During This Trip, Each of My Parents Agreed to Let Me Videotape Them

March 18th, 2014

Ellen H. Munds
Executive Director
Storytelling Arts of Indiana
Ellen@storytellingarts.org

Fred and Midge MundsIn 2009, I drove my parents to Wilmington, North Carolina knowing that this would be my father’s last visit to his family’s ancestral home. We visited the homestead, the Episcopal church where the Munds’ attended for three generations, and the family cemetery plot where all of my father’s relatives are buried dating back to the 1800s. During this trip, each of my parents agreed to let me videotape them as they recalled their family stories.

Once home, I got busy and didn’t do anything with the recordings. They both died in 2011. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I pulled the recordings out to watch. It was such a gift to see and listen to my parent’s sharing their stories. I felt like they were sitting in the room with me again. I immediately made copies for my brothers to share with their children. I feel good because I now know that for generations to come, the Munds family will be able to share and listen to my parents stories.

Why am I telling you this? Because it only occurred to me to record my parents because of my involvement with Storytelling Arts of Indiana. Stories have value, and unless they are told and retold from generation to generation, they can be lost forever.

Storytelling Arts of Indiana strives to demonstrate the importance of stories whether from a stage or sitting around a kitchen table through such programs as: The Life Stories Project, As I Recall Storytelling guilds, Summer Performances in the city parks, Ghost Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery, Jabberwocky, Weekly storytelling at a local hospital, Storytelling performances from the stage and family storytelling performances.

If you believe in the importance of stories, please help Storytelling Arts of Indiana sustain itself by making a contribution.

The Secrets to a Happy Family

February 4th, 2014

Kim Weitkamp
www.kimweitkamp.com

Kim WeitkampOn December 21, 1968 Apollo 8 was launched into space.

This would be the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth’s orbit. The astronauts were able to see the far side of the moon, orbiting it 10 times. Finally, mankind’s longing to reach space and see the moon up close and personal had come to fruition. But an amazing thing happened along the way. Once the astronauts entered space, they could not stop looking back, gazing at planet Earth. Their desire to look upon where they had come from became more powerful than looking ahead to where they had not yet been. It became such an overwhelming desire that they named it Earth Gazing.

I think life is a lot like that.

In our youth and in our quest for new and exciting things, we propel forward with great passion and excitement hoping to discover new worlds but then, we hit a certain place where we realize that where we’ve come from is just as amazing and awe inspiring as where we are going.

I am always searching for new experiences, creating new things and trying to discover new worlds but a year and a half ago I realized that my personal history is just as fascinating as the unknown that lies ahead.

I guess I have reached a place where, as I float among the years of my life, I have decided to turn and look back. It is addictive. I cannot stop gazing into the history of me. This is not narcissistic; it’s a natural human desire, to feel a part of something bigger.

I have always told personal/family stories, it’s how I make my living, but a year and a half ago I decided to start digging into my family history. Using online resources I started to uncover information, documents and pictures that helped me see the whole picture of where I come from.

One hour turned into two hours turned into 8 hours turned into a yearlong project and now, an ongoing expedition. I can’t stop. I’ve uncovered pictures of my great, great grandfather. I’ve found documentation of my grandmothers addresses, which gave me a map of her life. I’ve found my great grandfathers marriage certificate, my grandmother’s marriage certificate and…her divorce records. I learned about aunts and uncles and I learned things about my mom and dad. Slowly, my whole world is coming into focus.

Doing this family research led to some deep and meaningful conversations with my parents. They are at the time of life when all they do is look back. When I started sharing with them what I found, they sounded young again…thirsty for information. No matter how many times I called and told them about the latest family puzzle piece I had found, they wanted more.

How sad it is that I was in my late 40’s and my parents in their late 70’s when we began this journey. I wish we had started when I was younger.

Recently Parade Magazine had an article titled, The Secrets to a Happy Family.

Get this.

When a team of psychologists measured children’s resilience, they found that the kids who knew the most about their family history were best able to handle stress. The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem. The reason: These children have a strong sense of “inter-generational self”—they understand that they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience both highs and lows.

Your family knows they belong to something bigger, but knowing it and actually hearing about it…seeing it, are two very different things.

