Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good Company Theatre Brings Daughters of the Appalachians to New Heights

by Linda Goodman
November and December have been incredibly busy months for me, but I just had to close out 2013 with my final thoughts on Good Company Theater’s (Granby, CT) production of my play Daughters of the Appalachians.
            Three theaters performed the show in 2013. The Lamplighters Theatre in La Mesa,CA and The Village Players in Somers, CT did staged readings of the show, both playing to full houses and standing ovations. I was unable to attend either of these shows, but enjoyed reading the press releases and reviews, and hearing about the overwhelming audience reactions.
            Good Company Theatre, however, did a full production of the show and ran it for six nights (November 1-10). I was able to attend all of them. My good friends Nikki Currie-Huggard and Resa Ferreira co-directed the show. Both of them are talented and accomplished writers, storytellers, actors, and directors, so I knew the show was in good hands. They are the very definition of artistic integrity. Artist and storyteller Steve Ferreira painted an amazing mountain back-drop for the show. Rik Huggard provided excellent sound, in spite of a few obstacles that popped up along the way.
            Laura Mazza-Dixon wrote an enticing press release that drew people to the show in droves. All of the shows drew full houses except for the first show, which was six seats shy of being full. All six received standing ovations. The Appalachian music (sometimes rousing, sometimes haunting) chosen for the show was arranged and played by Laura on the guitar and Julie Senter on the fiddle.
            Nikki and Resa did a remarkable job casting the show:
            Nannie Brown played the pivotal role of 94 year old matriarch Marthie Potter to perfection, weaving a complex tapestry of  honor, stubbornness, superstition, and loyalty into a collage of family sorrows, fears, and triumphs. Nannie was so real as Marthie that I felt as though I was in the presence of my great aunt, on whom the character is based.
            Sixteen year old Jessica Manion played Jessie, a young girl who strikes a deal with a conjur man, only to learn that she needs to be more careful with her wishes. I loved the innocence and purity that Jessica brought to the role. She made Jessie (who, in the wrong hands, can seem conniving) sympathetic and the audience cared for her.
            Tamara Torres McGovern was amazing as Harlene. I wrote this story about a woman and her dog and have performed it, and seen others perform it, many times. So how did Tamara manage for make me cry for six nights in a row, even though I knew how the story ended?  Through sheer talent – her acting skills are THAT good!
            Peggy Shaw was a hoot as Boojie, a woman who meets a star-crossed lover who changes her life. I love the way she injected this role with joy and freedom, to the delight of her captive audience. By the way, Boojie’s use of the term “shot my wad” does not refer to a sexual act; it figuratively refers to a wad of chewing tobacco and is synonymous with “blew my top.”
            Resa Ferriera, as always, OWNED the stage as the vengeful Nellveda Hawkins. Portraying Nellveda as both blatantly evil and eerily hypnotic, Resa sent chills down my spine. The audience was electrified.
            Kimberly McCord, on stage as an actor for the first time, introduced the audience to Sarah Jane with the expertise of one with far more experience, making the character real by portraying both the doubts that her mother imposed upon her and the confidence her father planted in her heart. Kimberly went deeper into the character with each performance. Her evolution was remarkable.
            I cried when the show’s run ended on November 10. I did not want to leave my ladies. Indeed, they felt real to me, and I still miss them. But I do have souvenirs of the show I will keep always. I even have a poem written by Boojie (Peggy Shaw) herself:
Linda’s Play
Subtitle: Nikki and Resa Made Us Do It
They said it would be easy to get up on the stages
And tell a little story that lasted for eight pages.
Well, it wasn’t easy, I must say,
Until we realized one day
That this was such a lovely play.
We could do it for ages and ages.
Well, there are five verses after that….
Happy New Year to one and all!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Elisa Pearmain's Forgiveness CD a True Gift

CD Review 

Forgiveness: Telling Our Stories in New Ways

A two CD program of stories and reflections for healing your past and living peacefully in the present. $22.50 (includes shipping and handling) from http://www.wisdomtales.com/forgiveness.html 

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            I took my first Elisa Pearmain storytelling workshop, sponsored by the Connecticut Storytelling Center, in 1990. At that time, she was already being hailed as one of the wise women of storytelling. This two CD set further cements that reputation.

            Pearmain says that her favorite definition of forgiveness is this: giving up all hope for a better past. “Forgiveness is first and foremost a form of self-healing….Research now confirms that forgiveness can reduce anxiety and depression and improve physical health,” she states on her CD insert. These are not words spoken by an amateur. Pearmain, in addition to being a respected storyteller, is a seasoned Psychotherapist with a private practice in Concord, Massachusetts.

