Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Silver Spurs

A True Story of the American Civil War

DVD Review

Beth Horner, Storyteller

ASL Interpretation

Recommended for ages 10 through adult. $12.00, plus $3.00 shipping and handling. To order, go to www.BethHorner.com or make check payable to Beth Horner and mail to P.O. Box 540, Wilmette, IL 60091-0540.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

In April 2010, I was selected to be one of the VASA storytellers at the Sounds of the Mountain Festival of Music and Story at Camp Bethel in Roanoke, Virginia. There I heard storyteller Beth Horner for the first time, and she captured not only my heart, but the hearts of everyone in attendance.

I missed one of her sets, however, and afterwards everyone was gushing profusely over the story she had shared in that set. I could not believe that I had been absent for such a gem. That story, The Silver Spurs, was the most talked about story at the festival, and I just had to hear it. Thankfully, it was being sold at the resource table as a DVD.

Beth Horner’s DVD The Silver Spurs was recorded live in 2001 at the Festival of Storytelling at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg, Illinois. I usually do not favor live recordings, but this one is near flawless.

The story begins with a beautifully haunting song, Touch Not My Sister’s Locket, which Beth sings in a clear, sweet voice as she accompanies herself on the autoharp. The song is about a dying soldier who clutches his sister’s locket to his breast and implores his killer not to take it. His killer obliges, saying “Once I knew my enemy’s story, enemies we could not be.”

Then comes the story of Minnie Winans, as told to Beth by her father, a man of few words except when it came to telling stories.

Minnie was just four years old when, on October 31, 1862, her father, Wesley Parker Winans, rode off to fight for the Confederates in the Civil War. Winans was a reluctant soldier who did not want to leave his family, prompting a fellow soldier and friend to gift him with a pair of elaborate silver spurs, engraved with both their names, Winans and Flournoy.

Winans war experience is detailed in his diary, from which Horner reads about long marches with no rest, trenches used for sleeping, and fierce fighting in which Winans’ friend Sergeant Bickers in killed while saving Winans’ life. Winans just wants to go home to see his family, but is continually denied leave. “They have Jeff Davised us to the devil!” he laments at one point. Sadly but inevitably, Winans is killed at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee on November 25, 1863 and is buried in a mass grave, leaving Minnie with no memories of him except for his riding away to war with those shiny silver spurs.

Minnie, whom we later learn is Horner’s great grandmother, does not see those spurs again for sixty years, when they are retrieved from the grandson of a Union soldier who took them off of Winan's dead body. Horner’s father tells young Beth, “The grief of war is not only visited on those who fight and die, but often on their families for generations to come. Sometimes….it is your own enemies who will bring you peace.”

Horner’s telling style is not ostentatious or theatrical. She merely speaks in a melodious, comforting voice, her eyes shining, as she shares a piece of her heart.

This DVD is ASL interpreted, and the nameless interpreter does a splendid job of making this story real for those who are hearing impaired. Her facial expressions are so captivating that I sometimes had a hard time choosing whether to watch interpreter or teller.

This is a DVD that I will watch again and again. I will share it with friends and family. It is the kind of story that makes me realize why I fell in love with storytelling in the first place.

Postscript, written by Beth Horner:
Since I recorded the DVD, I found additional information about Winans' death that I now include in the story and that I included when I told it at Sounds of the Mountains. I was always told that Winans was buried in a mass grave. I'm still thinking that was the case -- but I think he was buried by the Union Army and not the Confederates for whom he fought.

In the National Archives, I was able to find a letter written by Winans' sister after the war. It was written to the Union Army in an attempt to locate her brother's body. The letter is stunning. In it, his sister recounts his last words as related to her by a fellow soldier, "My men have fought gallantly today. This will kill my poor wife." According to the letter, Winans was shot in the neck, walked to the bottom of a hill "by the assistance of a friend" where he was informed by a surgeon that his wound was "mortal". He then uttered his last words. Because the Union Army was upon them and the Confederacy was retreating, Winans was leaned against a tree (his spurs and a gold watch still on his person, but his diary given to a friend to give to his wife) as "his soldiers marched by and saluted". According to the letter, they had to leave him there "not yet dead". Of course, because stories continually grow and change, I include this in the version of "The Silver Spurs" that I now tell (and that I told at Sounds of the Mountains).

"The Silver Spurs" is a story that stands alone and that I also now include in a 90 minute story titled "Three Soldiers: Three Stories". "Three Soldiers" is the story of three soldiers from three different wars: Winans from the Civil War, Bedilio Gurule (my boyfriend's father) who survived the Bataan Death March and 3.5 years in Japanese Prison of War Camps during WWII, and a young female American soldier who fought in Iraq. The story is taken from the diaries, letters (and e-mails) of these three soldiers. I told it at the National Storytelling Festival in 2008. (I was grateful to Susan O'Connor, festival director, for giving me a 90 minute slot to do so.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Talent or Serendipity

On November 13, 2010, I attended the annual banquet of the Virginia Writers Club (VWC) at the Mount Vernon Inn in Mount Vernon, Virginia. The VWC has always chosen good speakers for this annual event, but this year’s speaker chose a topic that spoke to me in a way that past topics have not.

New York Times Best Selling Author John Gilstrap took to the podium and addressed the role that serendipity (good luck) plays in getting published. In his case, his book Nathan's Run was given back to an agent, who had taken a pass on it, by the agent’s assistant, who intervened on Gilstrap’s behalf because she noticed that he was a fellow William and Mary alumnus.

With good representation, Gilstrap received a handsome advance and a heady wooing from movie land, only to witness his new found fame disintegrate because his book did not sell the number of copies his publisher anticipated. Serendipity came around again though, and Gilstrap’s latest book, Hostage Zero, is red hot.

Luck and talent, it seems, go hand in hand. Would Gilstrap’s novel have been published if it had not been good? Probably not. Would his wonderful manuscript have been published if his William and Mary cohort had not noticed his alma mater? Maybe. The sad fact is that you can write the best book that was ever written, but if it does not make it into the right hands, it will not be picked up by a publisher who can supply the buzz needed to get it off the ground.

At a writer’s seminar that I attended in Massachusetts in 1992, true crime writer Gary Provost stated that publishers are more interested in the marketability than in the quality of the books they publish. The most important question is “will it sell”? The quality of the book is secondary.

Consider, however, that publishers do not always know what will sell. Gilstrap told about a time that his editor wanted to leave his publisher and take two authors with him: Gilstrap and Dan Brown. The publisher would not let the editor take Gilstrap, but said a fond farewell to Brown. The publisher had no idea what to do with Angels and Demons. When the phenomenal sales of The Da Vinci Code later set the literary world on fire, that publisher must have felt like the executive at ABC that turned down the Cosby Show in the 1980’s.

Gilstrap’s point is that there is no way he could have planned the remarkable things that happened to get his writing career off the ground. I must admit that my own successes, though nowhere near the stunning level that Gilstrap has achieved, have followed the same pattern. While I was executing a spontaneous pitch for Daughters of the Appalachians to a representative from Overmountain Press at the Melungeon Union in 1998, a group of ladies who had taken my workshop on the role of storytelling in the mountain culture interrupted us to gush about my storytelling skills. That is the best publicity I have ever gotten, and I did not even have to pay for it. It sure caught the attention of the publisher’s rep. Overmountain Press published Daughters of the Appalachians the following year.

On another occasion, my story The Bobby Pins was published in Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. The book had contact information for each story’s author in its back section. For the first few weeks, my phone rang of the hook with folks asking questions about hiring me. I truly thought this was my big breakthrough. But no one called back. In fact, the phone stopped ringing at all, as far as storytelling queries were concerned. I racked my brain to figure out what I had done wrong.

Then a phone call from a friend alerted me to the fact that someone who had wanted to hire me had called her because my phone had been disconnected. I called the phone company immediately. Bell Mass had recently assigned a new area code to my town, but rather than give long distance callers the new code, it had installed a recording that said my phone number was no longer in service. That, too, was the luck of the draw (though I would not refer to it as serendipity).

I keep writing and telling, all the while hoping for more serendipity. While disappointment abounds, those rare moments when God sends rewards my way are so sweet that I continue to strive for more. Telling stories that I have written is my passion. I would find it impossible to stop.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Requiem for Blue by Tony Toledo

I am posting this on my blog with Tony Toledo's permission. Thank you Tony. Linda

One year ago today Brother Blue joined with his ancestors.
Blue, the love we have for you remains, as does our gratitude and friendship.
In my heart there is a little blue shelf. On it is a butterfly made of stories.
Ciao, Tony Toledo

Requiem for Blue by Tony Toledo

He was the original Blue man.
He was the Street Poet.
He was the Holy Fool.
Story made flesh.
A heart open to the world.

A timeless minstrel.
Finder of the one true note.
A happy accident.
A knee jerk flirt.
Nonlinear in a funny sort of linear way.

Born a grown man fully clothed.
Ageless and energetic.
In love with his lady, his angel.
Way way beyond beyond a free spirit.

Once upon a time ago, once upon a rhyme ago...
Harmonica's mournful wail ago.
Degrees in his pocket.
Stories on his tongue.

Arms open wide
Hugging the world
How the world hugs him.

Now he lives in the wind.
Now he travels in the shade.
Romeo, Romeo where art thou?

Now his stories echo, echo, echo.
A bit of Blue in every word.
Fly on, Blue, fly on.

A butterfly on the breeze.
Such a kiss lasts forever.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Appalachian Ghost Tale

The Woman from the High Mountain

© Linda Goodman, 1997

(What follows is my adaptation of a story that my father told. He claimed that the story was true, but I believe that he meant that in the storytelling sense: i.e., just because it did not happen does not mean it is not true. There are many cultures that have a variation of this story. This story is written as a monologue in a modified version of the Appalachian dialect.)

When my daddy was a young’un, his best friend was Rufus Gilliam. Rufus and my daddy grew up together, and when they was boys, you never saw one without the other’n. And when they was growed, they even worked together in the mines for a while, until Rufus come into this inheritance from his mamaw.

