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The Power of Storytelling

“Are you telling me a story?” Dad asked.  These words take me back to when I was eight years old and stood in our family’s vegetable garden.  Young 6-inch-tall corn plants lay on the ground.  I held a hoe and kicked dirt off its blade.  I looked down. I’d told Dad that I couldn’t tell weeds from the corn plants and I didn’t mean to chop down the corn.  I wouldn’t look up after Dad asked his question.       

            He stood towering above me waiting for my answer, the answer Dad knew if I told the truth.  I didn’t like working in the garden, especially hoeing around plants.  So, I thought if I chopped down the corn plants, instead of chopping just the weeds and making mounds of dirt around the corn plants, Dad would never make me hoe again.

            He saw right through my plan and I cried and Dad spoke sternly about telling the truth and being honest and trying to get out of work and I had to hoe the rest of the row of corn.  At least, that’s what I remember and that’s my story.

            Story.  A word with many definitions.  Dad softened his question by saying story, not lie.  As a kid, I was told to not accuse anyone of lying – it wasn’t nice.  But it was okay to tell a story or a little white lie, especially if the truth might hurt someone’s feelings.  Outright lying was never allowed.

            When someone says, “Did you hear the story about ________?” most of us stop what we’re doing and listen.  The storyteller has our attention and we’re ready to hear about someone or something or somewhere.  The story might be gossip or rumors.  It might be factual or made-up.  It doesn’t matter – we’re suckers for a good story.

            Who tells stories?  Everyone.  Cave dwellers’ stories are etched on stone walls. Ancient Greeks created myths and legends about Hercules and Pandora’s Box.  The Bible is a collection of stories by many writers.  Shakespeare’s and Aesop’s stories, centuries old, are still read and studied.  Today, we read stories in newspapers, magazines, books, and on-line. 

            But stories are most enjoyed when they are shared aloud.  Who can forget the stories told by a favorite uncle? He told the same family stories at the Thanksgiving dinner table every year and we laughed when he began because we knew the ending.  Children tell stories when they share what happened at school or during soccer practice.  Everyone tells stories.

            I’m looking forward to hearing some really good stories at Storyfest this Saturday, May 1st.  It’s a free storytelling festival from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and we can stay all day or drop in for an hour or so.  Look for the big tent in Dogwood Park behind the Cookeville History Museum at 40 East Broad Street.   

            We’ll be entertained by professional and amateur storytellers and there might be a story or two like the one I told Dad.

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.