            The sixteen stories on this CD come from various cultures around the world, and each illustrates a facet of forgiveness. Each story is followed by a reflection or insight. Some are also followed by exercises and meditations to help the listener internalize the wisdom taught by the tale. Several of the stories are personal stories, two from Pearmain’s own life. 

            My favorite story from this collection is Prince Dhigavu, a Buddhist tale about a prince who seeks revenge against the murderer of his parents, only to realize that his vengeance will beget only more vengeance in an unending cycle that can be stopped only by surrendering his hate to the love he has for his people.

            I also appreciated hearing Her Story in Motion, Pearmain’s personal story of her first real love, which began with joy and hope, only to deteriorate into an abusive relationship. Dance theater became her healing salve, helping her to banish the shame she harbored through sharing her pain. Positive audience reactions affirmed the value of her sharing her story. Her creativity allowed her to heal herself. “Is there a personal story you would like to share?” she asks at the story’s conclusion. She encourages those whose memories cause flashbacks to seek the help of a therapist.

            Pearmain makes therapy an art form as she tells each tale with a sensitivity that reveals rare insight into the frailty of the human condition and the power of forgiveness. She has harnessed that power as a gift for story lovers everywhere, but especially for those desiring to let go of the past and live a more peaceful and compassionate life. I will listen to these stories again and again for the wisdom, the hope, and the healing that they offer. This is an important work that stands on its own for the caliber of its stories and Pearmain’s telling; but it also goes beyond the traditional story realm to that healing place where magic can truly happen. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Father and Sons

(Inspired by Matthew 21:28-32)

©Linda Goodman, November 2013

My father was sixty-five years old when his mother passed away in 1970. She left to him the heavy chifferobe (a combination armoire/chest of drawers) that his father had made by hand.

Daddy was glad to be offered this piece, as he loved his father and admired his handiwork. The piece was much too heavy and bulky, however, for my father to move by himself. Besides that, my grandmother’s cabin was 10 hours away in Wise, Virginia, and Daddy did not drive.

He did have two sons, though, and each of them had a pickup truck. He called Allen, his younger son, and asked him for his help. “My sister Nell is going to be at Mama’s house two weeks from Saturday, Daddy explained. “ That’s the only day that someone will be there to let me in. Will you take me to get that chifferobe and help me bring it back?”

“Sorry, Pop,” Allen answered. “The World series begins that day. The Baltimore Orioles are playing the Cincinnati Reds. You know I can’t miss that game.” The Baltimore Orioles were his favorite team.

Daddy understood. He was a big fan of the Orioles, too. So he said good bye to Allen and called his oldest son, Lee, whom he asked the same question. “Sure, Pop,” Lee answered without hesitation.  “I’ll be glad to go with you and bring that chifferobe back.”

I am sure that Lee meant well, but he was the happy-go-lucky type who made promises easily, but did not keep track of them. Within a week he forgot all about Daddy and the chifferobe and, excited about the World Series, he decided to have a World Series hotdog cookout party. He invited all his friends and neighbors. He also invited Allen.

“Say What!” Allen exclaimed. “Didn’t you tell Daddy that you would take him to pick up that Chifferobe in Wise that Saturday?”

“Shucks! I forgot all about that.” Lee reflected. “Oh, well, I’m sure Daddy will understand. He knows that the Baltimore Orioles are my favorite team. I’ll call him right now.”

“Never mind, “Allen told him. “I’ll call Daddy and tell him. I need to talk to him any way.”

On Saturday, October 15, at 4:00 a.m., my Daddy stood on the front porch of his apartment building waiting for his son to pick him up and drive him to Wise. As the truck pulled up to the curb, Daddy was surprised to see Allen, not Lee, behind the wheel.

“What are you doing here, Allen?” Daddy asked. “I thought you were going to watch the World series.”

“Yep, I was, Pop,” Allen grinned. “But then I decided that I’ve seen plenty of Orioles games.  I’ve never had my father to myself for an entire day before, though.  How could I pass that up?”

Daddy laughed and slapped Allen on the back as he got into the truck.

Daddy talked about that trip until the day he died in August 1987. Memories of that trip brought a smile to his face whenever he thought of them. I am pretty sure that they made Allen smile, too.
          Years after Daddy was gone, Lee told me that he would give anything to have that day back. Unlike Allen, he would never have his father to himself for an entire day.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Diane Edgecomb's In the Groves

In the Groves 

Stories performed by Diane Edgecomb, accompanied by harpist Margot Chamberlain.  Winner of a Parent’s Choice Silver Award! $17.00 (includes shipping and handling) from www.livingmyth.com
Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            In the introduction to this charming yet haunting CD, we are told that trees are first and foremost teachers, and, if we listen closely, they will share their secrets.  While listening to this CD, one does indeed feel likes a confidant, hearing the secrets of the groves for the first time.