Rufus used that inheritance to buy Gilliam’s General Store over in downtown Norton. Now Rufus never did make much money off of that store, but he did get by, ‘cause they won’t no other such place in them parts and folks would give Rufus all their business just to keep him going.

My daddy was at that store ever single day. In fact, he was there when Rufus proposed to Reba May Tackett, his very best customer. And then Daddy was best man at their weddin’, and a year after that he stood godfather to their adopted daughter, Clara Gay. And it was my daddy who told me the story I’m a fixin’ to tell you now. And, like as not, when you hear it, you’re gonna say, “Huh! T’aint so!” All I got to say to that is, my daddy never told a lie in his life!

Now it seems that one Friday, ‘long bout eight o’clock of the evenin’, closin’ time, Rufus was fixing to lock up his store, when in come this woman he’d never seen before. She was right tall, he said. Fact is, he had to look up at her. She had long stringy, black hair and she was wearin’ a frock that looked more like a nightgown than a proper dress, and she was barefooted. And she was covered with dirt from her head all the way down to her feet. Why, Rufus said it looked like she’d crawled through miles of mud to get to his store, yet it hadn’t rained in weeks.

And then he looked into her clear, gray eyes, and it was like the held him hypnotized. All he could manage was to ask, “Kin I help ye?”

She didn’t say nothin’, just pointed to the milk in the dairy case behind him.

Rufus went to that dairy case and he took out a quart of milk and handed it to her. The next second, she lit right out the door! Didn’t pay for that milk. Didn’t even say, “Thank ye.” And Rufus, well, he didn’t have the heart to go after her, ‘cause he knew that this was a woman who’d been hit by hard times, and he figgered that she needed that milk more than he needed the money to pay for it.

After that woman had gone, Rufus locked up his store and went to open up the door to the back room. See, Rufus, my daddy, Rusty Mullins, and Orville Rittenbury got together in that back room for a card game every Friday night.

That night, as Rufus was dealin’ cards, he told them boys about that woman that’d come into his store. My daddy listened to him, thought about it for a minute, and said, “Now, Rufus, the way you talk about this woman being covered with dirt and all makes me wonder is she’s one of them people that live up on the high mountain. You know, them that’s called Melungeons. ‘Cause they don’t have water right handy up there like we do down here, and I hear tell that they don’t take a bath but once a week or so. You reckon she could be one of them?”

Rufus scratched his head and said, “I never thought about that, Ted, but I reckon she could be.”

Then they got back to the matter at hand, which was that card game. And my daddy had a real good game that night. Fact is he won two dollars! So he took all them boys to the Starlite Café after, for some cold beers.

Now the next night, that’d be Saturday, right about the time that Rufus was fixin’ to close his store, in come that woman again. Once again, Rufus looks into her clear, gray eyes and all he can do is say, “Kin I help ye?”

Once again, she don’t say nothin’, just points to the milk in the dairy case behind him. And Rufus gets the milk from the dairy case and hands it to her. And once again, that woman lights right on out of there lickety split!

This time, though, Rufus decides to go after her and he runs out the door. But he looks this way and that, and he don’t see hide nor hair of that woman. Why, it was like she just disappeared into thin air!

Well, that spooked Rufus, so he locked up that store right quick and went straight to see my daddy to tell him all about it. “I’m a telling you, Ted,” he whispered, “they’s somethin’ unnatural about this woman, somethin’ that just ain’t right!”

My daddy didn’t think nothin’ of it. “Now, Rufus,” he drawled, “this is just a woman that’s been hit by hard times. And it’d be agin the Code of the Hills for us not to help a body like that, right here in our own midst. But how kin we help her if we don’t know who she is or where she lives?

“Now what I aim we do is this: your store‘ll not be open tomorrow, it bein’ Sunday and all. But on Monday, why don’t me and Rusty Mullins and Orville Rittenbury come on over around closin’ time and wait. Like as not, that woman‘ll come in again and one of us will recognize her, and then we’ll be able to give her the help she needs.”

Rufus allowed that sounded like a right good idea to him.

So that Monday, long about seven-thirty of the evenin’, my daddy and Rusty Mullins and Orville Rittenbury went on over to Gilliam’s General Store. They was standin’ around the pickle barrel, jawin’ and tellin’ stories and such. Finally eight o’clock came, then eight-ten, then eight-fifteen. Finally Rufus threw up his hands and said, “Well, boys, it looks like she ain’t comin’ tonight. I’m sorry to have led you fellers on a wild goose chase of a Monday evenin’.”

Well, those words hadn’t nor more than come out of his mouth til that woman came in the door. Daddy said it looked like she floated more than walked! And he said she looked just the way that Rufus had described her, all covered with dirt. Them boys just watched with their mouths open while Rufus looked into her clear, gray eyes and asked, “Kin I help ye?”

Daddy said that woman was shiverin’ like she was about to freeze. Why, he could have sworn he heard her bones rattle as she pointed to the milk in the dairy case behind Rufus!

Rufus got a quart of milk and handed it to her. And that woman lit out of there so fast, Daddy said she looked like a streak of lightning leavin’ that store!

Well them boys just stood there for a second or two, and then Daddy cried, “Let’s go after her, boys!”

They took off runnin’ in the direction they had seen her headed. Finally Daddy yelled, “Look, boys, there she is, fixin’ to run up the high mountain! I told you she was one of them Melungeons!”

Then Daddy and Rufus got their second wind and picked up their speed. Daddy said he was runnin’ so fast he thought his heart would beat clean out of his chest. And yet that woman stayed way far ahead of them, and her lookin’ so weak and all.

Finally Daddy and Rufus closed in on her, almost close enough to touch her, when she ran behind a tree. But when Daddy and Rufus ran behind that tree, she was gone! And they stood there scratchin’ their heads, tryin’ to figger how that woman got away so quick that neither one of them had seen what direction she was headin’.

About that time, my daddy heard a sound comin’ from the ground beneath his feet. It sounded like somethin’ whimperin’. Daddy looked at Rufus. “You hear that Rufus?”

“Sure do, Ted!” he declared.

And my daddy and Rufus started diggin’ in the dirt with their bare hands. Then Rusty Mullins and Orville Rittenbury caught up to them and they helped dig. They dug about two feet down, until they came to a big pine box.

Daddy took his pocket knife and pried the lid of that box loose and opened it real slow. And there, layin’ right on top of its dead mommy’s chest, was a livin’, breathin’ baby girl!

Well, Rufus always did set great store by young’uns. He gently picked that baby up and held it to his shoulder. “There, there, sweet one,” he cooed.

And then my daddy said, “Rufus! Look at the face of that baby’s mommy.”

And Rufus looked down at that mommy’s face, and he saw starin’ back at him the clear, gray, lifeless eyes of that woman that had been comin’ into his store night after night.

Then Daddy said, “Look at her hand, Rufus! Look at her hand!”

And Rufus looked at that woman’s right hand. And in it he saw a fresh bottle of cold milk labeled “Gilliam’s General Store.” And at her feet, they was two empty bottles just like it!

Well, Rufus took that baby home to his wife Reba May, and they called the doctor. Rufus told the doctor where he found the baby, but he didn’t tell him the rest of the story.

That doctor examined that baby, and he allowed that it had been right sick and that it must have lapsed into a coma, so its people took it for dead and buried it with its mommy. Them Melungeons, you see, don’t set much store by doctors.

Rufus and Reba May raised that baby as their very own and named her Clara Gay. And I kin tell by the looks on your faces exactly what you’re thinkin’, “Ain’t no such thing as haints!”

Well, I don’t blame you none. Sometimes I’m apt to think that way myself. But then I look into the clear, gray eyes of Clara Gay Gilliam, my daddy’s goddaughter, and I know they’s more things in heaven and earth than mere mortals can understand. Life, you see, is a mystery.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thoughts on Waiting for Superman

As a boy, Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, was devastated when his mother informed him that there was no Superman. His mother thought his reaction stemmed from the same emotions that overcame him when he found out that there was no Santa Claus. Quite the opposite, Canada explains, finding out that there was no Superman made him realize that there was no one coming to save him from the life he feared would be his.

These days, Canada is Superman to a group of kids that is small in comparison to the number of children who desperately need his particular brand of ingenuity and creativity in education. Featured in the documentary film Waiting For Superman, Canada makes a plea for America to save its children from the grim lives that await them if our educational system is allowed to continue in its present decline into chaos.

The United States, once a leader in education worldwide, now ranks 18th among the 36 industrialized nations. This film examines this crisis by following the educational obstacles faced by three students who are striving to get the best education possible while living in poverty and one student who feels that her upper middle class school is failing her.

I learned a few new terms from this film:

1. Dancing lemons – the practice of moving bad teachers from school to school because they cannot be fired.
2. Drop-out factories – schools where the majority of students never graduate.
3. Academic sinkholes – schools that are primarily babysitting institutions.

I also learned of some situations that surprised me. For instance, tenure is not performance based in most public schools. Rather, it is an award for the amount of time a teacher has spent in a system. Another surprising fact: it is almost impossible to fire tenured teachers, regardless of their performance.

Call me naïve, but I was shocked to learn that in most poverty centers, children can gain admittance to charter and magnet schools only by lottery, even though those very schools are their only hope of getting a decent education. Demand is high, and just a small fraction of the children who enter the lottery are chosen to attend these schools. Of the four children profiled in this film, only 2 are chosen.

The mother of one of the little girls in this film works several jobs in order to pay the $500 monthly tuition required for her daughter to attend Catholic school. When the mother’s hours are cut back and she gets behind on the payments, the school forbids her daughter to participate in its graduation ceremony. Seeing this little girl watch her classmates walk into the school to take part in the ceremony from which she has been banned is heartbreaking.

David Guggenheim, the award-winning documentarian behind this film, seems to think the problem lies with teachers and teachers unions. In many instances, union rules make it impossible to reward exceptional teachers, while at the same time protecting the jobs of inadequate teachers.