Whether you share your family history by doing genealogy/family research or by sharing family stories at the dinner table…who cares? Just do it. Better yet, do both. Here is the best part; your family isn’t looking for fairy tale endings. Share with them the good, the bad and the ugly. It will help them through their own good, bad and ugly times. Let them gaze upon where they came from.

The main word in history is story. Share your stories. You were designed to.

Mining for Gold, Red Gold

January 20th, 2014

written by Stephanie Holman
libyq@yahoo.com

Stephanie_Holman CompressedI love research! It was my favorite part of high school and college and may be a big reason why I am a librarian. Getting research into a presentable format though, now that is a bit more tricky my friends.

So when asked by Storytelling Arts of Indiana and the Indiana Historical Society if I would like to write and perform a story on Red Skelton, I knew the research would be my favorite part.

Serendipity had already been at play. I had just read an article about the 2013 opening of the Red Skelton museum in Vincennes! It would be my first visit for research. The museum is opening Phase 2 in the summer of 2014 but is already a must see for all Hoosiers. I learned so much from the curator Shirley Ray and from watching the visitors interact with the fabulous exhibits.

Next I read and read and read biographies on good ol’ Red. I watched the few dvds of his skits that are available from his television years. I watched some of his films. I was really starting to “see Red”.

Sorry, bad pun.

Early on I also made a trip to the archives held at the Indiana History Center. I love spending time in their library on the third floor. The staff is so helpful and I culled their Red Skelton files for more background.

Then I had to mine this research for nuggets and find the beginning and end of my particular story in his long life. I felt strongly I would tell the story of his early training ground in poverty and how he beat the Great Depression by making people laugh.

To start the writing, I talked to local greats such as Sally Perkins. She steered me to an article by Beth Horner called “Pipeline Blues: Crafting a Historical Story”. I also took an online class that took me step by step through the writing of the three act story.

As I completed the assignments online I wrote my story, starting with exploring my passion for the story, the theme and premise. Or as Beth Horner would have you ask constantly as you write, “What is this story about?”

I had grouped the mined nuggets of research into subject areas and after the outline of my story was completed, I began plugging elements into the spine of the story. Then the writing began, carving and sculpting draft after draft to show my audience the emotions of Red Skelton’s early journey to theatre.

There were so many great moments in the writing process; the museum visits, talking to people about Red and how much they love him, and the 1952 “Look” magazine my dad found with a great article for example. But my favorite moment so far is finding my voice, my narrator’s voice. I am telling the story in three acts and each will be narrated by a woman in Red’s early life; middle school friend Norma, first teenage love Velma and his first wife and co-writer/manager, Edna Stillwell.

These three gals show through their voices the real experiences and emotions of Red’s early journey in Vincennes Indiana. The antagonist of the story, the Great Depression, worked against Red at every turn but also helped to make him one of America’s favorite entertainers.

The opportunity to tell Red’s story has been such an honor and pleasure. My passion for telling this story is to show how a fellow Hoosier followed his path in life. He made so many people very, very happy at a time in our history when laughter was as valuable as food and shelter. I hope I do him justice when the story premieres on January 31st. Purchase tickets by calling the Indiana Historical Society, 317-232-1882 or order tickets on line.

 

Seamus Heaney

September 11th, 2013

Patrick Ball
Patrick@patrickball.com

ball_celtic-harp-story_200_overSeamus Heaney, Ireland’s greatest contemporary poet, died last week. A sad day for the world. And a sad day for me because I loved his work, the heft, the rub, the grain of it. Perhaps the reason I enjoyed it so much was because I spent quite a bit of time listening to him reading his own poetry.

Now, I have to say that I have listened to many poets reading their own work and almost always found it a pretty unsatisfying experience. Writing poetry and reading it aloud are two very different skills. Seamus Heaney, God rest him, was brilliant at both of them.

He had a lovely, rich voice. And, of course, he had the deepest understanding of his poetry. But, he also had a glorious sense of the sound and rhythm and melody of words. He had a wonderful understanding of how words spoken can bring new power and meaning and joy to words resting on a page. Seamus Heaney’s readings allowed his work to, as Yeats would have said it, “clap its hands and sing, and louder sing.” He was both a poet and a storyteller.