            The Dancing Spirit of the Birch, a Czech folktale, tells of a young girl who knows happiness, in spite of being poor and having to work all day spinning flax into thread. Who is the mysterious woman in white who seeks to draw the girl from her work for a day of dance and levity? Will the girl allow herself to be lured from the work that supports her hungry family?

            From Cornwall England, Three Green Ladies is a story centered on rituals related to trees, and three men whose late father taught them to honor those rituals. Only one brother heeds their father’s wisdom, however, leaving the other two to reap the consequences of their own selfish actions.

            Kansakura – Sacred Cherry Tree features a cherry tree so beautiful that a shrine to the God of Love is built near it. This story from Japan tells of a young girl who resents her father’s plan to marry her to someone she does not love. How will she extract herself from this arranged marriage when she finally meets her true love?

            Australian Aboriginals say that the land needs us as much as we need the land. One of the things it needs is to hear the old stories told in a sacred manner. The Voice of the Creator is just such a story; a tale of lazy humans who take the presence of the Creator for granted until it is too late. The Creator, however, is benevolent and cares enough for his people to send an emissary to lead them back to him, though not in the way you would imagine.

            Evergreen, from the Cherokee People, is a pourquoi tale that explains why some trees keep their green leaves all year long, while others lose theirs. It is a story about the rewards that follow steadfast endurance.

            Each song and story on this CD is thoroughly researched and expertly performed. Diane and her accompanist, harpist Margot Chamberlain, create sweet harmonies for songs from the Shaker, Russian, and Japanese traditions. Margot beautifully sings a Welch tune solo and underscores each story with traditional music from the cultures represented. Listeners will be captivated with the musical ebb and flow that Margot has created to follow Diane’s telling from tale to tale. The result is elegance so enchanting that it makes story magic.

            Diane’s skill at shifting from character to character within a tale is amazing. No blunt transitions here, only a subtle change of tone or pitch, or quickening of pace, is necessary to guide the audience from one character to the next.

            Story lovers on your Christmas list will cherish this CD as they listen to it again and again. Do not let its soothing tone fool you, however. For all its beauty, there is justice in the grove. Sometimes that justice is harshly dark; but Light lingers on the edge of the darkness, beckoning all to journey forward.


Monday, November 18, 2013

A Story for Thanksgiving

by Linda Goodman

©Linda Goodman 1996

     When my family lived in the Appalachian Mountains of Wise County, Virginia, the food that we ate at our Thanksgiving Day meal was the same as what we ate on any other day: soup beans and cornbread. Occasionally, there would be meat, if Daddy had been out hunting.

     What made the meal different was a ritual that my Daddy insisted upon observing on Thanksgiving. Before eating, each of us sitting around the table would, one by one, give thanks for that for which he or she was most grateful. Not having much in the way of material possessions, our thanks usually were given for treasured relationships. One year, after I had recovered from a severe bout with pneumonia, I was surprised to hear my brothers give thanks for my survival. It changed the way I felt about them, and their constant teasing was easier to take after that. I gave thanks for my new baby sister. Mama was thankful for well-behaved children, and Daddy was thankful that he had been blessed with children who were thinkers. If you use your head, you will come out ahead, he always said.

     When we moved to the city, Thanksgiving remained the same. My parents refused to assimilate into the city culture, and so our meals and rituals never changed. We children eventually adopted city ways, but Momma and Daddy held to the old ways until their deaths.

     The Thanksgiving after they passed away, my sister and her family came to spend the holiday with me in Connecticut. I fixed a traditional meal of turkey, dressing, and various side dishes. Before eating, my sister and I decided to reinstate the old ritual that we had taken part in so often. One by one our children gave thanks. My daughter was thankful for the new dress she had gotten for the Christmas dance at school. My nephew was thankful for his Nintendo. My niece was glad that her allowance had been increased. No one mentioned family or friends.

     I abandoned the ritual after that. It just was not the same with its new emphasis on material possessions. On Thanksgiving day, we have a bountiful meal and good companionship. Everyone seems happy. But I always make sure to take a few minutes alone to give thanks for the wonderful man who taught me that it is not who you are, but how you live, that matters most; and that anyone who has a loving family is rich indeed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Least of These

© Linda Goodman 2013

Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

This morning (10/27/2013) Pastor Steve Rembert’s sermon centered on the above scripture.

I remember when the economy crashed in 2008. Many people lost their jobs and things looked bleak. They were scared, and rightfully so.