Nowhere in this film are parents held accountable. The parents of the four children profiled are responsible and are making their children’s educations their first priority, regardless of the cost to them. If more parents were this concerned about their children’s education, could that not go a long way towards solving the problem? Aren't drug use and absentee parents factors contributing to our failing classrooms?

As a professional storyteller, I have worked in many schools, rural as well as inner city. Most of the teachers I have worked with clearly love their jobs and the children they teach. Many of them spend their own money and personal time to help children in need.

In one inner city high school, I witnessed a student threaten a teacher who asked him to quit hanging around in the hall and go to class. In a Richmond, Virginia school, a teacher had her wrist broken while trying to break up a fight. Such teachers should get combat pay, not the paltry sums that they are expected to live on.

As one who was born in poverty, I am grateful for the teachers who influenced my life:

Mrs. Wiggins – my first grade teacher, who told me that my Appalachian accent was elegant. The kids who made fun of the way I talked took note and left me alone.

Mrs. Geddie – my second grade teacher, who defended me against the school secretary who wanted to have me suspended for forgetting to bring in my immunization form.

Mrs. Harrison – my third grade teacher, who let me paint with water colors to my heart’s delight.

Mrs. Mabry – my sixth grade teacher, who taught me to how to write and how to read for fun.

Mrs. Horne, my 11th and 12th grade English teacher, who taught me the power of the comma and to love poetry.

Returning our schools to their glory years will be achieved only if all parties involved (teachers, unions, administrators, parents, the community) agree that our children’s futures are worth salvaging and make the tremendous effort required to bring that about. Do not this nation’s children, the future leaders of this country, deserve first rate educations?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dickens-Era London Brought Magically to Life

Compact Disc Review by Linda Goodman

Missing the Muffin Man, by Mary Jo Maichack $12.00 + $2.00 shipping and handling. CD cash/personal check sales from Mary Jo Maichack, Maichack Arts, 93 Homestead Avenue, Holyoke, Ma 01040, or www.MaryJoMaichack.com. Visit www.CDBaby.com for a free listen and a 40% discount if more than one CD is purchased. Recommended for listeners of all ages.

Missing the Muffin Man, the latest CD from minstrel, storyteller Mary Jo Maichack, is a wonderfully engaging tale of a young girl in search of a treasured friend. Set in Charles Dickens’ London, it is the perfect companion piece to A Christmas Carol. Indeed, with this CD, Maichack, long admired for her considerable storytelling and singing talent, makes her mark as a writer of note. In the process, she has raised the bar for all those who aspire to enter the realm of telling tales.

The story’s protagonist is ten-year old Ginny Wright, who becomes distraught after going three weeks without seeing her beloved muffin man. After all, in his absence she is forced to spend afternoons with her stern governess, rather than have tea with her adored mother. How she longs to hear the ringing hand bell that announces the muffin man’s arrival! How she misses the special wink that is a code between them!

Ginny does what any curious child would do if given the opportunity: she takes her terrier Pike and sets out to find her friend. Her search leads her on an adventure that is both exciting and frightening. The streets of London come to life with costermongers (street vendors), beggars, flower stalls, and thieves. Maichak paints the scene so clearly that the listener can see the squalor and chaos; can hear the shouts and bells, so loud that conversation is impossible.

Ginny’s seemingly innocent escapade takes a dangerous turn when she has a run-in with a body snatcher. An orphaned boy who calls himself “Six” comes to her aid. Six proudly claims to be a thief. “Better thievin’ than beggin,’” he tells her. “At least thievin’ has some skill to it.” He advises Ginny, for her safety, to be entertaining. Ginny takes his advice and the result is her creation of the classic children’s song, The Muffin Man. While the origins of this song are not known, Maichack’s story certainly seems plausible.

No review of Maichack’s work would be complete without mention of the remarkable tool that is her voice. Using several English accents to perfection, she gives each of her characters a distinct voice. The listener always knows who is speaking. Her rhythm and timing are impeccable, and her singing is a delight.

Maichack’s CD cover portrait is a pastel painting entitled “Homage to Renoir,” by her husband Gregory John Maichack, a talented artist in his own right. The portrait is the perfect complement to the story. The inside cover has a nineteenth century muffin recipe that is sure to delight both culinaries and those who taste their wares.

Put on a pot of tea, warm an English muffin, and put this CD on to play. You will not be Missing the Muffin Man for long.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Neon Man and Me

DVD Review

Written and performed by Slash Coleman. Music by Slash Coleman. Available for $19.95 at www.slashcoleman.com.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

In 2004, Slash Coleman suffered the loss of his best friend, Mark Jamison, a neon light artist who was electrocuted while hanging a sign. After Jamison’s death, Coleman began collecting mementos meant to help Jamison’s little boy, not yet born, to get to know the father he would never meet. That process led to the creation of The Neon Man and Me, a one-man play about friendship and going home.

In this show, Coleman portrays thirty characters, beginning with Jacques Lemoire, who gives a dissertation on the mating habits of elephants, who meet through a series of long distance calls called “musths.” This is followed by a recitation of Terry Kettering’s poem The Elephant in the Room. Writing, Coleman discovers, is a powerful pill.

Next, Coleman describes his first meeting with an “elephant” named Mark Jamison, then a tenor saxophonist alternately described as an “alcohol powered weejie board” and a “Pentecostal chick magnet.” To Coleman he becomes “the man,” his new best friend. That friendship is deepened through road trips, fishing trips, and late night coffees. The two form a jazz band together.

Later, while being dressed down by a university official for a questionable promotional stunt, Jamison proclaims that jazz is a spiritual truth and reveals to Coleman that a member of his church has had a vision that the two of them will play before millions. Jamison also has a premonition that he will die young.

After college, Coleman heads to Knoxville to write the great American novel. Jamison goes to neon school in Johnson City, Tennessee. Their relationship continues through a series of long distance phones calls that cover getting kicked out of school, losing a job due to inappropriate behavior, various occupations, marriage, and divorce. At the end of each call, Jamison invites Coleman to come home to work with him and to “be amongst his people.” Coleman’s reply becomes a refrain: “I hate Virginia! I’m never moving back!”

Of course, Coleman eventually does come home, but it is too late for him to reconnect with his friend. Coleman finally gives up on the idea that life has to be a “fantastical Moulin Rouge.” Rather, he remembers Jamison’s prophecy: “God always provides a way when there is no way. You will always take the right turn in the path.”

Coleman yearns for “shoes so fast they can go back and change your past.” Yet, after 133 apartments in eight states and two countries, after 144 jobs, he finally settles in Richmond, Virginia “amongst his people,” content working in his family’s upholstery business, a job that he thought college would save him from. He is with his family and telling his story, just as Jamison always wanted him to be.

This story is accompanied by haunting music that extols friendship and home in gentle lyrics that Coleman sings with quiet grace and serenity. This beautiful tribute to a friendship too short makes one realize that relationships must be nurtured and enjoyed. One never knows when or how a relationship will end.

Also notable on this gripping CD is the audience, which is warm and receptive to Coleman’s considerable charm and talent. Whenever the camera pans the audience members, their wide-eyed eagerness to hear and see more, shows that they are actively engaged in the performance. This is an audience that was wisely chosen.

I have seen this show both live and on television and am pleased to see that nothing was lost in the transition from one medium to the other. Coleman is clearly master of this game.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

By the River: Women’s Voices in Jewish Stories

CD Review

Cindy Rivka Marshall, Storyteller

Music provided by Susan Robbins

Recommended for ages 10 through adult. $15.00 for first CD, $10.00 for additional CDs. To order, go to www.cindymarshall.com; for MP-3 digital download, go to http://cdbaby.com/cd/crmarshall2

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Cindy Marshall’s telling style is clean, eloquent, and intimate. Susan Robbins’ lovely music played on frame drum, accordion, hammered dulcimer, and several other instruments, seasons the stories perfectly. Like salt used sparingly, the music enhances the stories without overwhelming them. As I listened to Marshall and Robbins weave tales and music together, I felt as though I were privy to a special concert that had been created just for me.

On this CD, using the tradition of midrash Marshall shares stories that honor the wisdom of women. Prominently featured is Serah bat Asher, mentioned only twice in the Torah; once leaving Canaan to go to Egypt with Joseph, and again 200 years later in the census of Israelites living in the desert. Considered a female counterpart of Elijah, the hero in hundreds of Jewish tales, Serah bat Asher urges Miriam, in the story The Voice in Her Heart, to sing her visions of new birth to her parents. They listen, and Moses is born.

Serah bat Asher appears again in The River, a story of a mother and a daughter, and the lessons they learn. Serah bat Asher appears at the river and counsels them to have faith: every year as they tell the story of leaving Egypt, they are transported from slavery to freedom.

The Magic Pomegranate Seed is the story of a desperate but wise young mother who steals a loaf of bread to feed her hungry children. When caught and sentenced to death, she quickly and cleverly devises a plan to save herself.

In The Jewel, young Freyda learns, along with a rich landowner, what true treasure is. Onions features yet another treasure, more valuable than diamonds to some. Unfortunately, an over-abundance of anything causes its value to plummet, as the brothers of Gittel, the story’s young heroine, soon discover. The song and lyrics Marshall created for this story yield quite a catchy tune. I could not help but sing along.

My favorite story on this CD is A Garment for the Moon, in which a seamstress, asked by the sun to make clothing for the shivering moon, convinces others of her trade to help her fulfill this request. A search ensues for a fabric that can grow to fit any size, for, as we all know, the moon’s size changes throughout each month. The source of this newly discovered fabric sheds light that is unexpected but delightful.

How lovely it is to listen to stories that honor the wisdom of all women, not just older women! Marshall makes us realize that wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes, just like the moon’s new garment.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Storytelling in the Christian Community

By Linda Goodman,CLS,United Methodist Church, Petersburg,Virginia District

(c)2002 Linda Goodman

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the Lake. Large crowds gathered around him, so he got into a boat and sat down, while the people stood on the shore. The Jesus used stories to teach them many things.” Holy Bible, New Century Version, Matthew 13: 1-3

Since the beginning of Christianity, Christians have used stories to teach. Christ himself set the example is this regard. When asked by his disciples why he used stories to teach people, Christ answered that stories were vehicles that could reach those who “see, but don’t really see” and those who “hear but down really hear” (Matthew 13:10-13). Stories make plain what esoteric sermons choose to cloud with mystery. Even those who are uninitiated usually get the point.