Irish people are generally thought to have “a way with words,” “a gift of the gab.” And, honestly, I think it’s true. Some of them certainly are more eloquent than others. But, all of them, whether they are aware of it or not, seem to be tuned into the music of words. Words spoken in Ireland are not simply tools to get something accomplished, they are notes in a song, they are colors on a canvas, they are steps in a dance. That’s why we Yanks love to ask for directions in Ireland. The answer may not get you where you want to go. But, the lilt, the whimsy and the artistry of the response are always well worth getting lost.

So, it must have given Seamus Heaney great pleasure to read his poems on stage. Not just to hear those marvelous vowels and consonants and silences resonate in the hall and create their world anew. But, for the sheer joy of playing with words and enchanting an audience asking for directions.

But, he must also have found great satisfaction in knowing that his poems will be forever preserved on the printed page. I remember once, many years ago, when I was trying to decide what to do with my life, I had a job interview with a rather celebrated chef. I had asked him what it was like being a chef. He replied (in a very aggrieved French accent), “you spend ze day creating a masterpiece, ze diners sit down at ze table, zey eat it, and, poof, it is gone!

Seamus Heaney’s work will continue to be read as long as we crave the beauty and solace of poetry. But, his storytelling is over. For storytelling is a living, breathing, fleeting thing. On the stage of the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center or at a crossroads in Ireland, the storyteller creates a masterpiece and, poof, it is gone.

 

I Am A Man Who Listens

August 11th, 2013

Ken Oguss
Professional Storyteller/Public Speaking Coach/Screenwriter
Documentary Film Maker/ Author of Flash Fiction and Short Stories
tvoa@aol.com

Ken OgussI am a man who listens. Most mornings lately, I sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee and listen to oral history interviews. The recordings, up to forty-five minutes long, are being made at several locations across Indianapolis. The people telling the stories come from different cultural backgrounds, different walks of life, different races and spiritual beliefs. Some may have come from other places but they all live here now in central Indiana. They have all responded to the call for Life Stories. I am one of the few people who will get to listen to each and every recording for the Life Stories Project, a cooperative effort by Storytelling Arts of Indiana, WFYI Public Radio, and the Indiana Historical Society.

As the audio engineer for the project I listen for short, short stories within the longer recordings that I can edit and post to the Life Stories Project website, www.lifestoriesproject.net. I listen for stories that can stand alone, stories that will give people an idea of the richness of the collective oral history that we have in this city.

Each story contains little treasures of human experience. Let me entice you with clues to some of the stories on the website. See if you can figure out whose stories these are:

1. Who deliberately moved to a newly integrated neighborhood to learn about the realities of inner city life?

2. Who was born a few days before a terrible fire and then spend most of her life searching for the full details of the story?

3. Whose mother showed him why a pound cake is called a pound cake and taught him how to “measure by eye.”

4. Whose teacher helped him overcome one of life’s greatest fears by encouraging him to join the high school debating team?

5. Whose father’s life may have been saved when her brother had to go to the hospital for a tonsillectomy?

6. Who saved milk tops to go to Riverside Park and then vowed to never go back there again?

7. Who traveled far abroad to visit holy sites and in the process learned about the origins of the potato?

8. Who describes a time in America when the nights were pitch black, families could not travel, and many houses displayed simple flags with stars on them?

9. Whose life would be changed by a woman he met by going to the wrong laundry mat?

10. Who found success in her vision of an interactive learning experience despite theater experts telling her it would not work?

11. What act of violence would turn a future librarian and a future minister into civil rights activists?

Here are a few things I’ve learned listening to these stories. You can’t really tell from a person’s photograph or voice what kind of childhood they had or how many years they attended school. You can’t tell how brave people have been or how hard they have worked or how creative they have been from first glance. But when you sit down and listen to them tell stories that matter from their lives you begin to appreciate who they really are and collectively, who we are. So join us. Come to the website, www.lifestoriesproject.net, listen to the short stories, sign up to tell yours. I’ll be listening!