I was one of the lucky ones. When the company I was working for went bankrupt, I was remembered by several former colleagues who had segued into management elsewhere. I had made good impressions upon them, and I received multiple job offers from them.

I ended up working in downtown Richmond. Every day on the way from the bus stop to my job, I passed people who were holding signs that said that they were hungry. I made it a habit to always carry dollar bills with me, and, while trying not to draw attention, I gave one to each needy person I passed. Well-meaning friends warned me that the money I gave would most likely go to drugs or alcohol.

Their warning made me think back to 1969, when I was hungry myself. I was unemployed and pregnant with my daughter.  My husband (now ex-husband) was a self-employed musician. We never knew if we would make it from one paying gig to the next. At his gigs, my husband was usually treated to meals by his fans, or the club where he was working. I was living on Campbell's Soup for lunch and supper. I skipped breakfast.

A couple lived down the road from us, and I felt compassion for them because neither of them was working. One of their parents was helping out with the rent, "But we have no food," the wife told me. "We're starving."

I had no money to help with their situation, but I had stockpiled Campbell's Soup the last time I had found it on sale. I set aside half of my soup cans and watched and waited for a few days, until I saw the two of them leave their house together. Then I took the soup I had set aside to their house and pushed each can through their mail slot. This way, they would not know who their benefactor was, and they would not feel embarrassed around me. Knowing that I was helping them made me feel good. I had visions of their happiness when they came home and found the soup.  They would be ecstatic.

The next time I saw the two of them, they were agitated. “Somebody put canned soup through our mail slot,” the man complained. “I don’t mind somebody helping us out, but getting canned soup is an insult!”

I was in shock. “I like canned soup,” I told them. “I eat it every day.”

“We’ll give the soup to you, then,” the woman offered. “Frankly, I’d rather have nothing at all to eat than to have to eat canned soup,” she added.

“If someone really wanted to help,” the man continued, “he would have given us the cash and let us buy what we like.”

I went back home with the soup. I don’t think they ever realized that I was the culprit. Throughout my pregnancy, I continued to eat that soup. I was glad to have it, too.

My intentions towards the couple were honest and sincere, just as my intentions towards the hungry that I met in Richmond were honest and sincere. Some of those hungry people may have felt that a dollar was not enough. I have no way of knowing that.

What I do know is that my actions were motivated by scripture, by my personal memories of being poor, and by my desire to help those in dire straits. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus blesses those who come to the aid of “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.” I see no reason to cease doing so just because I don’t know to what use the aid will be put.  That is between the "least of these" and God.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tall Tales and Laughing Spells

CD Review


Why I Don’t Fish Anymore

Stories performed by Alan Hoal.  $15.00, plus shipping and handling, from www.thehoalstory.com or call

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            Roanoke, Virginia native Alan Hoal claims that every story on this CD is true. Of course, when we hear that, we must remember that he has an entire shelf of tall tale competition trophies. My advice: don’t worry about whether or not the tales are true; just allow yourself to suspend your disbelief for a while, and I guarantee you will have a rollicking good time listening to this story collection.

            While listening to Why I Don’t Fish Anymore, just believe that Hoal once had a beloved pet catfish named Whiskers. After you have listened to the story of how Hoal came to adopt Whiskers as a pet, and to all the adventures they had together, you will understand why the tragedy that followed scarred Hoal so much that he had to give up fishing altogether.

            The Conjuring of Bloody Mary recalls Hoal’s own experience at trying to call up the legendary, vampire-like ghost, famous for draining the blood out of her victims. Was she real? Only the next of kin can say for sure, but make no mistake: Hoal knows a good story when he lives it.

            Hot Diggity Saves the Day, set in Punkin Patch, Virginia features an eccentric Uncle, a hated giant chicken, and an extraordinary hunting dog that saves the town from going down in history as a laughing stock. This story is a puzzle that creates a wonderfully funny picture as it puts all the pieces together.

            Ever wonder what a decaffeinated coffee plant does with all that caffeine that is removed from its coffee? The Great Caffeine Disaster goes into great detail to explain just that. Beware! It is not a pretty picture.

            In this current grim world of government shut-downs, increasing debt, and mounting fear, this album provides a much needed escape from reality. It is a flight of fancy to a world where the ridiculous seems real, reality seems insane, and healing laughter makes everything seem all right for a while.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Anthony Burcher's New CD A Winner!

CD Review

He Ain’t Right

Written and performed by Anthony Burcher; recorded live at Stonehouse Presbyterian Church, Toano, VA; Cover design by Brian Morgante for TreeHouse Artists; Mastered by Jake Dempsey for TreeHouse Artists. $14.99, plus shipping and handling, from http://www.anthonyburcher.com/

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            One of Virginia’s hidden treasures, Anthony Burcher may think “he ain’t right,” but those who have had the pleasure of hearing him tell stories know that he is not only right, he is righteous. He can take an ordinary, everyday habit, like eating Tic Tacs, and turn it into a comedic tour de force that has his audience in stitches and his pants…. well, let’s not go there.