When I began my training to become a Certified Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church, I was required to prepare a five-minute sermon to present to the class. Rather than deliver a traditional sermon, I chose to share a personal story about an evangelistic effort I had been a part of that, while intended to bring comfort to its recipients, actually caused pain to those it sought to aid. I learned a great deal from that mistake, and I believed that my audience could learn from it as well.

The class instructor and the class at large supported my approach. I began delivering story sermons whenever I was asked to speak at a church To my delight, I found that congregants who hear stories are eager to hear more.

For ten years now, I have taught a course on Storytelling in the Ministry for the Lay Speaking School at the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center in Blackstone, Virginia. The course fills quickly and usually has a waiting list. People are hungry for stories that help them make sense out of God’s purpose for their lives.

The class that I teach is divided into three parts. The first part covers stories taken directly from the Bible: David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, The Temptation of Christ, and many others. I encourage students to look at the stories from different angles, and the results are delightful. Some tell the stories from the viewpoints of non-traditional narrators (for example: a member of the ninety-nine sheep, disgruntled because the shepherd has left them to search for one sheep who was foolish enough to get lost). Some choose to reset a story in modern times. Others tell the stories as they are presented in the Bible, with all the drama, action, suspense, and sincerity that entails.

The second part of the class covers traditional stories that illustrate Christian Principles. The story of the Three Little Pigs, for example, teaches the same lesson as Christ’s parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand: only a firm foundation can withstand assault, whether it be from nature or a predator. In a similar vein, The Three Apprentices, by the Brothers Grimm, teaches that it never pays to make a deal with the devil, no matter how harmless it seems at the time.

The third, and by far the most popular, part of the class covers personal stories. The power of personal stories is undeniable. Why is the personal or family tale so special? The reasons are many and varied.

First, they are entertaining. Who has not been to a family gathering without coming away with a treasure trove of family stories to be passed along from generation to generation? When my family gets together, storytelling is the main event. We laugh, we cry, we try to outdo one another in bringing forth obscure memories. Through these stories, I have come to feel that I know intimately relatives that I have never even met.

Second, they are remarkable teaching tools. Many times I have sat through sermons that stressed the importance of forgiveness. As I listened, I could not help but think to myself that some things are unforgivable. That changed on March of 2002 when I heard Master Storyteller Ray Buckley share the story of his journey to forgive the man who caused the death of his wife and only child. Buckley, a Native American and devout Christian, was visited by his father after the tragedy. His father told him to write the name of the man on a peace of paper and then draw a line through the name and write the date in red when he had forgiven the man. Understandably skeptical of his father’s advice, Buckley followed the man’s trial. After the man’s conviction, Buckley visited the man’s family and formed a relationship with the man’s son. Through this relationship, Buckley gained the strength to visit the man in prison. Forgiveness, Buckley learned, is not only possible, but necessary. I continue get chills up and down my spine when I recall Buckley’s tender account, at the story’s end, of drawing a line through the man’s name and writing the date in red. If he could forgive the unforgivable, perhaps I can do that, too. That is what his story taught me.

Third, they nurture community. I have personally seen communities brought together by the compassion evoked by stories told about a person or place. In one instance, the community created by these stories saved a teacher’s job. In another, a community gathered its resources together to give a fatherless family a Christmas it would never forget.

Fourth, they can be instruments of healing. When my mother died suddenly, my grief was compounded by the fact that I had never had the chance apologize for an argument that I had with her the night she passed away. A Christian grief therapist suggested that I use storytelling to help me heal. I took her advice and wrote The Radio, a Christmas story that illustrated my mother’s self-sacrificing and unconditional love for me. That did not help much (I never doubted my mother’s love). Then I wrote The Bobby Pins, a story about a birthday present that I had given my mother, the first birthday present she had ever received in her entire life. That story was exactly what I needed: it made me realize that my mother knew that I loved her. Our argument was just one moment in our relationship. It did not define what we felt for one another. I realized that God had sent me this powerful memory to help me heal.

Fifth, family and personal stories inspire the listener to become a storyteller as well. Who has not listened to a personal tale being shared without being reminded of a similar event in his own life? When you share a story of your Christian walk with others, they will be inspired to share their own stories. The message will reach an audience far greater than the one you see.

Storytelling is a powerful tool for teaching the Christian principles by which we try, not always successfully, to live. Christ set the standard that all Christians strive to achieve. Christ was a storyteller. People are hungry for stories. As a storyteller, I seek to satisfy this hunger. As a Christian, I seek to share what I have learned from life through stories that touch the hearts of the Christians and non-Christians alike.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cry of the Mountain

A documentary play about mountaintop removal in Appalachia

Conceived and performed by Adelind Horan

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

The first thing I noticed about Adelind Horan when she stepped on stage at the Hamner Theater in Afton, Virginia was her delicate beauty. She is tall and slender with a thick mane of mahogany curls cascading down her back. She seems fragile, apprehensive.

Do not let this first impression fool you, however. This young woman BRINGS IT!! She is a powerhouse of energy, depth, and talent. The minute she becomes Judy Bonds, the first person in her thirteen character play, she owns the stage. Indeed, she so convincingly portrays the nine men and 4 women in her one-woman show that if I had closed my eyes, I would not have realized that one person was playing all these roles. Even visually she is convincing, using different body language, gestures, facial expressions, mannerisms, and voice patterns for each character.

Horan conceived and wrote this show for her senior acting project at Hampshire College. She thought, “If I’m going to spend a year on this, I would like to make it something meaningful.” With that in mind, she began interviewing people and creating verbatim monologues. Not wanting to represent just one side of the issue, she interviewed coal company executives, as well as coal miners and others directly affected by mountaintop removal. The result is a well-rounded piece that does not demonize or insult either side.

Some characters included are:

Lexington Coal Company CEO Dan Geiger, who aptly points out that, while folks malign coal mining, they don’t want to give up their air conditioning or the other creature comforts that coal helps to provide.

Stephanie Pistello, the National Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices in Washington, DC, who explains the “road to nowhere.” Companies who remove mountaintops, it seems, can avoid reclaiming the land if they build a road where the mountaintop once was, even if no road is needed.

Ed Wiley, a former coal miner who worked at coal sludge dams, never realizing that he and his co-workers were indirectly “killing kids” at nearby Marsh Fork Elementary School. When his ten year old granddaughter alerts him to this in a heartbreaking exchange, he gets involved in a big way.

According to the EPA, “Mountaintop removal…. is a mining practice where the tops of mountains are removed, exposing the seams of coal. It can involve removing 500 feet or more of the summit to get at buried seams of coal. The earth from the mountaintop is then dumped in the neighboring valleys.” Mountaintop removal, which has doubled in the past eight years, has destroyed over 1,200 miles of streams and more than 450 Appalachian mountains.

Horan’s show is beautifully enhanced by the Appalachian tunes played expertly on the banjo by Max Werham, whose music blends so well with the stories being told that it is easy to forget that he is there. He becomes part of the ebb and flow that make this show so seamless.

After each show, producer and activist Ray Nedzel joins Horan and Werham to answer questions and give advice to the audience on how they can get involved. Clearly, the shows lights a fire in the audience. At the performance I attended almost every audience member stayed for the talk-back, most wanting to know what they could do to make a difference.

I have witnessed my own relatives and friends collapse in tears at the sight of a landscape they no longer recognize. When I visit my native Wise County, Virginia, much of the beauty that I remember is gone. This is indeed a serious environmental problem that plays heavily on the emotions of native Appalachians. My main concern is what the future holds for Appalachians in either case. If we cannot stop mountaintop removal, Appalachians will continue to suffer from the ill effects of this shameful practice. If we do stop the coal companies from destroying mountains, hundreds of jobs will be lost and families will suffer. We cannot just protest mountaintop removal, walk away, and feel good about ourselves. If we do, we will bear the responsibility of the carnage that will be left in our wake. That carnage will be measured in human lives.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It Happened In the White House

CD Review

Written and performed by Lynn Ruehlmann. Music by Bob Zentz and Jeanne McDougall. Available for $15.00, plus $3.50 shipping and handling, from lynn@cascadingstories.com. May also be ordered from www.cdbaby.com/ruehlmann or by calling Lynn at (757) 625-6742. Recommended for 4th grade through adult.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Lynn Ruehlmann is a traveling one-woman history show who uses her considerable writing and acting talent to not only bring historical characters to life, but to make them accessible and familiar to her listeners. On this entertaining and informative CD about Virginia presidents and their wives, she wisely chooses to portray characters who “either did know or could have known the president and his wife and all the facts in that tale.” This frees her to bring a bit of herself into the telling, as opposed to assuming the persona of a well-known figure about whom many may have already formed pre-conceived notions.

Dolly Madison’s story, for example, is told by a little girl who loves to watch Mrs. Madison feed her parrot. With the excitement that only a child would feel comfortable exposing, she relates the tale of how Mrs. Madison saved many of America’s valuable artifacts, including Gilbert Stuart’s painting of George Washington, from the rapidly approaching British army during the War of 1812. Mrs. Madison, the child concludes, is a “national heroine who did not care for her own safety.”

George and Martha Washington’s love story is beautifully shared by Mrs. Chamberlayne, one of Martha’s friends from childhood. Mrs. Chamberlayne shares intimate scenes in the life of a couple that is as devoted to the American colonies and their people as it is to each other. When duty calls, the Washingtons answer, though somewhat reluctantly, and trust that their love for one another will see them through the battlefields and the politics.

Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Patsy enlightens us about the details that led her father to write the Declaration of Independence. She also expounds on his role in sending Lewis and Clark on their expedition of the Louisiana Purchase.

