie us to our past and at the same time provide a platform for facing the future. By telling our stories, we are coming out from behind ourselves and letting other people know a little more about who we are.

The pictures formed in our minds when we hear a story are often far better than those we see in movies or on television. As a kid, I listened to radio programs: The Lone Ranger, Terry and the Pirates, Captain Midnight, Jack Armstrong and others. The stories tapped into my imagination. I lived the stories right along with the radio actors who were telling them. I saw the pictures in my mind as clearly as if they were printed on paper.

A story is more than words. A story can evoke feelings in people they have thought long forgotten, bringing tears and laughter, sometimes in the same paragraph. Our stories make us different from one another yet tie us all together.

Storytelling can change us forever. Our stories can help us discover meaning in our lives without defining or describing it. Stories ground us, give us pleasure, and provide a sense of purpose in our lives. Stories help make us human. When we forget our stories, we forget who we are.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Tell me a story.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to or contact him at