Everybody loves a good story — a real or imaginary account that captures our imagination and transports us to another place or time. That’s what would happen every time my grandfather would tell me a story. The sound of his voice, the subtle inflection of a word, a phrase told in a rising crescendo or trailing off into a whisper. He used these tools of the storyteller to mesmerize me — to unlock the door to my soul where his stories ultimately took up residence.
A few years ago I became acquainted with another storyteller whose masterful delivery also captured my imagination. John Henry Faulk, the fourth of five children, was born in Austin in 1913 and would become one of the Lone Star State’s most beloved storytellers. He was deeply influenced by his freethinking Methodist parents who taught him to detest racism. His post-graduate thesis at the University of Texas was about the civil rights abuses faced by African-Americans.
Faulk honed his storytelling abilities while teaching English at the University of Texas and later as a Merchant Marine during the Second World War. His friend Alan Lomax, who worked at the CBS network in New York, hosted several parties during Christmas 1945 to introduce his radio broadcasting friends to Faulk’s yarn-spinning abilities. A few months later, CBS gave Faulk his own weekly radio program, providing him with the thing every storyteller craves — an audience.
Sadly, Faulk’s radio career was derailed in 1957 when he became a victim of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for Communist sympathizers. The blacklisted storyteller, however, fought back. With support from famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, Faulk won a libel suit against those who had tarnished his reputation. The jury, in fact, awarded him the largest libel judgement in history to that date. In 1963, Faulk chronicled his experience in his book Fear on Trial. CBS television broadcast its movie version of Faulk’s story in 1974.
In his latter years, Faulk made numerous appearances as a homespun character on the popular Hee-Haw television program. He also wrote two one-man plays — Deep in the Heart and Pear Orchard, Texas. Throughout the 1980s he was a popular speaker on college campuses, speaking often on the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. On April 9, 1990, Faulk died of cancer in his hometown of Austin. The city of Austin later named the downtown branch of the public library in his honor.
A few years ago on a dark December night, while traveling to my hometown for Christmas, I tuned in to National Public Radio and heard a story that touched me deeply. The story was one that John Henry Faulk had recorded in 1974 for the program Voices in the Wind. NPR later rebroadcast Faulk’s story in 1994. Every year since then, NPR has rebroadcast Faulk’s heartwarming Christmas Story. This story has earned a place among my favorite Christmas stories and movies. I listen to it every year at Christmas.
I encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to John Henry Faulk’s Christmas Story. Gather your family around and invite them to listen as well. But, be warned. Faulk’s homespun story will mesmerize you. The sound of his voice will transport you back to simpler days before Christmas came under fire. I think you will agree that the Lone Star State produced a great storyteller in John Henry Faulk and that his Christmas story should be heard by a new generation. Best wishes for the most wonderful Christmas ever.