John Tyler’s story is narrated by a singer on the Princeton, who fondly relates the courtship of Tyler and his second wife, Julia Gardner, thirty years Tyler’s junior. Tyler was the first president to be married while in office, and, though Julia was accustomed to getting what she wanted, the narrator makes it clear that he believes the marriage was a true love match.

A servant tells the story of Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, wife of President James Monroe. A shy woman who suffers from convulsions, Mrs. Monroe is compared unfavorably to Dolly Madison in local gossip. Indignant, the servant recounts the story of how a brave Mrs. Monroe saved Madame de Lafayette from the French guillotine. “That is the story the gossips should be telling!” the servant declares.

We are given insight into the lives of President and Mrs. Zachary Taylor by a Tourist who is drawn to the stuffed warhorse that the President has mounted on the White House lawn. Mrs. Taylor, the tourist confides, was never seen in public, except for church. She did not want the public chore of being hostess for the Presidency. President Taylor, it is said, did not even vote for himself because of his wife’s reluctance to take on the role of First Lady.

My favorite story on this CD is the story of President Woodrow Wilson, told by a woman who knew his second wife, Edith. Theirs was not the most romantic courtship, but they had great trust in and affection for one another. After reluctantly getting involved in World War I, Wilson went on to help write the Treaty of Versailles and to champion the League of nations. He died heartbroken that the United States rejected the League.

Featured on this recording are several pieces of period music, provided by Bob Zentz and Jeanne McDougall who play various instruments. These lovely musical interludes set the mood for each story.

Ruehlmann thoroughly researched these stories, and it shows. The stories are a wealth of information, and each narrating character is so unique that it is easy to forget that just one woman portrays them all.

Though it cannot be seen on this recording, Ruehlmann is blessed with a face that can create expressions that mirror the inner being of her characters, and the physical changes effected by this are quite remarkable. I can think of no better performer to be brought into a school system. Her shows are both entertaining and educational, and the lucky students who get to see her shows have fun, in addition to learning history.

The CD liner has photos of the Presidents and wives who are featured on this recording. It also contains some enlightening notes about the show. Seldom have I seen a more professionally produced package.

After hearing this CD, I feel proud to be a native of the state of Virginia, the mother of such fascinating presidents.

The 48 Hour Film Project

On August 1st at 4:00 p.m., I attended the final session of Richmond’s 48 Hour Film Project at the Byrd Theatre on Cary Street. I went because my friend Mary Lou Kline’s husband, son, and grandson (otherwise known as Kline Productions) had produced one of the films and I was interested on seeing their work.

The 48 Hour Film project challenges participants to create a seven-minute film from beginning to end in just 48 hours. Participants are given a genre, a character, a prop and a line of dialogue that must be incorporated into the film. Genre varies, but all participants must include in their films the same character, prop, and line of dialogue given. This year, they were as follows:

Character: a party planner named either Dwight or Danette Williams.
Prop: A CD
Line of dialogue: “How do I look?”

My plan was to stay long enough to see Kline Films’ production, an eerie piece entitled The Inheritance, after which I would scoot along and get back to my busy life.
Several shows preceded The Inheritance, however, and, of course, I got hooked and stayed to watch all ten films.

I was amazed at the professionalism of the films I saw. All had complete and well-written, stories, fabulous acting, skilled direction, and intriguing sets. I was expecting amateur hour, but what I saw definitely measured up to anything that I have seen come out of Hollywood lately.

The Inheritance was my favorite film, and not just because it was produced by friends. It had mystery, suspense, and a lot of heart as it followed a family to a lovely old home that was left to them after a loved one’s death. Of course, the home already had inhabitants, but not the kind that could be readily seen. Apparitions appeared only to the young daughter, who was enticed to follow them to their mysterious lair.

I wish I could remember the names of all the other production companies and their films. An Alfred Hitchcockian film about a young couple on their wedding trip intrigued me. A humorous film about a special agent (a Mad Magazine version of Jack Bauer) made me laugh out loud. All of the films not only held my attention, but were quite enjoyable. I was sorry that I had not attended all 4 sessions.

I now have www.48hourfilm.com on my favorites list. Once next year’s schedule is announced, I am going to clear my schedule and make sure to attend every session. I am finally starting to love Richmond.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review Policy

Several storytelling pals of mine have recently called into question my reviews of storytelling CDs and DVDs. Because all my storytelling reviews are complimentary, they doubt my credibility as a reviewer. After all, no one likes every storytelling recording she hears.

I can understand their concern, and I am happy to address this issue.

I do NOT enjoy every storytelling recording that I hear. I usually enjoy about 1 out of every 3. As far as reviews go, however, I will review only those recording that I like. There are three reasons for this:

1. Most storytellers spend thousands of dollars to produce a CD or DVD. That is a lot of money in comparison to our incomes. I have made a personal decision to refrain from writing negative reviews that may affect a storyteller’s livelihood. After all, just because I don’t care for a particular recording does not mean that others will feel the same. What I offer is my own opinion – nothing else. If I cannot find something good to say, I keep quiet.

2. Years ago I belonged to a playwriting group that strongly believed that a finished product should not be critiqued. By the time a play is finished, the playwright has invested so much time that she has a huge emotional stake in the end product. I follow this same policy when I review storytelling recordings. I do not criticize what cannot be changed. No storyteller that I know is able to re-record 5,000 CDs to accommodate a negative review.

3. I find it tedious to review recordings that I do not like. I have very little free time and prefer to spend it doing those things that I enjoy.

After I write a review, I always send it to the storyteller for permission to publish it. If the storyteller agrees to publication, I send it to VASA, Voices in the Glen, and The Connecticut Storytelling Center to be considered for inclusion in their newsletters. I also send it to Storyteller.net and post it on my blog, with links to FaceBook and Twitter. Since I now do news and reviews for Here Women Tell (on Here Women Talk radio), I share my reviews with that show’s listeners, as well.

Anyone who would like me to consider reviewing a CD or DVD should send it to:

Linda Goodman
P.O. Box 1351
Chesterfield, VA 23832

If you would like to have the recording returned, please include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

That Fading Scent

DVD Review

Written and performed by Judith Black. Available for $15.00 from www.storiesalive.com. To book the one-woman show, contact Judith Black at jb@storiesalive.com.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Okay, I admit it. I am a HUGE fan of Judith Black. She is brilliant, funny, energetic, innovative, talented, charismatic and unapologetically bold. As if that were not enough, she is extraordinarily versatile. As many times as I have seen her on stage, she has never been the same person twice. She takes her audiences through of range of emotions that can leave them contemplative, angry, or ready to rock. Sometimes she leaves me exhausted, but still I want more

I saw the maiden voyage of Black’s one-woman show That Fading Scent a few years back at the National Storytelling Conference in Pittsburgh, where it was presented as one of the fringe performances. The performance brought the audience to its feet on several occasions. Those of us who were women of a certain age cheered to at last find a spokesperson who was not afraid to defend our menopausal madness. When the show was over we all danced together. I wanted to shout from the rooftop: We’re Old! We’re Bold! Get used to it!

The show, now available on DVD, consists of three stories, two rants, and a song. In her incredibly funny intro, Black compares seeking advice from mainstream medical practitioners to “putting your money in a Vegas slot machine.” This transitions smoothly into a rant about the absurdity of forcing oneself to be sexy at sixty, when there are so many other things that are more important. Are you listening, AARP? We want real people on your covers, not surgical clones!

The first story on the DVD is Three Mothers (Snow White through the generations), an intense tale of three aging mothers who are watching their own beauty fade, just as their daughters’ beauty is beginning to blossom. Like the evil fairy tale queen, they “cajole, contract, or commission a man to commit homicide.” Beauty triumphs, however, and the cycle begins anew. “Am I still the prettiest?” youth frantically asks the mirror in the heartbreaking finale.

Marjorie’s New Reign/Rain is an original fairy tale about an environmentally conscious dame who is suddenly beset by a cloud that stations itself above her head and will not go away. Luckily, three female cloud busters offer their services and take her to a medieval cottage where they use “magical interventions” to help her find her compass. Baking, gardening, exercise, and social activism make appearances along the way.

A second rant deals with the side effects of hormone replacement therapy and birth control. The audience chants “kill the witch!” as a refrain. I saw this rise to a fever pitch in Pittsburgh. Clearly, Black has touched upon an issue that has some women concerned about more than eternal youth and beauty.

Queen Crone, who wears a pink chemise because “at my age it shouldn’t matter what my body looks like,” brings this DVD to a close. A super hero, she fights super villains Estrogena, Middle-Aged Monster Men (forty-five to sixty-five year old men who dump their wives for younger trophy women), and Pharmaceutical Giants in her quest to make it okay for women to be old. As she flies away from her triumphs, people ask, “Who was that woman?” The answer, of course, is “our future.”

As good as this DVD is, being part of a live audience for this show is an incomparable experience. The good news is that Black is willing to travel. If she is not coming to your neck of the woods, find a group or an organization that is able to book her and convince its program chair to do it. You will not be sorry.

Did I mention that I am a HUGE fan of Judith Black? Somebody get this woman an HBO special!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Winter's Bone - A Movie Review

I wanted to see a movie this weekend, and decided that it would be either Inception or Winter’s Bone. Inception is the number one movie in America right now, so I figure it will be around a while. Winter’s Bone, however, though it has received rave reviews (The Wall Street Journal called it a classic and compared it to The Grapes of Wrath) and was a big winner at Sundance, is not doing good box office. That made my choice easy. Winter’s Bone, here I come.

Set during the present time in a small, poverty ridden town in the Ozarks, Winter’s Bone is the story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence in a beautifully understated performance), a seventeen year old girl who has taken on the responsibility of caring for her two younger siblings and their sick mother, after the father has disappeared. As hard as her life is, she sees to her family’s needs, with occasional help from a neighbor family, without complaint.

What little her family has is threatened when visits from a sheriff and a local bondsman alert her to the fact that her father, who had been arrested, had put their house up as security for his bond. Since then he has gone missing. If he cannot be found, Ree and her family will lose their home and be “put out into the fields like dogs.”

