Thursday, March 9, 2017


The first time I heard David Yeoman tell the "Booze Yacht" story, I knew I had found my heart's home in the Down East area of North Carolina. I grew up in Georgia (not my fault but my mother's migration) with a family of storytellers differing from liars in that their stories were real events that actually happened. All the older generation seemed to "own" a story and pity the poor soul who tried to retell a story they did not own!

If the owner of the story was present, the pretender was toast!

Everyone gathered round would drown them out with cries of, "That's Susie's story! Nobody tells that story like Susie!" And, of course, Susie was then obliged to retell her story. If Susie was not around, others could retell her story without being shouted down as a fraud if they introduced it with the proper respect. For example, "I know no one tells this story like Susie" or "I always loved to hear Susie tell the story about ......" (fill in the blank). Then, the story could be told to be best of the recounter's memory though woefully aware that he or she was not up to Susie's caliber.

In the winter, on Friday nights or Sunday afternoons, we would visit someone's home who had a fireplace. We would sit around the fire eating popcorn and drinking hot chocolate. Just the thought of that combination now makes my stomach rebel but, as a child, I thought it was great.

In warm weather, we gathered where there was a large porch (front or back, it didn't matter). If we were lucky, there would be churns of homemade ice cream. The alternative was someone's signature pie or cake. As with the stories, if you didn't "own" bragging rights to the pie or cake, you'd best not try to serve your attempt at one of these gatherings. There was no such thing as serving cookies.

The annual alternative to these gatherings was the family reunion...almost always held in August with "dinner on the ground." No one ever explained to me why the hottest month of the year was chosen for the family reunion which, quite often, was held at the Roe home place with dinner on the ground. For that one day, we were all one big happy family unless and until someone tried to "steal" another's story or recipe! The children had a choice on that one day of either listening to the storytellers or playing ball in the adjoining pasture.

On one such day, I remember asking (don't ask their names, I only saw them one day a year and at funerals!) why everybody sat around telling the same old stories every time they got together. I got two answers. The first was, "It's family history. You need to know it." When I protested, "But, we have albums for that" I was told, "Pictures fade. Memories don't." My IQ dropped about thirty points with that person because of the question and her face showed it! The second answer was, "When we were growing up, we were so poor, the only toys we could afford were words." I liked that answer.

Decades later, in my first year teaching, I was appalled to find that many of my fourth graders could not even sequence the events of that day let alone the events of a story they had been assigned for the night before. I was further appalled to find that many could not even make up a story of their own even with prompts!

I've noticed, over the years, that storytelling seems to be a regional thing. That came to my notice as I got a different response from friends north of Mason Dixon or west of the Mississippi. Their eyes glazed over as a story sprang forth from my lips. But, I also noticed that, if those same friends had a close relative from south of the Mason Dixon or east of the Big Muddy, they responded just like my mother's family.

No comments:

Post a Comment