When History Gets Personal

February 19th, 2013

Dolores Hydock
dolores@storypower.org
www.storypower.org

Hydock Pub PhotoIt started out as a story about gardening.  A local church was planning a benefit concert to raise money for a move to a new location. The organizers invited me to tell a story to lead off the evening’s entertainment, and needed a title for my part of the program. Though I wasn’t sure yet what story I would tell, I suggested “Putting Down New Roots.” That seemed like an appropriate theme, and I was confident that I had some stories about growing, transplanting, and flourishing that would fit the occasion.

Soon after submitting that title, I logged onto my laptop, went to my database of story fragments and ideas-to-be-worked-out-later, and found my file called “Gardening Bits.” Just as I was about to click it open, I noticed another file, two entries up, called “Ellis Island.” I’m not sure why, but I clicked on that file instead, and found three pages I’d written when I came back from a trip to New York City in late December 1999.

The words told of my search for the spirit of my grandfather – my mother’s father – who came to Ellis Island in 1912 as a seventeen-year-old boy. There were also tidbits of stories I’d heard from my mother about her Depression-era childhood in Reading, Pennsylvania: stories about the grocery store that her family ran during the 1930s, about a younger brother who died of diphtheria, about characters like crazy Mrs. Pawnicki and superstitious Mrs. Mahoska who lived in their “United Nations” neighborhood on Canal Street ― stories about the ingenious ways people survived in a hoped-for, but sometimes harsh new world.

After reading that file, I had a new idea for my story for the church fundraiser. It would still be about putting down new roots, but it would be about people, not plants, being transplanted into strange soil and creating a life with the help of family and friends.

I called my mother that afternoon and asked her to tell me more about the Canal Street store. An hour and a half later, I had four pages on a yellow legal pad full of odd names and anecdotes, and over the next few weeks, we talked often to fill in the blanks in the stories.

The date arrived for the church’s event, and I told a version – the first version – of the story. But my mother wasn’t finished remembering. She loved being reminded of the people and places of her life, and enjoyed finding out what she couldn’t recall. She asked a 92-year-old neighbor about the gambling rackets that thrived in Reading in the ’30s. A reference librarian helped her locate books about the local bootleggers and breweries that flourished during Prohibition. She interviewed the women at her Senior Center about the games they played as kids. (“We’d hold the skinniest kid by the ankles and lower him down the storm sewer to retrieve the ball that got away from the kid playing the fire hydrant that was second base.”) And long after that first “Canal Street” phone conversation, the “transplanting” story is still growing.

I was lucky. My mother was only as far away as a telephone call. Her memory was sharp, but forgiving, too, so that talking about old times and telling the old stories didn’t leave her regretful or sad. She was a walking, talking reference library of a particular moment of history and what it was like to live in that moment of history. But she and other walking, talking libraries from my life – relatives, neighbors, teachers – have gone silent. I can no longer call and say, tell me what it was like when you worked in the cotton mill, tell me how you made those cinnamon pastries you used to give us neighborhood kids, tell me what it was like to teach a first-grade classroom with 52 children in it. Those libraries are gone, and now I wish I’d been more curious, more willing to ask and listen for the history they contained.
I treasure the serendipity that turned my gardening story into a personal story that turned into a history story. It reminds me that history isn’t just something that happened hundreds of years ago, or in faraway worlds, or to people only found in archives and libraries. Sometimes history gets personal, and just waits patiently for someone to ask about it.

MAYNARD MOOSE: THE TURTLE AND THE BUNNY

January 29th, 2013

Told by Willy Claflin
Claflin@willyclaflin.com

willy_maynardresizedWhen I was a little boy, living in the woods in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, my father would tell me stories every night. I can vividly remember lying there in the darkness, watching the story unfold like a three-dimensional movie all around me.

When I was eleven, we got our first television. I remember how flat and boring it seemed to me, after those cinematic tales my father told.

I grew up. I got married. I had a son. And like my father, I told my boy stories every night. One day a neighbor of mine came over.

“I understand you tell your boy Brian stories every night,” he said. “My wife and I found this here moose puppet at a craft fair. We thought maybe you could use it to tell your boy stories.” And he handed me a lumpy, friendly and somewhat confused-looking moose.