            The story about the afore mentioned Tic Tacs is titled Minty Freshness, which, believe it or not, is not always a good thing; especially when you are teaching a room full of elementary school children about John Smith and Pocahontas.

            The Junkyard compares/contrasts Anthony’s father’s “junkyard” world with his mother’s “pristine” world. The two are ever separated and crossing from one to the other can be quite the challenge, especially after you’ve been attacked by a barrel of oil.

            Sunday Dinner made me yearn for yesteryear, when delectable food was made from scratch at home by master cooks in one’s own family. Of course, some home cooked dinners make better stories than others. Rotten vinegar, for instance, can cause quite a sensation.

            Bower of Table is Anthony’s own hilarious rendition of the Tower of Babel, found in the Bible book of Genesis. Anthony’s version is reminiscent of Archie Campbell’s telling of Cinderella on the television show Hee Haw.

Anthony Burcher knows how to create a fabulous story and tell it uniquely well. He also knows how to make his audience feel at home. I was in the audience at Stonehouse Presbyterian Church when Anthony recorded this album live. His zany facial expressions and gestures enhanced each tale, and his audience was in the palm of his hand – exactly where they wanted to be.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Bag Lady

© Linda Goodman, August 2013

 I was not doing what I wanted to be doing on July 4, 1975. I wanted to be sipping wine at the cookout that my boyfriend had invited me to attend.  Instead, I was working. 

July 4th is a big sales day for retail establishments, and the Portsmouth, Virginia furniture store that employed me, was no exception.  At 9:00 a.m., I and five of my co-workers stood at the front of the store, waiting to service the hoard of furniture shoppers who were sure to be coming through our doors soon.  We worked on the “up” system. Before the store had opened, we had drawn numbers from a basket. The sales person who drew number 1 would attend to the first customer who came through the door; the one who drew number 2 would attend to the second, and so on.  I drew number 4.

Sales persons one and two greeted customers almost immediately.  About ten minutes elapsed before customer number 3, a tired looking woman, walked through the door. This woman looked like someone who had been hit by hard times. She was wearing a ratty winter coat (even though the temperature was in the nineties), flip-flops, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. In her right hand she held a large brown paper grocery bag.

“Do I have to help her?” asked the salesman who had drawn number 3. “She’s a bag lady, for Christ’s sake!”

The store owner, Mr. S, scrutinized the woman before replying, “She’s probably come in to take advantage of our air conditioning.  Just ignore her. She’ll leave soon enough.”

She did not leave, and while I waited for customer number 4, she looked back at us repeatedly.

“Don’t you think someone should at least say hello?” I inquired.

“If you talk to her, she’ll never leave,”  Mr. S answered. “She’ll monopolize your time and you won’t make any sales.”

I knew he was probably right, but I looked back and her, and she was staring at me. The puzzled look in her eyes was clearly saying ‘why won’t you help me?’

She reminded me of my mother. Even after my father had gotten a job that paid well, my mother refused to buy new clothes.  “We never know how long the job will last,” she reasoned. “I aim to save as much money as I can for that rainy day that’s sure to come.” I used to wonder why the clerks in the stores where we shopped sometimes ignored her. Now I knew the reason.

I could not look away from this bag lady’s eyes. “I’m going to go speak to her,” I told Mr. S.

“Go ahead,” he sighed. “but don’t blame me when everyone else racks up big sales today and you end up with nothing.”

I nodded and walked over to the woman. “Hi,” I greeted her. “How can I help you today?”

“I’m looking for a new living room suite, a new dining room suite, and a new bedroom suite.” She asserted. “I just got a new apartment.”

“Very well,” I responded, “come with me and I will show you what we have.”

After walking through the living room section three times she finally stopped to ask questions about a royal blue velvet sectional that cost $999.99. She wanted to know what made that sofa worth that much money. I was well-versed on the strengths of that particular suite, so I quickly explained them to her.  She nodded, accepting my explanation.

“And those tables,” she asked, pointing to the set of 3 chrome and glass tables that accessorized the suite, “what makes them worth $300.00?

“They’re tempered glass,” I enlightened her. “They’re four to six times the strength of regular glass, and If the glass breaks it shatters into round pieces that can’t cut anyone. “ She did not seem impressed, so I added, “These tables are so strong you can stand on them.”

