My family is famous for its stories. I can't remember a family gathering where we haven't rehashed old adventures, lovingly taking every moment apart, enjoying the humor, the absolute ridiculousness of some of them (ask my sister about the time she set off a bank alarm, or my mom about the time she drove away from a 7-11 holdup. No, really!), passing each story down to the next generation, who actually hang on every word even though they've heard these stories a million times before. My brothers and sister are masters at the art of verbal story-telling. My older sister and brother work in tandem for stories from their childhood, doing impressions, big arm gestures, pausing at just the right moment before the climax, like magicians unveiling the disappeared woman. Even though the audience has seen it a million times before, they still cheer for the well-executed reveal. My younger brother's stories are a little different, but every bit as entertaining. He has the story of the time he accidentally offended Usher (he had no idea who this "Usher" person was who was talking to him), the time he was wandering around New York and a modeling agent came up and asked him to lunch in Manhattan, and the time he ran into and had a long discussion about piano with then Cardinal Ratzinger, two weeks before he became Pope Benedict XVI. My brother's stories are always new, and always amazing. I enjoy, but also envy the ability of my family to weave words into tiny jewel boxes, capturing moments in time, and painting them so vividly that everyone around feels as though they were there, living the experience with them. It is occasionally difficult to be the type of person who is more comfortable mulling over words and then setting them to paper in a family touched with the gift of the Blarney. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that this is something I obsessed about. As we waited to board a plane at Dulles a few years back, I bemoaned my lack of story-telling spontaneity to my husband for probably what seemed like the millionth time, and he finally pointed out that the rest of my family members are much more extroverted than I am, and are more willing to engage total strangers in conversation, which is where many of the best stories come from. (My mother is famous for this, and we still crack up about the time she ended up asking a woman she had rear-ended to join her at church. The woman came back to the Catholic faith, and had all of her children baptized and her marriage blessed. She and mom still exchange Christmas cards.) I decided that he was right, and resolved to talk to the next stranger I met. As fate would have it, Husband and I were seated separately on this flight, on opposite sides of the aisle, so instead of asking if we could exchange seats, as I normally would, I engaged the man next to me in conversation. He told me about his recent trip to visit his new grandbaby, and how hard it was to get time away from his busy job (which required him to fly all around the country) to go visit his kids as much as he would like. Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate on this jet-setting career of his. I was excited! I had hit pay dirt on my first foray into extroversion! I imagined all the possible things he could be: a pilot, a U.S. Marshall, oooooh! maybe he was one of those concert promoters and I could score free tickets AND a good story out of this. I wondered if he knew Usher. "Weeeeell," he said in this slow, easy drawl, "I'm a rock inspector." Huh? I had no idea where this was going, but I forged on, "That sounds interesting - what exactly do you do?" "Weeeeell, I travel around the country and look at rocks." Maybe he meant diamonds? No. "I go to different quarries, and look at the kind of rocks they're diggin' up." Apparently, he mistook my shell-shocked, slack-jawed expression as an invitation to just delve right into the high-intrigue, exciting world of looking at rocks. Over the next hour, I was regaled with stories of gradation, the depth at which you get different quality of rock (apparently part of his job was to look at the samples and decide if a particular vein of rock was worth following deeper?), and the different uses to which all these rocks were put. My ears perked up at that last one, but no, there was no discussion of marble flooring for the White House, or granite countertops for high-end luxury apartments in Manhattan, really it was all about gravel for paving, and occasionally, how you could use different grades of gravel to fill the holes right up with no asphalt at all, because THIS gravel was so fine, it just packed right in! At one point in the flow of gravel-related conversation, I glanced over at Husband, who sat there silently shaking with laughter. I vowed retribution with my eyes, and returned my attention to the rock inspector. I will say this for the man, he was extremely knowledgeable about his job! We parted ways at the end of the flight, and he seemed to have genuinely enjoyed regaling me with all the nitty gritty details of rock inspection. I filled Husband in on all the details, and vowed to stick to introversion from that moment on.