Ree takes it upon herself to find her father and save her family’s home. Everyone to whom she goes for help turns her away. In fact, the adults in this movie, with few exceptions, have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. While Ree risks her life, they do everything that they can to thwart her. They are numb. Any of them could have been stand-ins for the couple depicted in the painting “American Gothic.”

Finally her Uncle Teardrop (played by John Hawkes, who looks very much like a rail-thin Charles Manson) comes to her aid, though he knows it is dangerous to do so. He knows what his brother has done and the danger it represents, but is finally shamed out of his fear and spurred to action.

This movie is about abject poverty and the strength of character needed to rise above it. The violence is brutal, and yet I did not feel a need to turn my head. Ultimately, the movie is about hope in a place where miracles don’t happen.

I so wanted this movie to end with some rich couple taking Ree and her siblings out of their Ozark home and into fairytale land. But this movie is about real life and does not cheapen itself by playing false.

At one point, Teardrop tells Ree that if she ever finds out what happened to her father, she must never share that news with him. At the end of the movie, Teardrop tells her, “I know.”

“What?” she asks.

“I know,” he says again.

Having been raised in an Appalachian culture very similar to the culture depicted in this movie, I took that to mean that he was honor bound to seek revenge. I may be wrong, though. Perhaps that was his way of saying that he was a dead man, too. If you have seen this movie, I would love to have your thoughts on this.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bendable Barbie

Compact Disc Review

Available from Regina Carpenter at www.soaringstories.com. Email: soaringstorie@gmaill.com. $15.00 (includes shipping and handling) Recommended for teens and adults.

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

I have heard so many funny stories since the economy tanked that I have been starving for stories with meat. THANK YOU REGINA CARPENTER!

Funny is fine, but life is a serious matter, and it is important to recognize those bittersweet moments where hard lessons are learned through the suffering we endure. Carpenter softens those lessons by allowing us to view them through the eyes of innocence: A child is our tour guide through sorrows, fear, pain and exquisite beauty.

Bendable Barbie is a story in pieces, with each piece centered around a Christmas memory. Oranges Christmas introduces us to Carpenter’s mother, a woman who can fix things because she is an artist. Walnuts painted gold and red yarn adorn her Christmas tree, and engraved oranges are special gifts that make a lean Christmas seem grand.

Spaghetti Turkey Christmas revolves around a Christmas provided by Welfare. Even an artistic mother runs for cover when a father suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is shamed by the fact that he cannot provide for his family. A child witnesses her spaghetti turkey become spaghetti worms, but life goes on and loves pastes the pieces together.

Miniature O’Henry Bar Christmas is set after Carpenter’s family opens a grocery store and a Mexican Hairless Chihuahua comes to live with the family, courtesy of Aunt Marguerite, a beautician who sells dogs on the side. This particular dog likes to leave souvenirs.

Ambush Christmas details a mad rush to the Christmas tree – if you don’t get there quick, someone else will get your presents. Almost as heartbreaking is getting a “beige” present in a Catholic/Protestant town where stores are not open on Christmas day.

Bendable Barbie Christmas Features a present both “beautiful and beige,” to the delight of a child and to the relief of a father who has always been touched by war.

Thank You, Mrs. Minnick is the story of how a librarian makes the world a safer place, as a young girl learns karate from the Royal Canadian Air Force Book of Self Defense. The phrase “do not try this at home” takes on new meaning.

The Fire Dream tells of first time mothers who start the WMO (Wholly Maternal Organization). Happiness is, indeed, an illusion, but the fire we carry within us keeps us safe and warm through the obstacles life put in our paths.

Carpenter is a skillful storyteller who knows how to use her elegant voice to set mood and pauses to allow us to absorb truths that don’t need to be explained. Peter Dodge’s haunting music creates a yearning for the nostalgic archeology this CD provides. Long after the CD has stopped, the stories will be remembered and will remind us of our own struggles and the growth and strength that resulted from them. Life is not diminished by pain. Rather, life triumphs in spite of it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Penny Candy Love

Compact Disc Review

Penney Candy Love

Available from Kim Weitkamp at www.kimweitkamp.com. Email: kim@kimweitkamp.com. Snailmail: 855 Atkinson Road, Christiansburg, VA 24073. $15.00, plus $1.00 shipping and handling.

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

There has been a lot of buzz about Kim Weitkamp’s meteoric rise to storytelling stardom, but anyone who doubts that she deserves her success needs only to listen to this CD to put all doubts to rest. With this recording of stories for grownups, which celebrates the different textures of love, Weitkamp establishes herself as a double-threat: a talented singer/songwriter, as well as a first rate storyteller.

Weitkamp’s stories weave precious memories and delightful details together into panoramic pictures that take us on a personal journey into the very soul of family. Like all good storytellers, she evokes both laughter and tears, but her smooth, silky voice, impeccable timing, and dead-on anticipation of her listeners’ needs place her at the pinnacle of her craft. The listener feels like a trusted confidant, lending an ear to a friend who knows that sharing herself and the lessons she has learned are the best gifts one can offer.

Potholders recalls times when money was tight and a young girl had to be crafty to make some extra spending money. A great idea, however, takes an unexpected turn she decides to use a little white lie to advance her money-making scheme. Loving parents use discipline and love to settle the matter, and a song is born: Grease and Old Spice, a tribute to a father who works hard out of devotion to the family he loves.

WZIX, a story that Weitkamp wrote for her mother, shares nostalgic images of 1970 style houses, clotheslines, and children touched by the grown-up love their parents so sweetly demonstrate. When a radio contest offers a chance to win a gift for Mom, a ten-year old girl cannot resist. The result yields a touching moment that honors Mom and eulogizes Elvis with an innocent sincerity that will not soon be forgotten. As I listened to the end of this story, I thought to myself that the story would not be complete unless the listener could hear one of the gospel songs that Elvis had recorded. Weitkamp did not disappoint. Her rendition of In the Garden sent chills down my spine. A Song for Mom follows to bring the story full circle.

Love on the First Floor, set in a nursing home where Weitkamp was once chaplain, is a touching story of love in the twilight years, when life’s candle is slowing burning to its inevitable end. Life may end, but love lives on in the hearts of those who hold us dear, regardless of circumstances that lead to the journey’s end. Whippoorwill with its comforting refrain of “calling me to fly” is the perfect song to finish this story.

Penny Candy Love is a song born from the curiosity of a child who wonders what her parents do on those rare occasions when money is available and children are sent to buy penny candy. Its slick and lusty lyrics leave the listener hungry for Squirrel Nut Zippers and Mary Janes.

Weitkamp is a master at building bridges from story to song to story. Transitions from one to the other are so seamless that the CD feels like a long, enjoyable ride, not a bumpy trip with stops along the way. This feat is especially remarkable when one considers that this is a live recording.

This captivating recording will be a cherished addition to any story lover’s library. My recommendation: do not listen to it alone. Share the wealth, and your friends and family will know without a doubt why storytelling draws thousands of people to a little town in Tennessee each year. This is storytelling at its best.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rocky Rockwell Remembered

I first met Rocky Rockwell in the mid-nineties when he was putting together a storytelling troupe for the Barter Theatre. Not only did he secure the Barter’s blessing for this venture, he also convinced the theatre to provide a $2,000 budget for each show (no small feat!). Clearly, this man possessed great powers of persuasion.

Rocky was one of storytelling’s greatest advocates. He could not keep a good thing to himself. A long time journalist, he knew a good story when he came across one, but he could also enhance a story with his wit and wisdom in ways that traditional journalism does not allow.

I will never forget taking a group of middle school children to see Rocky at the VASA Gathering in Williamsburg in 2000. They were so taken with his hilarious tale of a Yankee’s visit to rural Mississippi that a few of them asked his permission to tell it themselves. Rocky, of course, granted that permission. He was a generous man.

Rocky was warm and kind. He and his beloved wife, Mimi, often opened their home on eighty-four acres of timberland in a Bristol, Virginia “holler” to travelers in the storytelling realm. Their guests could expect good conversation, a comfortable bed, and, of course, as story or two.

Rocky was on the board of the National Storytelling Network (NSN) for a while. He used that time trying to make the organization more “member friendly.” Many of us appreciated his hard work and determination on our behalf.

Rocky shared his tales at the Corn Island Storytelling Festival, the VASA Gatherings, and at Boston’s Sharing the Fire. Locally, he belonged to the Beaver Creak Storytellers and the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild. His trademark sense of humor always left a trail of laughter in its wake. My favorite Rocky story was the first one that I ever heard him tell: a litany of the trials and tribulations of being old. Only Rocky could make the agonies of aging seem like fun.

I cannot think of Rocky without thinking of his wife Mimi, as well. Married for thirty-four years, they were a loving couple who clearly made a great team, not only as storytellers, but as partners in a life venture that brought joy to others as much as to themselves. Forward-thinking and open-minded, they preferred to celebrate the unique qualities of fellow artists, rather than pass judgment. As a result, there was some rich storytelling in Washington County. The entire community benefited from Rocky and Mimi’s generosity.

My heart goes out to Mimi now. Her best friend, her true love is gone from this earth. This is a tragedy that most of us will face one day, but knowing that does not make an individual’s journey down this lonely road any easier. Mimi is strong. She will take her heartbreak and weave it into a story that will change the lives of all who hear it. She knows how to do that.

In recent years, I have lost a number of the storytelling elders who influenced me as I was coming along on my own journey as a storyteller. Jay Engle, Pete Houston, Pawpaw Pinkerton, and Brother Blue have all completed their journeys. And now Rocky Rockwell, who left this world on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, has joined them. I have no doubt that they are raising a ruckus in heaven right now, a giant hoedown to welcome storytelling’s newest arrival.

I miss Rocky. I miss them all.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Westmoreland Players - Inherit the Wind

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

May is a lovely month to visit the “Rivah”, and the Westmoreland Players have just made the trip even more enticing by mounting their production of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s courtroom drama Inherit the Wind this month.