“I’m looking for tables that lamps can stand on; not people,” she informed me. She pointed to a set of wooden tables across the room. “I’ll take those,” she said.

By this time, I had been with the woman for forty-five minutes.  Meanwhile, sales persons 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 were closing multiple sales. I silently berated myself to not listening to Mr. S. He had been in this business a lot longer than me.  His was the wise voice of experience.

After similarly scrutinizing the dining room furniture, she selected a chrome and glass dining room table (“I might actually want to stand on that sometime,” she shared with me.) with 6 leather chairs. She took over two hours to select a bedroom suite, a French provincial set made of fruitwood. At $1,549.99, it was the most expensive suite we carried. I invited her to join me at my desk, but she insisted she needed to choose lamps for her new living room and bedroom suites first.

After another hour had passed, she was satisfied that she had everything she wanted. As I pulled a chair up to my desk for her, I glanced at Mr. S. He was shaking his head.  I knew exactly what he was thinking, “I told you so!” I did not relish the thought of the scorching lecture that would soon be coming my way; not to mention the beating I would be giving myself for offering to help this woman.

I took a blank contract from my desk drawer and began to fill it out. She supplied me with her name, address, and phone number (clearly, she was making this stuff up!), but hesitated when I asked for her Social Security number. “What do you need that for,” she wanted to know.

“I need your Social Security number to get your credit approved,” I insisted (like I actually thought she could get approved).

“I’m not buying this on credit!” she thundered. “I’m paying cash.”

Mr. S, standing behind me, actually giggled, prompting snickers from the rest of the sales staff.

I ignored them.  They could be dealt with later. I needed to get rid of this woman before she ruined my sales for the rest of the day.

“Very well,” I said in my most business-like voice, “your total with sales tax comes to $3,795.96. Since you are paying cash, I won’t charge you for delivery. I’ll write up your receipt while you go get the money.”

“I don’t need to go get the money,” she smiled. “I got it with me.”

She proceeded to open up that brown paper grocery bag that was in her right hand. After removing several layers of newspaper, she started lifting banded packs of one-hundred dollar bills and placing them on my desk. “There’s $3,800. You owe me $4.04 change,” she announced.

I wrote up a delivery slip and sent it back to our warehouse. Mr. S. was speechless, as the sales staff gasped in disbelief. I could hardly believe it myself. This had to be a dream!

But it was not a dream. I escorted her to the front door, and as I opened the door for her, I advised, “You ought to put that money in a bank account. It’s not safe to walk around this city with that kind of cash in a paper grocery bag.”

A sly smile spread across her face. “Don’t you worry about me,” she reassured me. “Everybody thinks I’m a bag lady.”

Author’s Note:  A year later, when I was promoted sales manager of the store, I used this story to train my sales staff not to judge customers by their appearance.  The really cool thing about this is that there were still sales staff members who had been present and witnessed my experience with this woman. When doubters scoffed, these staff members verified the truth of the story. “We know it’s true,” they insisted. “We were there!”

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Suzi Whaples Live in Jonesborough

CD Review

Written and performed by Suzi Whaples.  $15.00, plus shipping and handling, from http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/suziwhaples2. Suzi’s website: http://suziwhaples.com/

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            As a native of Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, I truly enjoyed Suzi Whaples’ authenticity on this CD. A true Appalachian accent is hard to find these days, and as I listened to these original stories I felt as though I had been whisked back into my childhood to one of those big family reunions where my relatives strived hard to “out-story” one another.

            Speaking in her mama’s voice, Suzi begins telling I Hear Something, a story about vampires and other monsters that introduces us to a cast of eccentric characters, including the affable Dr. Slaughter, Boyd Polly (a connoisseur of fine grain), and hex specialist Elsie Mundy. Along the way, she dispenses homespun wisdom (“When you get old, everything either gets plugged up or leaks.”) and a dissertation on the history of werewolves.

            Chicken Man shares the story of the monster that terrified the holler where Mama grew up. A love story of sorts, this story blends humor and suspense to create a unique tale of growing up in the mountains.          

            Papa Can’t Read is a touching story about a man who fears losing his family’s respect and the sensitive daughter who discovers his secret and helps him get past his fears. AMAZING!

            I had to listen to The Thong twice because I was laughing so hard, I did not hear the whole thing the first time. Words change their meanings over time, and this story about a generational misunderstanding of a word is hilarious.

            Suzi’s adopted granddaughter is the star of Lydia, a sweet story that will put a smile on any grandparent’s face.

            Rarely do I hear such fine sound on a live recording. Doug Dorschug, the Technical Producer, and Brandon Ferguson, who edited the stories, did their jobs well.

