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.

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