Speakers: Krista Baum, Frank Van Meter, Bob Ravioli, & Diane Tekin
Hi, welcome to the Storyworth Podcast. We're glad you're here. I'm your host, Krista Baum, co-founder of Storyworth.
On this podcast, we featured true stories written by Storyworth writers. If you're new to Storyworth, we help people write their life stories, the big stories and the small ones.
Once a week, we send our writers a question to help inspire their writing. They reply to the email with an answer or story that comes to mind. At the end of the year, we print what they've written into a beautiful keepsake book.
Every story written using Storyworth is private. But for this podcast, the writers volunteered to share their stories publicly with you.
It's our season two finale, so we're doing things a little differently, short stories written and read by their authors.
We have three stories to share with you today. Tales of childhood triumph, mischief, and in one case, a little bit of both. We'll let our first writer take it away.
Frank Van Meter:
I'm Frank Van Meter. I live in Pen Grove, California right now. And this story was written when I lived in a little town down near Hanford, California when I was a child.
We Didn't Know.
There was this Mexican restaurant in Hanford that dad and mom really liked. They loved Mexican food and they preferred that restaurant. And the people who worked there always greeted mom and dad by name and had a little chat.
So, when relatives came calling, Dad often took them to that restaurant for the real deal.
One summer day, Uncle Arley and Aunt Norma drove all the way from Mesa to see us. I was so happy to see Steven. We're the kind of cousins that after years pass and our paths crossed, we just pick up where we left off like we were together yesterday. Mischief and adventure. That's Steve and me.
At the Mexican restaurant, the grownups sat and talked long after dinner was over. For two seven-year-old boys, a couple of minutes is a long time.
We somehow managed to get away from the table and strike out on our own. So many places to explore.
The kitchen was too scary. Lots of shouting, grownups rushing around, and flaming stoves, and boiling pots, and slapping tortillas, and chopping red meat, and sweaty faces scowling at us.
The bathroom was too stinky. Do your business and get out of there. The dining room was too crowded with grownups.
Two sneaky little boys practiced their sneaking until they found themselves on the sidewalk.
I remember the summer sky was that greenish blue of dusk right after the red goes to bed and just before get in the house dark wakes up and spoils everything. The air was refreshing even though the sidewalk still radiated the day's heat.
There was this telephone pole outside the restaurant door right in the middle of the sidewalk. We were circling around the pole and testing it for strength the way boys do when I looked up and saw a red box kind of thing. I could only see the bottom of it. It was definitely red metal I thought.
“What is that?” Steven looked up where I was pointing. “I don’t know.” We backed away for the pole to get a better angle on the red thing, but that didn't help because I bumped my head on the storefront before I could get far enough back to see it well.
And Steve was no help because he was shorter than me. But we could tell it was certainly a red box nailed somehow to that pole.
“If I get up on your shoulders, I think I can see it better.” So, I put my hands and head against the pole, spread my feet apart, and Steve climbed me like Tarzan up a tree.
“It's got a white handle on it.” “What's that for?” “I don't know.” He could see the thing and still didn't know what it was. All I could see right then was the bottom of the pole and little drops of my sweat making polka dots on the concrete between my feet.
“Well, pull on it and see what happens.” “It's more like a switch. It just goes up and down like a big light switch.” “Did you pull it?” “Yep. Couple of times. Nothing.” “My head's starting to hurt.”
So, he climbed down, and we went back in the restaurant and sat down at the table.
Finally, the grownups started gathering up their purses, and hats, and kids to go home. We heard a siren in the distance as we started for the front door. The siren got louder and louder. As we went out the door, we saw a firetruck turn the corner a few blocks down and hurried towards us.
We were getting in the car when it pulled up and stopped right out front. The firemen jumped out and rushed inside ready for action. But the people in the restaurant were not on fire. Just confused.
The firemen, and the restaurateurs, and customers gathered on the sidewalk with much talking, and asking, and confusion. We heard someone on the sidewalk yell, “Some vandal pull the fire alarm.”
Steve and I were in the backseat now, big eyed and silent. I was thinking we had best keep shut and maybe we wouldn't hear any more about it. I looked at Steve, he nodded in agreement.
As dad pulled out of the parking space onto the street, Aunt Norma said, “What a shame that anybody would do such a thing. And what if someone across town was actually on fire while the firetruck chased a false alarm because of some vandal's mischief? People could die that way.”