This is a CD that should be played after one of those stress-filled days that we all dread, yet find so common. Laughter really is the best medicine for this ailment, and this CD is a super-sized prescription for just that!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Thoughts on the 2013 NSN Conference

Finances have been tight since our move from Virginia to North Carolina, prompting me to buy only the Performance Package for the 2013 National Storytelling Network (NSN) Conference -  themed “ Story: Seed of Creativity.” I missed the wonderful workshops, but there were performances of all kinds sprinkled throughout the schedule, so I still managed to have a delightful time.
Brief summaries of performances I attended:

Denise Bennett’s fringe, “The Heart’s True Scale” was gripping, heartfelt, and downright hilarious. I have seen this show grow from a seed to a glorious flower. Every time I see it, I find something new to admire.

The four story showcases featured tellers galore from all experience levels. All of the stories were well-told. The one I am best remembering is Miriam Nadel’s tale of her experience on the television game show “Jeopardy.” I just started watching this show a month ago, and I enjoyed hearing about the hoops one must jump through to be a contestant.  I am also remembering Fred Powers, who authentically portrayed a coal miner caught in a life-threatening experience. Gary Lloyd’s clever ode to chocolate tweaked my appetite for sweet treats. Arianna Ross broke my heart with her story of a woman living in a Bosnian refugee camp.

Diane Edgecomb and Margot Chamberlain once again wowed the audience with their brilliance and synchronicity in their Fringe “New Age Gawain and the Green Knight.” I never tire of seeing these two women perform together. Margot’s harp flows perfectly with Diane’s every move. Imagine the hours of practice it must take to work so well together!  Look for Diane at the 2013 National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, where she will be featured as a new voice.

Bernadette Nason’s fringe, “Tea in Tripoli,” follows the journey of a na├»ve young English Woman who takes a contract job to work for a year in Tripoli. Little does she know the complex and dangerous life that awaits her there.  I felt as though I were going through the experience with her.

The All Regions Story Slam – “Create,” hosted by the always witty and always captivating Kim Weitkamp was a hoot! Congratulations to winners Yvonne Healey (3rd place), Lynn Ruehlmann (2nd place), and Elzora Dennison Trimmer (1st place). Judges Sheila Arnold, Adam Booth, and Leeny Del Seamonds had a tough job, as there were many stories worthy of prizes. I enjoyed getting to hear my old friend Jim Harriman of Connecticut spin a yarn at the slam.

The members meeting revealed a board that has been hard at work to make NSN relevant, motivating, and financially sound. We learned that three cities are being considered to be NSN’s new home: Kansas City, MO (which has already made a nice offer), Pittsburgh, Pa, and Chicago, IL.  Board Chairman Alton Chung announced that next year’s conference will be held in July in Phoenix, AZ.

The closing ceremony featured the incomparable Latin Ballet of Virginia, dancing “The Legend of the Sleeping Princess.” This performance left me speechless! The colorful costumes, the grace and skill of the dancers (how do they make it look so effortless?), and the spellbound audience combined to create an unforgettable world where fantasy and music were braided together to hold us under their spell.

The NSN Oracle Awards saw many storytellers being rewarded for their years of service to the storytelling community. Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to  Elizabeth Ellis, Syd Lieberman, and Diane Wolkstein  (posthumously). Lynette Ford, Andy Offutt Irwin, Angel Lloyd, Kevin Locke, Olga Loya, and Patricia Coffie received  Circle of Excellence Awards. Judy Sima received an award for Distinguished National Service. Regional Awards were given to Ellouise Schoettler, Jim Dieckmann, Judith Heineman, Alden (Joe) Doolittle, Karen Ferris Morgan, and MyLinda Butterworth. Congratulations to all!

Of course, being in the company of friends that I do not get to see often is the best part of the festival for me. Leeny Del  Seamonds, storyteller extraordinaire, was my roommate and was delightful company. I got to have meals with pals from all over the country. I even made a few new friends! I was sorry to leave Richmond, but I am already looking for to next year in Phoenix.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Different Kind of Guest

By Linda Goodman
(From Luke 7:36-50)

Good morning. My name is Rachel and I am the daughter of Simon the Pharisee. My father is a well respected man, who often invites other important men to be guests at our table. Last night, however, was different.

            The word Pharisee means separate. The name serves us well, as Pharisees to not like to keep company with people who are not Jewish, or Jews who do not follow the same practices that we do. That is why I was surprised when my father announced that Jesus would be a guest in our home.

Jesus of Nazareth... .have you heard of him? He is a vagabond who keeps company with the rabble; the peasants, tax collectors and women of ill repute. Our guests are usually great men who wear the finest clothes and have servants to attend their every need.