We named the moose Maynard, and he sat in a little chair by the fireplace. But he didn’t say anything. I couldn’t figure out how I could use a puppet to tell stories. Until one day Brian came home from kindergarten; he was upset, and I asked him what the matter was.

“Well, there’s this kid in my class,” he said , “and he said something really mean about mooses. He said they were really stupid. I thought that would hurt Maynard’s feelings.”

Without thinking, I picked Maynard up, put him on, and sat him in my lap.

“That’s not nice,” he said. “I ain’t stupid. I am distreemely intelligible. Because I have got my education. I go to the Mother Moose Preschool, and we have learned the amphlebep!”

Maynard could talk! We were all delighted, and a family game began. Every day Brian would come home from school and tell us what happened: maybe there was a new kid in school, or maybe he was in a new book group, or maybe they had learned a new song. And then he would ask, “What did Maynard do in Mother Moose Preschool?” And Maynard would get up out of his chair and tell us.

It turned out that for Maynard, story time was the best part of school. And he would tell us the stories he had learned. This turned out to be quite entertaining, because it seemed that moose stories were very much like our own stories in some ways, but very different in others. For instance, here (complete with moose vocabulary and syntax) is the first story I remember Maynard telling:

TURTLE AND BUNNY
Once upon a time, there was a turtle that go real slow: blump…blump…blump.

And a hyperactivated bunny that go real fast: Boing! Boing! Boing!

And the bunny make fun of the turtle: “I’m fast and you’re slow! Ha-ha-ha-ha Ha-Ha!”

That make the turtle so mad, steam come out of his ears. “Oh yeah! You think you’re so special, do you? Well, I challenge you to a race!” “Fine, swell,” say the bunny; “I’ll race you!”

So the very next morning at the starting line in their northern forest habitat, with the skink and the skunk and the vole and the mole, and the porcupine and the white tailed deer, the noble moose said: “On your mark, get set…GO!”

And off go the turtle: blump…blump…blump. And off go the bunny: Boing! Boing! Boing!

And the bunny ran so fast, he won the race before the turtle had gone three feet!

And the moral of the story is: The fastest person wins the race!

When he was done, we said, “Um…Maynard, we have a similar story called The Tortoise and the Hare. But in our story, the tortoise wins.” Maynard said, “That’s silly! You ever watch the Olympics? Guess who comes in first? The fastest person! Or line up and have a race across the playground. Know who comes in first? The fastest person. Know who comes in last? The slowest person! That’s why fast means fast and slow means slow. Don’t let anyone tell you the slowest person wins the race—no; that will just scrumble up your mind! Learn to run fast—it’s good for your body and it’s good for your brain!”

That was a long time ago. We’ve learned a lot of Moose Wisdom from Maynard over the years, and I’m glad to have him as a beloved companion. And I’m so glad I was lucky enough to have a father who remembered to tell me stories every night, so that when I grew up I would remember to tell my son stories every night, and so that a Moose would one day come along and tell us his stories as well.

One single tale told in the dark holds more magic than in all the flat screens flashing in the world.

Thank you, Dad.

Do Stories Make Us Human?

December 27th, 2012

barb compressed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Barbara McBride-Smith
Barbara@barbaramcbridesmith.com

Last spring I pre-ordered a brand new book, sight-unseen, just because I loved the title: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. I had never heard of the author, Jonathan Gottschall, but it turns out that this college English professor gets it! He understands that story is not the icing, it’s the cake! I would have liked to see one more chapter in the book — one about storytelling as a live performance art, but Gottschall never ventures into that territory. He does a masterful job, however, of showing how and why we, as a species, need and crave stories. It’s a fascinating look at how our brain circuits force narrative structure on the chaos of our lives. Humans are, the author says, addicted to STORY.

Then, in early October, I had an experience that confirmed for me that Gottschall is right: story is a profoundly powerful tool that can turn Homo sapiens into humans. I was on my way to Jonesborough, Tennessee, for the National Storytelling Festival. I arrived at the airport in Tulsa with plenty of time to spare. For some reason, the relatively short line through security was moving at a snail’s pace. When I finally got my possessions onto the X-ray conveyer belt, I discovered the problem. The local airport security workers were being scrutinized by a team from TSA’s upper management. Everything was being checked and double-checked according to strict standards. Every single bag had to be hand-inspected. The woman just ahead of me, it turned out, was trying to carry aboard a liter of saline solution for her contact lens. She claimed that she had never heard of the 3-1-1 rule. I presumed this woman had been living in a cave for the past decade. The inspection, disposal, and tongue-lashing regarding her contraband took 25 agonizing minutes.