Then Mom said, “It's sad that the world has gotten so bad that there are people who would waste taxpayers’ money like that.” Dad said flatly, “They should find out who did it and put them in jail.” Uncle Arley nodded in agreement.
“We didn't know. We didn't know what it was. We didn't mean any harm. Steve pulled the handle, and nothing happened, so we just went back inside. I held him up there while he did it, but I didn't know what it was for either.”
“Don't let him throw us in jail, Daddy. Me and Frankie were just trying to figure out what it was. We didn't know.”
To our relief, dad didn't take us to the police but kept on driving towards home.
Mom and Aunt Norma took turns instructing us on the virtues of staying with the grownups, the dangers of wandering off, the possibilities of death and destruction for unattended small boys out on the street, and the absolute necessity of keeping hands off of things you don't understand, et cetera.
As their voices faded off into the distance, from my side of the backseat, I could see that dad had a quiet smile on his face. Uncle Arley smiled too, just a little, and nodded in agreement.
Frank, how did you get started with Storyworth?
Frank Van Meter:
At Christmas of 2021, my youngest daughter gave it to me as a gift. I was really excited about it. I had already written several stories about my childhood, most of them written in a fictitious framework with different name changes and a lot of embellishments to make a much more exciting and interesting.
So, some of those I just edited to make them more true and put them in there. So, that's how I started it, and I found it really a wonderful format for that.
Then I got 10 copies and sent each one of them to each of my children, and each of my siblings, and my mom, and a couple of friends, and it was great.
I know for a lot of writers, certain prompts make them remember things they've long forgotten. Did that happen to you?
Frank Van Meter:
Yeah. There was another thing about did I ever win anything that sparked some memories that hadn't been very prevalent for me because the memories of my failures and problems followed me around like a bunch of heckling street kids.
I have to coax my memories of winning out of the dark and bring them out and encourage them and command them to speak.
Our next story takes us back to 1958 when our author was striving to be the valedictorian of his high school class. There was just one thing in his way, and he's here to tell us all about it.
My name is Bob Ravioli, retired and living in Fort Worth, Texas. My story is about a true situation that came to my attention the last week of my junior year in high school. My hope is that you enjoy my story.
The Underwood Typewriter Caper.
The year was 1958, just one week away from finishing my junior year at Haleyville High School. I was a good student and striving to be the class valedictorian of my upcoming senior class, but I found myself locked in a two-person race with classmate Iva May.
We both had a four-point grade point average through our junior year and a desire to achieve the top honor.
During this final week of my junior year, an incident occurred that was shocking to me, which energized my push toward excellence.
I was in the school library standing behind a door looking for a book, out of view of the library window when I overheard three teachers discussing the upcoming senior class. Overhearing their conversation raised my dander and made me realize the apparent animosity held toward me.
I found out later in life this was due to one, being Catholic and two, being the son of an Italian immigrant.
You see, at that time in Oklahoma, only 2% of the population was Catholic and immigrants and offsprings were looked down on.
What came out in the conversation of the teachers was as follows, “Well, we won't have to worry about Robert being the valedictorian. He just registered in my typing class next year, and there is no way any of the big athletes are nimble enough to excel in typing.”
When they left the window area, I came out from behind the door and said, “I'll just see about that.” I remember having dinner with my parents that evening while avoiding telling them of the incident at school and asked them for a favor.
I told them I registered in a typing class my senior year and wanted to make sure in doing so that I could maintain my top grades and achieve the top honors. I asked if they would buy me a typewriter so I could practice at home starting that summer and throughout the year.
There were some reluctance because of the cost, but they agreed to help me look around. We found a used Underwood manual typewriter in great shape for $75, which was a big sum at that time in McAlester, Oklahoma.
In the famous words of commentator Paul Harvey, “Now, for the rest of the story.” I was determined not to be upstaged by the teacher’s hidden agenda. I spent the whole summer practicing two hours a day on that typewriter.
This didn't stop when school started in the fall. Every day without fail after school and after sports practices, I pounded away for an hour or so.
In typing class, I messed around during the week making a lot of errors in practice sessions, all the while gauging Iva May and her speed of typing. Had that pretty well figured out.
