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Teachers Tell Some Stories

Teachers must tell the best stories because the four headline storytellers for Storyfest in Dogwood Park on Saturday, May 5 are teachers, some retired. We teachers gather stories and some we can tell.

            I started my teaching career at East Sparta City School with thirty-nine fourth graders. Yes, 39.  Just days before the first day of school Mrs. White, a teacher assistant, helped me find teacher manuals and a grade book. She had worked for many years and she was my mentor. She arranged the students’ desks in straight lines and showed me the storeroom where I found student textbooks and classroom supplies, a box of yellow chalk and chalkboard erasers.

During the first week of school, my students led me through the school hallways to the outside playground and told me the playground rules. They showed me our assigned cafeteria tables and told me which cook would most likely give an extra yeast roll. I am forever indebted to those well-behaved and kind children whose teacher fumbled thru 180 days that school year.

To celebrate the end of the school year, I planned a piñata party. Husband hung a huge multicolored donkey from a tree branch on the playground. The children had never seen a piñata, and they squealed and clapped when I told them it was filled with small toys and candy and they could hit it until it broke open and the treats would fall out. I tied a blindfold over one of the boy’s eyes, handed him a wooden baseball bat, and told him to hit the piñata as hard as he could.

He swung that bat wildly. From side to side and not close to the piñata. The children scattered, barely avoiding being clobbered. “Stop!” I screamed several times and finally he held the bat over his head. I moved toward him and talked calmly as if taming a wild horse. I lay a hand on his shoulder, grabbed the bat, and took his blindfold off.

Then we discussed where others should stand while one person hit the piñata. Some swung hard. I envisioned the bat flying through the air and cracking someone’s head open. Others barely tapped the donkey. The piñata remained intact and the students began to lose interest and I wanted that donkey split open.

Husband’s look said, “What were you thinking?” He took a turn with the bat, without the blindfold, and after several hard hits, the donkey burst. Waxed paper wrapped candies and tiny plastic cars fell out. My students cheered and shoved each other to get the treats. The candy was so hard that it couldn’t be flattened between two rocks and no one wanted flimsy toy cars.

But the party was a success because these children liked red Kool-Aid and store bought cookies, and they got to play all afternoon. I was glad was hurt and I never, ever had another piñata party.

Oh, the stories teachers can tell. Maybe we’ll hear a school story or two at Storyfest. I hope so.

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Storyfest – Don’t Miss It!

imgresOn a warm spring Saturday two years ago, my Grand and I sat on folding metal chairs and listened under a tent at Dogwood Park during Storyfest. Don Davis, renowned storyteller, stood only a few feet away, on a small wooden stage and reminisced about his school days. As a 6th grade teacher, I’d played cassette tapes to share Mr. Davis’s stories with students and knew I was seeing and hearing the best of the best. My 7-year-old Grand couldn’t appreciate his notoriety; I just hoped she was entertained.

As I drove my Grand home I asked, “So Lou, what did you like about Mr. Davis’s school stories?”

“Was it all true, Gran?” Yes and no. He probably exaggerated a bit.

            “But he acted like everything he said was true,” Lou said. Yes, a storyteller is a bit like an actor. Entertaining. Adding details to a story to make it more interesting.

“What’s 40 lashes?” It means being punished. He didn’t really mean he was spanked 40 times.

“So he wasn’t really hurt?” Well, he was probably spanked when he broke a school rule and it hurt. Lou sat quietly looking out the van window for a few minutes, and then asked, “Is it okay to make up a story?” Yes. As long as the person you’re telling your story to knows you made up some of it.

“His stories were funny and crazy!” Lou said.

At the end of Mr. Davis’s storytelling, he challenged the audience to tell children their stories. Simple stories of everyday life. I took that to heart – no doubt because I wish I’d asked my parents and grandparents and brother about their early lives. I wish I’d listened and remembered.

It took a long time for me to realize I don’t have to be a stage worthy storyteller to share. Did I tell you about Granny gathering eggs? Every afternoon when she walked home from the restaurant where she worked as a cook, she stopped at the hen house close the barn to gather eggs. One fall day when my brother Roger was about 8 years old, he watched Granny go into the hen house and he hid behind it. While Granny pulled the bottom of her apron into a pouch and filled it with fresh eggs from the hens’ nests, Roger gathered dried sweet gum balls from the ground. When Granny stepped out of the hen house, Roger snuck up behind her and stuck her bottom with those prickly sweet gum balls. Granny screamed and jumped and all the eggs fell and broke and splattered on the ground.

When my brother told me this story about ten years ago, we both laughed until tears ran down our faces. Roger flailed his arms high above his head and I could see Granny, wearing a cotton shirtwaist dress with a white restaurant apron tied around her waist, dropping the apron and the eggs breaking.

Two of my favorite storytellers, Jo Covington and Connie Lillard, aka The Bear Creek Storytellers, could take Granny’s egg gathering story and entertain an audience for thirty minutes. Jo and Connie share Jack Tales and children’s stories, and every time I hear them I laugh. Their words strike my heart and my Grands will love hearing them. How I love hearing good storytellers!

You don’t want to miss Jo and Connie and others at Storyfest, Saturday, April 23rd at Dogwood Park, 9:30-5:30. A day of fun and free entertainment. Bring your lunch and stay awhile.