Finally, my turn came, and I was sure I would pass inspection with an A+ since I am a seasoned traveler who always carries aboard my one perfectly packed bag. My tiny bottles of liquids were neatly zipped inside a quart-size clear plastic bag. I had no musical instruments that might be converted into weapons of mass destruction. I don’t even carry a nail file. But, after looking at my bag’s X-ray, the weary inspection woman said to me: “There appears to be a dangerous item in your luggage.” Like what? Waxed dental floss, a flatiron, a tube of lipstick??

“Ma’am,” she continued, ignoring the obvious fact that I had been living in a cave for the past decade. “I believe there is a knife in your bag.” A what!? She opened my bag and, sure enough, there it was: an antique Case penknife that had once belonged to my Dad. And, of course, I remembered exactly how it had ended up in my suitcase. A last minute decision late the night before had caused me to overlook logic, and I had tossed the knife into my bag, thinking only about what a wonderful gift it would make for my only-begotten son who would be meeting me in Jonesborough.

I apologized for my mistake and asked what I could do to make everything all better. The inspector said I had two choices: 1. throw the knife away, or 2. step out of line, go back into the terminal, mail the knife to myself, and come back through the security line again. By this time, the abundant time I’d allowed to catch my flight had been squeezed to a narrow margin. If I had to do the security process all over again, I would most certainly miss the plane. But, my heart was breaking at the thought of throwing my Dad’s knife away. It was one of his few personal possessions I had kept after his death in 1987. I looked at the agent, tears starting to trickle down my face. Taking a deep breath and a big chance, I said to her: “I know how hard you are working, and I appreciate it. You look tired. If you can take a short break right now, I would like to tell you a 5-minute story. Please?”

The agent gave me a quizzical look, and then a slight smile crossed her face. She spoke to me in a quiet voice: “I can’t take a break right now, but tell me the story and I’ll listen.” While she continued to search through my bag, I told her the story of my Dad’s knife — how he had rescued it, kept it in a cigar box for years, and then passed it on to me when he learned that he had inoperable cancer. I explained that I would be telling a longer version of that story at a big festival in Tennessee over the weekend, and that I had planned to surprise my son by giving him the knife, a small memory of his Grandpa, when I stepped off the stage. My hope was that my Dad’s knife would be passed down for many generations, as would the memory of Daddy’s life on this good Earth.

It was a quick telling, lacking all its glorious details, but HALLELUJAH, the power of story prevailed! The kind security agent said to me, “Oh, hon, you can’t lose your Daddy’s precious knife. Give me your address and I’ll personally mail it to you. Now, quick, let’s get this bag closed up so you can run for your plane! I’ll send a message to the gate that you’re on your way.”

No, I didn’t get to surprise my son with his grandpa’s heirloom knife in Jonesborough, Tennessee. But yes, the following week that old Case penknife arrived in my home mailbox and I thanked my lucky stars that we humans are, indeed, addicted to stories.

Why Do We Share Stories

November 5th, 2012

Written by Addie Hirschten
fantasticfables@gmail.com

There is a little kid inside me that always wants to ask the question, “why?” Never is this voice so loud as when I am considering the purpose behind something I love as much as the art of storytelling.

Why do we share stories? Whether it be classic folktales that appeal to generation after generation or personal tales, what is the universal human drive to tell stories? Perhaps the answer to this question is as varied as the stories we tell but I will attempt it here.