Inspired by the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, Inherit the Wind is high drama. The courtroom scene in the second act had me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, even though I have seen the show several times and knew what was going to happen. The directing, staging, and acting of the Westmoreland Players production is that good! That is the beauty of live theater: different directors and actors bring different talents to the table. No two productions are ever the same.

Mathew Harrison Brady, council for the prosecution, is often portrayed as a one-dimensional buffoon, but Robert Crown skillfully softens Brady’s unshakeable faith by investing him with intelligence and compassion. Whether you agree with him or not, you admire this man who preaches forgiveness alongside obedience; who, while fighting to imprison a local school teacher for teaching Darwin, would counsel a preacher to be tender towards a rebellious daughter.

Don Kenefick, who plays council for the defense Henry Drummond, rises to the challenge of Crown’s bigger than life Brady. The audience can almost see the quick thinking taking place in Drummond’s brain as the judge turns away all the expert witnesses for the defense. Kenefick plays Drummond with a subtlety that makes the inevitable clash between these two titans all the more delicious.

Chad Lewis as Bertram Cates, the defendant, and Christina Thompson as Rachel Brown, his colleague and supporter, break hearts as they try to navigate the uncharted territory between love and duty.

Jason Strong as the cocky Baltimore Sun journalist E. K. Hornbeck, is a man with an ax to grind. How dare these small town yokels challenge science! Strong left me with an image of Hornbeck shaking the dust off his boots as he sprinted back to civilization.

Bob Wilson made the arrogant and self-righteous Rev. Jeremiah Brown an immovable fortress of faith. Not even the pleas of his beloved daughter could sway him from his course, though one could see his heart breaking at her betrayal.

There were several talented children in this cast, but Ray Rubio as Howard Blair, witness for the prosecution, was so natural and likeable on stage that I forgot he was acting.

Glenn and Joy Evans, directors, producers, and designers for this show, revealed a keen eye for set decoration and costuming (I wanted to buy Rachel’s wardrobe). Though there were many actors on a small stage, the set never seemed crowded. Credit is due to the Evans for selecting the marvelous cast and for directing with such sensitivity. Talented actors in the hands of skilled directors are always a treat on stage.

Inherit the Wind will be on stage at the The Players Theater, located on route 360 in Callao, Virginia, through May 23. For performance dates, times, and prices, visit www.westmorelandplayers.org, or call 804-529-9345.

For those of you living outside the Northern Neck area, please know that I travelled 2 hours to see this show and my sister travelled 4 hours. We both agreed that it was well worth the drive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Crucible at the Sycamore Rouge

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Yesterday afternoon I made a trip to Old Town Petersburg to catch a matinee performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Sycamore Rouge.

Anyone who is familiar with The Crucible knows that it does not have a happy ending. Set during the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials in 1692, this drama portrays innocent people who suffer the consequences after wild tales from children create an atmosphere of mass hysteria. Writing during the mad reign of McCarthyism, Miller structured this play to warn that history does, indeed, repeat itself, far more often than lessons are learned. Parallels can be found in every era.

The set at the Sycamore was plain and suitably stern, creating an atmosphere that was at once sinister and foreboding. Of course, a good cast and crew cannot go wrong with an Arthur Miller script. I am happy to report that this cast and crew did its job well.

While the entire cast was good, there were a few who deserve special mention:

Stephen Ryan, as the Reverend John Hale, skillfully crafted a complex man whose good intentions were turned against him. In his zeal to do the Lord’s work, he supped with the devil, realizing too late that the horror he thought to control was in fact controlling him and everyone around him.

Brittany Simmons, as Abigail Williams, a scorned young woman whose fury would result in the deaths of nineteen innocent men and woman, was a tight knot of self-righteous indignation, pointing her deadly finger at any who dared try to thwart her diabolical scheme to possess the man who spurned her.

Mike Sullivan, as Giles Corey, gave a heartbreaking turn as a man who thought to teach his book-loving wife a lesson, all the while unwittingly signing her death warrant.

Beth Von Kelsch, as Elizabeth Proctor, triumphed as the wronged wife who watches in horror as her husband’s mistakes bring about the ruin of her family. Ultimately, she nobly takes the blame upon herself. “It were a cold house I kept,” she confesses. Ms. Von Kelsch portrayed Elizabeth with just the right mix of strength and vulnerability.

Jefferey Cole, as John Proctor, one of the few sane minds amidst the hysteria, portrays the voice of reason that will not be heard, even though it be shouting. His ultimate sacrifice is his legacy to his children. As an actor, Cole became the character with such ease it was hard to separate the two.

The Sycamore Rouge is a beautifully restored theater and bar. On Sunday, it served drinks and desserts. I recommend the key lime pie.

The Crucible will be showing on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through May 15. Friday and Saturday shows start at 8:00 p.m. Sunday shows start at 4:00 p.m. Tickets range from $18.00 to $22.00. For reservations, call 804-957-5707 or visit www.sycamorerouge.org.

Monday, April 19, 2010

2010 Sounds of the Mountain Music and Story Festival

Festival Review by Linda Goodman

I just returned from a weekend at Camp Bethel in Fincastle, Virginia, home of the Sounds of the Mountains Music and Story Festival.

I must warn you: Driving to this festival can be dangerous to your health. Once you exit off of the highway to route 11, the mountain scenery is so breathtakingly beautiful that there is an overwhelming urge to enjoy the view, at the expense of keeping your eyes on the narrow, winding roads.

The staff at Camp Bethel could not been more hospitable. They answered questions with a smile and left no doubt that they were happy to have us. Camp Bethel is a Christian Camp, sponsored by the Church of the Brethren, that services many children who could not otherwise enjoy the camping experience. This festival helps them raise money to do just that.

The Friday night concert began at 7:30 and featured Alan Hoal, Beth Horner, Kevin Kling, and Bill Harley. One of the main reasons that I go to festivals is to hear tellers that I have not hard before. After I heard this set, I felt as though I had struck gold. Alan Hoal, Kevin Kling, and Beth Horner were all new to me. Also in the line-up was Bill Harley, one of my favorite tellers from way back. I was enthralled with each one and could not wait to see what they would do on Saturday.

Alan Hoal proved himself to be a master of tall tales, as well as a philosopher. Alan is the founder of Sounds of the Mountains, and I am sure that the weeks leading up to the festival were extremely busy ones for him. Having been involved in storytelling festival and conference production myself (Three Apples Storytelling Festival, Sharing the Fire), I know only too well how hectic and stressful the weeks (and months!) leading up to such an event can be. After such a grueling prelude, being able to tell a story with the ease and comfort that Hoal exhibited is no small feat. I look forward to hearing him again.

Listening to Kevin Kling was like watching an episode of 24: you could not let your mind wander for even a minute! He told stories of his childhood, of his days hopping freight trains, and of his hitchhiking experiences. He was even brave enough to bare his soul and share the story of his disability and how he came to terms with it. He is a master wordsmith who is highly intellectual, yet accessible. He had people laughing hysterically. He had people wiping away tears. He is an endearing man who captures the hearts of his listeners and makes them believe in the impossible. I have heard people rave about him for years, and now I am raving, too. His stories will stay with me for a long time.

Beth Horner is a delight. She reminded me of a pixie with spunk! Every where I went, there was a buzz about her Civil War story, Silver Spurs (I missed this set – darn it!). I was captivated by her tale of a simple folk singer who wrote a song that saved the Missouri River from being defiled with sewage. I cannot get the chorus out of my head:

“Columbus is building a sewer,
Filled with do-do-do-do-do-do-do”

Beth is now on my radar. Whenever she tells at a site near me, I will be there.

Bill Harley never fails to delight. I first heard him tell was at the Connecticut Storytelling Festival in 1990. After 20 years, you would think that he would have run out of steam, or at least slowed down. Quite the opposite is true, however. He is a little grayer now, but when he takes the stage he is once again that mischievous little boy, that angst-filled teenager, or that befuddled parent trying to figure out how to temper discipline and love when relating to his offspring. He will always be one of storytelling’s grand jewels.

Tim Livengood’s witty pirate version of Cinderella was a tour de force that garnered gut-busting laughter and awestruck wonder. How does he maintain that persona for eighteen full minutes? He is a powerhouse of talent.

Tim and I were at the festival as VASA tellers. I usually do not perform in showcases at festivals, as past experience has taught me that such performances are usually just an attempt to stroke the organization (in this case VASA) as compensation for its support. Such showcases are usually scheduled during lunch or dinner time, or against a national teller that everyone wants to hear. Festival showcase attendance is often so low that it is embarrassing. I am happy to report, however, that Sounds of the Mountains treated its VASA tellers well this year. This is in large part due to the brilliant Kim Weitkamp, the weekend’s emcee (none better!) who ingeniously rearranged the schedule so that the VASA tellers were tagged onto the end of a set featuring Beth Horner and Kevin Kling. The audience, therefore, stayed put, listened to, and (I think) even enjoyed Tim and me. Kim Weitkamp: THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!!

Next year’s Sounds of the Mountains Festival will be held during the weekend of April 15-16. It will be the festival’s 10th anniversary, and the featured tellers will be Sheila Kay Adams, Donald Davis, David Holt, Andy Offutt Irwin, and Baba Jamal Koram. I have personally heard all of these tellers except for Andy, and I can vouch for the fact that the ones I have heard are top drawer. Everyone that I know who has heard Andy says that he is the best of the best, so I feel certain you will enjoy him, too.

There are several affordable hotels within 15 miles of Camp Bethel. If you like to camp, you can even spend the weekend on the campground. Mark you calendars so that you don’t miss this storytelling gem.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Adventures of Peggy Quiggly - Chapter 2

Chapter One was posted to this blog on February 28.

Chapter Two

A Means to an End

Peggy got home from school that afternoon in a superb mood. She did not even mind doing her homework. “Advanced Algebra is so easy,” she said to herself. “I don’t understand why my classmates think it’s hard.” Once her homework was finished she read her library book, The History of the Cockroach Since Prehistoric Times, by Bart Noble, until her mother called her for dinner.

