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Backstory – Ronald


We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

Backstory – Ronald

Emily Paulos

Here's how BackStory works:

Someone submits a photo, and we ask our readers to write and submit their 250-300 word BackStory – what they think the story behind the photo is... everything you can't see in the picture.

We picked our two favorite submissions to post today and will post the real story behind the picture tomorrow.

If you have a photo that you'd like to submit to BackStory, please email it to and we will consider it for a future posting.


– Storycenter Blog Team

Meeting Ronald – by Matt Randall

His name was Ronald. Not Ron. He made certain everyone knew that. He worked at an independent coffee shop I occasionally visited. While I admit I found Ronald cute, we had never done more than exchange small talk. That changed one hot Sunday afternoon during an open-mic poetry reading the coffee shop was hosting. I arrived late, just after he had finished serving a long line of readers and listeners. The first poet was adjusting the mic, and rather than make her compete with the whirr of the blender, I simply grabbed a bottled water out of the cooler. Ronald didn’t say a word as he rang up my drink and took my money. 

Later, my head full of horrible rhyming poetry, I was gathering my things when Ron handed me a steaming cup of my favorite blend. He was grateful I hadn’t made him disrupt the reading since he’d gotten an earful about that before. His shift had just ended, he said, and before either of us realized it, we had talked for almost two hours.

One thing I didn’t tell Ronald about that afternoon was Colette. It took a few dates before I worked up the courage to tell him I had a daughter. I finally agreed to introduce them over dinner. Ronald and I decided to meet at the restaurant. He was sitting on a bench outside when we arrived.

“Honey, this is Ronald.”

“Oh… he doesn’t look like a Ronald.”

Ronald and I exchanged perplexed looks. “What does a Ronald look like?” he asked.

“Like that.” The two of us followed her extended finger to the fast food joint across the street, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Since then, Ronald has a new way of introducing himself: “Ronald. Not Ron. And not McDonald.”

Seeing Her Right Back – by Ryan Trauman

It was the only time I saw my grandmother truly transfixed. All she said was, “Holy Mackerel.” Didn’t even raise her voice. Her eyes bore down. Her lips parted and drew in a breath.  

She had just moved to Fargo from a tiny town in rural North Dakota — an area she’d lived almost all her life.  We were riding in her brown hatchback on our way to pick up hot dogs and sodas for lunch. 

But when she saw the giant Ronald McDonald inflated in front of that McDonald’s… she was taken. Which is funny, because she was no stranger to giants. She’d visited the world’s biggest Buffalo dozens of times in Jamestown. The world’s largest prairie chicken in Rothsay. An otter the size of a house in Fergus Falls. And others. Each a giant watching over one small town somewhere on the high plains of the Upper Midwest. Not exactly protecting… but watching.

The giants my grandmother knew were made of concrete, chicken wire, rebar, and years of paint. Her children climbed and pounded on them, heard their insides echo. They knew they’d be able to return someday with their own children.

But this clown was a different sort of giant. Temporary. Fragile. From somewhere else. My grandmother was able to see past the uncanny eyes and exhausted posture. She saw past the synthetic fabric. And the fact that that he’d likely be gone before she passed here again.

When she looked up at those eyes, she saw something else. Something seeing her right back. Something that said, “I’ve seen people all over this country. Movie stars, beauty queens, artists, and bank robbers. And now I’m seeing you.”

“Look at that,” she said. “Do you see Ronald?” Crossing traffic, she pulled into the lot, whispering, “Let’s stop and have a look.”