On hearing good stories

I grew up in the “olden days” as my grandkids would say, before such delights as Books on Tape

My first fascination with the spoken word came from my mother, who read to all of us when we were small. She was fond of English mysteries and introduced me at a very young age to such literary figures as Jane Marple and Sherlock Holmes. She loved hearing the spoken word too. I well remember her pressing sheets and shirts on her mangle iron, while listening to soap operas such as Just Plain Bill and Our Gal Sunday on that nifty device called radio.

It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the spoken word, both the drama of it as well as the imagination it sparked. I clearly remember being both fascinated and scared out of my wits by such radio shows as Let’s Pretend, and Inner Sanctum.

Let’s Pretend was a Peabody award-winning show with a live and lively children’s audience which responded to the opening line “Hello Pretenders!” It adapted classic children’s stories and fairy tales like Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty and Thumbelina

On Inner Sanctum, the program’s familiar and famed audio trademark was the eerie creaking door which opened and closed the broadcasts. Exit statements were also often spoken by an eerie voice exhorting listeners – after frightening them all during the program – to have “Pleasant dreeeeaams, hmmmmm?”

Established stars – familiar to those in my age bracket – of the day included Boris Karloff, Mary Astor, Helen Hayes, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead Geraldine Fitzgerald and Orson Welles.

And speaking of Orson Welles, he was responsible for frightening a large portion of the radio listening public into believing that the country was actually being invaded by Martians. This was during a 1938 Halloween episode of The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The presentation was actually an adaption of H. G. Wells’1898 novel “The War of the Worlds.”

We lived in England for four years while stationed with the USAF and I listened regularly to a BBC Radio station that was devoted to drama. This just reinforced my enjoyment of English literature.

When I started working for this newspaper in the 1980s I was listening to Radio Reader with Dick Estell and then added Books on Tape while driving to and from work and on assignments. I stopped counting after 300 books, enjoying classics as well as best sellers.

Today – in my semi-retirement – I do the same things with CDs. I have a small CD player with earbuds. I tuck the player into what my mother used to refer to as a lady’s “upper regions” and listen to books most every day. I listen while doing such things such as laundry, dishes, dusting and bed making. It makes the work more interesting and it seems to go faster.

I’m still into light listening English based stories. The current library selections filling my tote bag today include. Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” Jeanne M. Dams’ “Sins Outside of School,” and Miss Read’s “Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre.” Four of my favorite narrators of these books are Kate Reading, Donada Peters and the late Gwen Watford and Lynn Redgrave.

American history and biography are more of my great interests. I am on the waiting list for David McCullough’s tapes of his stories of Harry Truman and John Adams.

And I just can’t wait!