And on Fridays, we would have a five minute speed test with only five mistakes allowed. I consistently stayed about three to five words a minute ahead of her with less than five mistakes.
You can see the bewilderment of the teacher knowing that during the week I fumbled through the keyboard, often jamming keys. So, how could I possibly do that well on the test? This went on for the whole year.
As the year progressed, everyone gained more skills and speed, 35 words a minute, then 40, then 50. Some students struggled to keep up, but I stayed comfortably ahead of Iva May by three to five words per minute.
I often wondered what was being said about me because the three teachers gathered every day for the study hall period and talked, don't know about what, but I'm sure I entered into the discussion at times.
A classmate, Charles and I were asked if we would use our study hall time once a week to do minor repairs and upkeep on the typewriters. Boy, was that fun.
We kept the units oiled and clean, but periodically we would do something to someone's station that would disrupt their practice session. A spring may pop out or a certain key would jam.
Once on Iva May’s, the stop on the return released and the roller went dangling to the side. Malgachi, the teacher would say, “Robert, Charles, did you check that typewriter this week?” The reply was generally that there didn't seem to be anything wrong with it, so we didn't do anything.
Now, the year is nearing the end. Valedictorian and honors were there if I could exceed Iva May’s speed and skills. I felt confident for I had worked hard practicing many hours at home over the past several months.
It was understood that anyone excelling would have bonus points that would go toward any honors tiebreakers.
The big day, the final chapter, 10 minutes of typing and no more than 10 mistakes without point reduction.
Ms. Iva May exceeded her best speed considerably. Her test was graded first and word spread quickly that she had established a new typing speed level for the high school to the delight of the typing teacher. Iva May had typed 64 words per minute.
The class listened quietly while the teacher was going through the rest of the papers, and it was obvious when she came to mine. The skin on her jaw needed medical attention when it dropped against the desk in disbelief.
I had just completed the speed test at 78 words per minute with less than the allotted errors and established an unheard of speed for the times. There was no question that my plan I set into motion for a full year was a success.
A week later, I was presented at an honors assembly, a gold pendant, and a certificate from Underwood Typewriter Company declaring Robert Ravioli as the fastest typist in Pittsburgh County, Oklahoma.
As a result, I was awarded the Valedictorian Honors for the 1959 Haleyville High School class.
It was 20 years later at a class reunion that I revealed the entire story to my typing teacher. I thanked her for instilling in me the drive and fight to excel, albeit as a result of their animosities toward me.
Bob, I know that a lot of Storyworth writing for you is about trying to pass along family history. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
My father and my grandfather were Italian Italians. When I was born, I was an Italian-American. When my kids were born, they were American-Italian. When their kids were born, they were American-American. And trying to maintain that heritage, but they lose that, they forget that.
The thing that I regret the most is that they never knew my grandfather and don't recognize the importance of family ties like we did then.
In your emails with Hannah, our producer, you were talking about the wonders of email and how fast you could communicate, and you said it quote, “Ranks up there with our homemade pasta.” She wants to know, is that a turn of phrase or do you really make homemade pasta?
Oh, as a tradition, my spouse and I, we've been married 58 years, she's just a great cook and is excellent in making noodle dough. So, every Sunday before Thanksgiving, we would make homemade raviolis. We would do literally 20 to 25 dozen at a time, which took about three days.
We have a granddaughter that is just turned 16, and she is without fail an amazing cook. She wanted to learn how to do it, and so Carolyn took her through the steps of how you do the dough, what do you feel for, what do you look for in the consistency.
And Carolyn did the first two dozen, and Brighton did the next six, and you can't really tell the difference. She wanted to learn how to do them because she wanted to keep the recipe in the family and know how to do it.
Man, I wish my parents passed on our family culture with food. Speaking of ravioli, I have to ask. You're an Italian immigrant, your name is Robert Ravioli. Did you ever get made fun of for your name?
See, it's actually spelled different. To pronounce it correctly, it's Robert Aioli, but who's going to remember that? They're going to say Ravioli.
Believe me, the things that came out of that were all in fun. I was called the pasta man, spaghetti bender. But yeah, I took, I still do take a lot of teasing on that, but I know from the people it's coming from. The intent, the fun, love, whatever.
And we have one more story today. Have you ever dreamt about having a twin, like dreamt about what you could get away with, what pranks you would pull?