“Mom, this was the best dinner ever!” Peggy exclaimed after cleaning her plate.

He mother was confused. “Peggy, I usually have to force you to eat liver and onions. Not to mention the spinach. Just what are you up to?” she asked suspiciously.

“Yes,” echoed her father, “just what are you up to, Peggy?”

Peggy wiped her mouth with her napkin. “Mom, Dad, I have to tell you something very, very important,” she said in her most demure and respectful voice.

“Go on honey, we’re listening,” said her mother..

“Well, Mom…Dad,” Peggy was so excited she was finding it hard to speak, “ today Mr. Squiggy was telling me that scientists have discovered this new, pollution-free planet that is able to sustain human life. The government is going to send twelve families to go live on it. Just think! A pollution-free planet! That means that it would be an ideal home for people like me, with asthma! So…I was thinking that our family could go, because I really want my asthma to get better, and I want to get away from all of the mean people here. I was also thinking,” she added sheepishly, “that if we go, we could take Mr. Squiggy with us. He wants to go so badly, but he doesn’t have any family. Please can we go?” Peggy finished talking and looked at her parents expectantly. The only thing she saw was her parents’ dumbstruck faces.

Just then the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” said Peggy.

“Hello, Peggy! I’m very anxious to know how your parents feel about our plan.” It was Mr. Squiggy.

“Hey, Mr. Squiggy,” Peggy whispered into the receiver. “I was just asking my parents about it. They haven’t answered me yet, but it looks good. Can I call you back?”

“Sure,” Mr. Squiggy answered, “Just call me back as soon as you can. I won’t be able to sleep until I know.”

Peggy hung up the phone and returned to the dinner table. “Mom, Dad, that was Mr. Squiggy on the phone. He is so excited about going to the new planet! You can’t disappoint him. He’s an old man. He might keel over!”

Peggy’s father, Robert Quigley, gently took her hand. “Peggy,” he said, “I know you really want this, but you mother and I have jobs here. And your brother Jonas is working on his Eagle Scout badge in space ship engine repair. We can’t just leave this all behind. I’m sorry, sweetheart, but we can’t go.”

“But, Daddy,” countered Peggy. “You always say that we should try new things. This is the newest thing of all. Why shouldn’t we do this together? Don’t you want my asthma to get better?”

“You know I do, honey. Your health is of the utmost importance to me. Maybe next time,” replied her dad.

“But what if there isn’t a next time? How can you do this to me! My health is a lot more important than any old job, or even an Eagle Scout badge! You and Mom never do anything for me!” shouted Peggy

“Now that’s enough, young lady!” her mother scolded her. “You are not going to get away with being disrespectful to your father! I do not want to hear another word about this new planet because we are NOT going! Now go to your room until you have adjusted your attitude!”

Peggy ran upstairs in tears. I have the meanest parents in the world, she thought to herself, as she was getting ready for bed. As she was putting on her pajamas, the phone rang. “I hope that’s not Mr. Squiggy again,” she sniffed. “How will I ever tell him that we can’t go?”

It was not Mr. Squiggy. It was her best friend Catherine Mill. “Hey, Cathy,” said Peggy, between sniffles. “How’s it going?”

“Terrific!” screamed an excited Cathy. “I am thrilled to death! Did you hear about the new planet that was on the news? My father put in an application for us to be one of the 12 families that will be settling it, and guess what! We were accepted! Isn’t that the best news ever? I wish that you could go, too.”

Peggy didn’t know what to say, when suddenly she thought of an idea. “Well, Cathy, maybe I can go. My parents can’t go because my stupid brother Jonas is being selfish, as usual. But they told me that if I can find a good family that is willing to take me along, a family that they know, they will give their permission to let me go with them. What do you think? Do you think your parents will let me go with you?”

Cathy was almost speechless. “You mean your parents would let you go off into outer space without them? That is very hard to believe, Peggy. Are you sure you heard them right?”

“Well,” Peggy lied, “my parents said that it would be a great opportunity for me to get some relief from my asthma. The planet is pollution-free, you know. And they’ll make it up on the next shuttle.”

“Hold on,” said Cathy, “I’ll go ask my parents. The shuttle leaves in two days, and if they say yes, make sure you’ll be ready to go.” The phone line was silent for a minute, and then Cathy was back. “My mom wants to talk to your mom.”

“Okay,” said Peggy.

Peggy heard Cathy’s mother’s voice, “Meggie?”

Peggy did a perfect imitation of her mother. “Hello, Gloria. Aren’t our little girls excited about this new planet?”

“Of course they are, Meggie. Who wouldn’t be? But is this on the level? Are you really willing to let Peggy go with us to settle this new planet?” Mrs. Miller asked.

“Oh, Gloria,” Peggy purred, “we will be so distraught without her, but can you imagine how her asthma will improve in a pure environment, such as the one on this new planet? How could any parent deny her child an opportunity to improve her health? Can’t you just imagine how much better her life will be if she can get rid of all that annoying wheezing and coughing?”

“Oh, my, yes,” said Mrs. Mill. “I would certainly do that for Cathy. Of course, Cathy is in perfect health and has no annoying habits at all. Well, then, if you are sure that this is for the best, have her ready quickly. We leave the day after tomorrow. I will send you of list of what she will need to pack”

Peggy thought fast. “Well…just have Cathy give the list to Peggy at school tomorrow. That way you can spend your time getting everything together. You know that you and I cannot see one another without yammering on for hours.”

“Good idea,” agreed Mrs. Mill. “You think of everything, Meggie.”

“One more thing, Gloria,” Peggy quickly added, “Peggy’s grandfather, Mr. Peter Squiggy, would like to accompany her on this trip. Peggy is so close to him. She wouldn’t get homesick at all if he were with her. Do you think he can go as part of your family?”

“Mr. Squiggy? The school janitor is Peggy’s grandfather?” Mrs. Mill was aghast.

“Well, yes, Gloria, he is,” Peggy quickly explained. “Mr. Squiggy is my father. I can’t believe you did not know that.”

“Meggie, I thought your father was a scientist,” replied Mrs. Mill.

“He’s …. a retired scientist, Gloria,” Peggy told her. “He works as a janitor now so that he has something to do in his free time. I can’t believe that you didn’t know that! Haven’t you ever noticed the resemblance between the him and Peggy?”

“Now that you mention it, Gloria,” Mrs. Mill mused, “I have. Well, I am sure that a scientist, retired on not, will be welcome on this trip. We will be happy to sponsor him.”

“Thank you, Gloria,” Peggy crooned. “How will I ever repay you kindness?”

“That’s what friends are for, Meggie. Good night.” Mrs. Mill hung up the phone.

Great! thought Peggy. I will tell my parents that I’m just going for a sleepover with Cathy, but I’ll really be going with her and her family on the space shuttle. I’ll call Mr. Squiggy right away.

Mr. Squiggy was ecstatic. “I am so honored that your parents trust me enough to take care of you, Peggy. I promise that I won’t disappoint them.”

“I know you won’t, Mr. Squiggy,” Peggy assured him. “My parents think that you’re the best!”

“Wow!” Mr. Squiggy exclaimed. “And they haven’t even met me yet! I should come to your house tomorrow and thank them personally.”

“No need to do that!” Peggy hastily interrupted.. “They read all about you in the school paper.”

“They did?” Mr. Squiggy was astounded. “When was I in the school paper?”

“Gotta go, Mr. Squiggy!” Peggy screeched. “I’ve got a lot of packing to do.”

Oh my gosh! What am I doing? Peggy thought to herself after hanging up the phone. I’m going to cure my asthma, that’s what! There’s nothing wrong about that. My parents never said I couldn’t go. I’ll miss them, though. I really will. Peggy fell into a dead sleep. She had no worries at all.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Theodore Alexander Wright - A Tribute

If Theodore Alexander Wright, my father, were still alive, he would have turned 105 years old yesterday. He was fifty years old when I was born. I was thirty-five years old when he died.

Daddy had an interesting life. The oldest of eleven siblings, he went to work in the coal mines of Virginia City, Virginia at age fourteen, risking his life daily to help support his family. During the Great Depression, unable to find work, he spent a few years as a hobo, hopping freight trains all over North America. On December 7, 1941, the attack on Peal Harbor spurred him to try to join the Navy. He was turned down because he had high blood pressure. “Don’t worry, Bub,” he was told. “The Army will take you.”

Daddy was drafted into the army in 1942, when he was 37 years old. Though he looked forward to action, the military decided that his mechanical skills would be of more use in the states, where he repaired airplanes.

I loved listening to Daddy tell stories, and so did everybody else who knew him. He could hold people spellbound for hours with tales of his travels. He was a walking, talking history book. He had lived a lot of history, and listening to his life experiences taught me more than any textbook ever could. Following his example, I use stories myself to teach, to entertain, and to create community. Storytelling is the best gift my father ever gave me.

I never saw Daddy angry, never heard him raise his voice to anyone. When I misbehaved, the look of disappointment on his face hurt more than any spanking ever could. Daddy would never lay a hand on a child.

I was a sickly child who feared death. Daddy knew that and would sit with me through the night whenever I had a fever. At six feet five inches tall, 230 pounds, he filled the little room that I shared with my sister, Evelyn. He was a mountain of a man.

In his later years, Daddy delighted in his grandchildren. He was especially close to my daughter, Melanie. Since I was a single mother, he took her to her first Father/Daughter dance. Along with my mother, he took care of Melanie while I worked. He walked her to and from school every day. When she got older, she was embarrassed to have to be walked to school, but afraid to walk by herself. Daddy had the plan to solve that problem. He walked several yards behind her and would not turn around to go home until she snapped her fingers in the air, her signal that she close enough to the school to be okay.

When I got married and moved North, Daddy wrote me a letter every week. I still have all of them, and I treasure them. I will pass them on to Melanie one day.

Daddy died of Multiple Myeloma on August 10, 1987. There is never a day that goes by that I don’t miss him. I love you, Daddy.