Art is a means of communication between the artist and the listener. When the listener hears a story and it reflects something from their own experience. There is a magical moment of empathy between the listener and the storyteller. An echo is sounded in the souls of the two individuals and a sacred dialogue has occurred. Some folks would contend that the purpose behind storytelling is to communicate moral lessons to children. While a cautionary message might be a nice bonus to a good story I think it is not the reason children ask to hear the classics again and again. A good story contains a message, not on how NOT to act, but on how to deal with experiences. This message is not something that we would say to a child while reprimanding them and shaking our finger, but it is a message of comfort. Doug Lipman in his book, “Improving Your Storytelling,” calls this deeper meaning behind a story the “Most Important Thing.” He defines this main meaning to be the drive behind a story that gives it purpose and a message to impart to the listener. For example the moral lesson to “Little Red Riding Hood” might be “don’t talk to strangers” but the root meaning that gives this tale universal appeal might be “everyone makes mistakes, but there is always room for redemption.”

In conclusion, we share stories to pass on comfort. Yes, we are all unique individuals but we are more alike than our differences. It is those similarities that are reflected between the storyteller and the listeners. Like Echo, the character from Greek mythology, we express what others have said and it rebounds back to ourselves. We all yearn to express the pain and joy of human experience, to have our voice be heard over the hum-drum of daily life. The prolific storyteller, Margaret Read MacDonald wrote that, “most importantly, story offers the power to bind us together and heal our wound.” This is why storytelling has such universal appeal. This is why we continue sharing this art form.

Gathering Coal for the Lord

October 3rd, 2012

Lou Ann Homan
locketoftime@aol.com

The Fort Wayne History Center is my morning destination. I pull into a spot that says “Museum Parking Only,” pick up my satchel of work, and walk on in. I am wondering when I was here last. I think I took a group of Hamilton students to see the Festival of Gingerbread Houses years ago; yes that was the last time.

I check in with the girl at the front desk. I am expected as I have an appointment with the director. She tells me I can take the elevator or the Grand Staircase. Is there even a choice? The staircase is spectacular and circular. This building used to be the old City Hall. It was almost torn down, but saved by a group of folks in Fort Wayne. Maybe the same group that saved the Embassy Theater.

Randy is waiting for me upstairs with a table all set up in the hallway full of research material he has pulled. We chat a little about the museum and then about my project. I am researching a storytelling piece about my dad, “Gathering Coal for the Lord.” This storytelling work is sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana and will premiere in Indianapolis on November 3, 2012 at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center.

He leaves me to my work and I begin the delicate task of researching. I want to start taking notes, but I can’t seem to pick up a pencil yet. Learning by immersion is my best style, at least at the beginning. There are books and newspapers and photographs. I read the stories of factories and hardships and learn what I didn’t know before.
All too soon, my first few hours are over. Reluctantly I leave my table. Randy promises to keep everything just as I leave it for the next few weeks as my story begins to take shape.

I gather up my satchel and jacket and meander back down the Grand Staircase. It is warm and sunny outside and I blink at the daylight.

My next stop is The Gas House to meet my sister Jessie for her birthday lunch. Jessie is next in line in the long list of Saylor children. She is waiting for me in the parking lot. Jessie is always dressed to the nines, as they say. We are different in so many ways, yet we can both sing all the Broadway songs and will burst into song at any given moment. One night we had a Broadway sing-a-long dinner at her house which lasted for hours, and we still weren’t finished singing.

We go into The Gas House and I am followed by the echo of our long-ago patent leather shoes on the mosaic floor. When we were little, we always had our birthday lunches here. Actually our high school graduations and her wedding reception were held here as well.

This is the first time we have ever had lunch at The Gas House without our parents. We sit in the corner booth and order a glass of wine. We never did that before when we were young either! Our conversation turns to my project and our dad. In some ways it feels as if we are whispering as we share stories one at a time. There are some I don’t know and others she doesn’t know as well. My dad was a great storyteller, now here we are piecing together his childhood in Fort Wayne during the Depression. We wish he were with us, but then again he would go off telling stories about our great uncle who was the star of silent movies!

We eat our lunches knowing that half will go home in boxes as we must save room for the birthday German chocolate cake with a sparkler, compliments of the house. We forget we are here as these stories and memories of our Dad gently rain down upon us. We thought we knew them all, but we don’t. What stories did our Dad take with him when he left us? We pause for a moment with our own thoughts, I can see him gesturing and laughing at his own tales.
Someone comes for our money and we realize that no one else is there. Time did not move for us as we laughed and remembered and celebrate.

As for my dad, I will be visiting him every week at the History Center!