Our next author has lived that dream and is here to share with us her story of Twin Hood with her sister Liz.
Hi, my name is Diane Tekin. I grew up in Southern California where I still live. This is a story about my twin sister and I.
One of the most common questions people would ask me as I was growing up was, “What's it like being a twin?” At first, when I was young, I would look at them and just say, “Huh?” For I was truly perplexed.
I mean, really, how could I know what it's like being a twin if I've had nothing to compare it to? After all, I've never not been a twin.
But therefore, as I grew older and smarter, my standard reply became, “I don't know. What's it like not being a twin.”
My identical twin sister, Liz and I were born five minutes apart with our size and weight differing only by one ounce. We looked so much alike that our mother used to write our names on our clothing.
Yet surprisingly, she dressed us in identical outfits. Hint to mom here, dressing us differently might have lessened the confusion, albeit it would have removed some of the fun and attention from family, friends, and general looky-loos.
Thankfully, our parents did not give us rhyming names, as is often the case with twins. But that didn't stop our own siblings and classmates from labeling us with rhyming names of their own devices.
Thus, Elizabeth or Liz and Diane became known as Lizzie and Dizzy among a host of other less laddering monikers.
We were lumped together so often we felt as if we were a two-headed being. We pretty much shared everything. Clothes, toys, books, birthday cakes even. You name it, we shared it.
The birthday cake thing was a particular bone of contention with our mom. While everyone else in our family got their own birthday cake, we had to share one cake.
We couldn't help that we were born on the same day, and we felt very strongly that we were each deserving of our very own personal birthday cake and candles.
Another common question we were asked was, “Do you play tricks on people?” No, we did not. We didn't have to. People were constantly mixing us up and confusing us to the point of embarrassment. I genuinely felt bad for these sincere numb nuts.
By high school, we had both had enough. Kids would often walk up and ask, “Are you you or are you your sister?” In addition to such nonsense questions, they were constantly bugging my sister and I to trade places and play tricks on the teachers and other unsuspecting classmates.
One day in 11th grade math class, my classmates were relentless bugging and begging me for the umpteenth time to play a trick on Mr. Crabtree. “Please,” they begged, “Please, we won't tell.”
They swore to secrecy that they would not let on. They just wanted to see if Mr. Crabtree could be fooled. Ha ha ha.
So, finally I said, “Okay, I'll do it tomorrow.” Liz and I would need some time to plan out the finer details of our body slaw.
The next day during math class, the kids that sat around me were so hyped up with excitement as they asked about the plan. I leaned in and I quietly shared.
It went like this. Halfway through class I would ask to use the restroom. I would then go to the locker room where I would meet Lizzie. She would come back to math class and take my spot while I would go to her class.
Well, my classmates were just beside themselves with excitement. A few got so riled up I had to threaten them with pulling the plug. No deal unless they could keep it together. After all, Liz and I were the ones that would be disciplined if we got caught. They swore they'd be our calm and silent accomplices.
So, halfway through class just as planned, I raised my hand and asked to use the restroom. I quickly made a beeline to the gymnasium and met Lizzie in the locker room. But we didn't actually trade places like we said we would.
What our classmates didn't know was that Liz and I had devised a plan of our own. Instead of swapping places, I gave Lizzie my clothing and she gave me the outfit she had worn to school that day.
Very quickly, I put on her clothes and hurriedly returned to my math class, and Lizzie went back to her class wearing my clothes. As it was, her classmates had been bugging her and she told them of our plan to trade places as well.
My classmates became giddy the moment they saw me (I mean, Lizzie, as they thought) enter the room. There was a wave of whispers and giggles as I walked up the aisle trying to act like I was Liz. Yet at the same time, trying not to draw attention from our teacher.
I sat down in my seat and tried to keep my cool. The kids nearby, the ones who were privy to the plan, stared at me and smiled the biggest smile I'd ever seen on their faces.
After all, this was math class. No one smiles in Algebra II. One boy called out, “Mr. Crabtree, do you notice anything different?” “Oh, no, no, no,” I thought as I shot a deadly stink eye to this dude.
By now, the wave of whispers spread throughout the classroom. It seemed like the entire class suddenly became all smug and obnoxious, thinking that they had one over on unsuspecting Mr. Crabtree, our math teacher.
Although he did not seem a bit confused by the commotion, he continued on with the lesson. I guess he was used to teenage antics. I tried my hardest to keep it cool and fly under the radar by wearing my innocent face.
Finally, class was over, and it couldn't have ended soon enough. That's when I made my big confession to the kids sitting closest to me. The ones who were the main instigators. “Lizzie and I did not really trade places.” I confessed. “It's me, Diane, not Lizzie.”
Yes, I told them I did leave class, and yes, I did meet up with my twin as planned in the locker room. But Lizzie and I did not actually trade places. We simply traded outfits.
“So, here I am wearing my sister's clothes and ha ha ha, the jokes on you. You thought I was her, but I'm not her. I'm me. Really, I am.” And then I added, “So, from now on, would you please leave me alone when it comes to these dumb twin jokes.”
Many of them sat there speechless, wide-eyed, dumbfounded, speechless. Some stared at me in total disbelief, not knowing whether or not I was joking.
You see, in reality, they couldn't really tell us apart. But from that day on, no one bugged me or Lizzie to play tricks on anyone anymore.
So, Diane, other than the pranks and tricks you guys would pull, how would you describe what being a twin is really like?
I definitely feel that being a twin is a huge blessing because you have someone who, I mean, like knows your everything you've ever been through and they have your back.
Even though I'm sure we've gone through sibling rivalry on steroids because you're constantly juggling for position and attention and so forth. But the benefits far, far, far outweigh the disadvantages of people mixing you up and people seeing you as one person. Or we'd be a book short in class. It's like, “Let the twins share. They're twins.”
Far more of a blessing and advantages being a twin than, like I said, the disadvantages of being lost in the shuffle and being seen as half of a person or whatever. Yeah, so, thank you God for giving me a twin sister.
But we do have other siblings. We came from a big family, so we have two older brothers and three younger sisters. We always refer to our older brothers as our brothers. When I say my sister, I'm talking about Liz. When I talk about my other sisters, I usually say, “Oh yeah, those guys.”
Well, I don't know, my dad would sometimes say something about, “Where's your sister?” And I go, “Well, which sister do you mean?” He goes, “Come on, you know you only have one.” Because she's the one I would refer to as my sister. So, it's different. Yeah, it's different.
How did you get started writing with Storyworth?
So, my second daughter, she knew I liked to tell stories and she wanted them documented so that her kids would be able to hear the same stories I used to tell her about my childhood all the time.
I had not even heard of Storyworth. I didn't even know it was a thing. Got some good stories when you're a twin, I tell you. So, when she told me about that, I thought, “Oh, that's very interesting.” I enjoyed it very much.
And as you were writing your stories, did you get any surprising responses from your daughters?
No, actually no. I only sent stories to the one daughter who gave me the subscription because I wanted the other ones to be a gift, which I did buy each daughter. I actually bought them each one of my husband's book.
And then my daughter who bought my subscription, she bought each of her sister's one of my books. So, this last Christmas, they got two books. They got my book, and then they got his book too.
I know you've really enjoyed the process. It sounds like you're a really prolific writer. How many stories do you have in your book?
Oh gosh. It has like, I want to say 40 something stories in it. It's over 200 pages long. And so then I gave one to my husband because I thought he's got some really good stories and I know he would love to share his stories.
But I'm going to get another subscription where I want to alternate between his stories and my stories.
It's a he said, she said book. I love that idea. Did you and your husband help each other edit your stories?
I would print them and give them to my husband to read because I always ask him, “Does it flow? Does it make sense?” And so, I always asked him that.
And he ended up … I didn't know this. We own a pizza parlor. Our family has a pizza parlor. And it's a sports thing pizza parlor. It's like Cheers, you have regular custom. I mean, people that are there, the same people that come every single day.
So, anyway, he would read those stories to the customers. And so, that's how people, some of them ended up hearing my stories before I put them in the book and gave them to the daughters.
Thanks for joining us today. If you want to get started writing your life stories or want to give the gift of Storyworth to a loved one, head over to storyworth.com.
We'll be back soon with special episodes for Mother's Day and Father's Day. And in the meantime, if you want one of your stories to be considered for the podcast, head to storyworth.com/podcast.
Storyworth is a production of Evergreen Podcasts hosted by me, Krista Baum, and produced by Hannah Rae Leach. We get production help from Jill Granberg and our mix engineer is Sean Rule-Hoffman.