When Jesus entered our home he was dressed in the garb of a simple peasant. I expected that, but he was not even clean! He was covered with dust from his head to his filthy feet! He looked as though he had walked miles through the wilderness without bathing for days.

My father was so disgusted that he refused to offer Jesus the simple courtesies that were normally afforded our honored guests. He did not have Jesus’ feet washed, as was the custom. Neither did he give him the expected kiss of welcome that would have been followed by the anointing of Jesus head with olive oil. My father merely said, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, who has gained quite a reputation of late. Let us sit down at the table.”

The servants were just beginning to bring us our meal, when a strange woman walked through the front door. Many of the lower class pass our home when we have important, or, in this case, infamous, guests. None, however, would dare to enter our home without an invitation.

My mother gasped when she saw the woman, and when I looked at the woman’s face I understood why. This woman was the town harlot! Whenever I saw this woman walking down the road, I would cross to the other side and look away. One must not keep company with, or even acknowledge, such a vile being!

  No doubt she did very well plying her chosen trade, for she wore scarlet robes made of the finest silk, and her sandals were studded with pearls and rubies. In her arms she carried an exquisite alabaster jar that was filled with sweet perfume. She must have paid a fortune for it!

She took no note of my family. She ran straight to Jesus, where she knelt at his feet and began sobbing. She cried so hard that her tears, like rain, washed over Jesus feet, turning the dirt to mud. Horrified, she undid her long hair, all the while begging, “Please forgive me, Lord. Please forgive.”  She wiped Jesus’ feet clean with her own hair!  Then she kissed his feet and poured the perfume from the jar on to them, gently massaging it into his skin. And Jesus let her do these things!

My horrified father muttered under his breath, “And I thought this man might be a prophet! He does not even know what this woman is!”

Jesus must have excellent hearing, for he heard every word that my father said.

“Simon, I wish to tell you a story,” Jesus announced.

“I know a banker,” Jesus continued, “who was owed money by two men. One owed him fifty silver coins. The other owed him 500 silver coins. Neither could pay his debt, and the banker decided to forgive the debts of both men. Which of these men, Simon, do you think was more grateful to the banker?”

“I do not see what that has to do with anything,” my father retorted, “but I would judge that the man who owed the banker 500 coins would have been the more grateful of the two.”

“You are correct,” Jesus told him. “Those who have been forgiven more are more grateful than those who have been forgiven little.”

Jesus turned back to the woman and placed his hand on her head as he continued speaking to my father.” Simon, I am a guest in your home, yet you did not wash my feet. You did not welcome me with a kiss or anoint my head with olive oil. This woman, on the other hand, has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. She has  kissed my feet and anointed them with sweet perfume.”

I could see my father’s face turning red with rage as Jesus told him, “This woman has sinned much, and she will be forgiven much. She will be more grateful for that forgiveness than any Pharisee would be.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Go, woman. Your sins are forgiven.”

After Jesus left our home, my father and the others laughed. “What makes him think that he has the power to forgive a woman like that?” they roared. “He must think he is God!”

I did not join in the laughter. I did not laugh because I had seen that woman’s face as she left our home. I saw serenity there, and a peace that I cannot begin to understand in one so damaged.

I want that peace.  Tomorrow I will go find this man Jesus. You are welcome to come with me if you like.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Gift of “The Visit of the Tomten”

(c)July 2013 Linda Goodman

Even after I accepted the idea that personal stories could be healing, I continued to believe that claims about the healing power of traditional tales were “new age hocus pocus.” The following story changed my mind and made me a true believer in the healing power of all story genres.

Just a few weeks after my granddaughter Morgan was born, I arrived at my daughter Melanie's house to find a frantic note tacked to her front door.

“Mom, I'm at the hospital!” it read. “Something's wrong with Morgan!”

I had a key to the house, so I let myself in and took a seat in the living room. I knew that Morgan had had a routine doctor's appointment scheduled for that afternoon, but I had not expected her to be hospitalized. My mind immediately did what it always does: it rushed to worst case scenario. Was she seriously ill? What was going to happen? How would my daughter handle a crisis? How would I handle it?

After a few hours, my daughter and my son-in-law returned. Melanie, her face white and drawn, was holding Morgan in her arms. I was given the news that Morgan had been born with a cataract in her right eye. Only immediate surgery would save her from blindness. Morgan would go “under the knife” at 8:00 a.m. the following morning. Other surgeries would most likely follow.

A cataract? I wanted to do my happy dance! I had been expecting something life-threatening, like a tumor or a heart problem. Compared to what I had expected, a cataract was good news! I knew several older people who had had cataracts removed and were just fine afterwards.

I later found out that cataracts are much more serious for infants than they are for older folks. We were lucky. Morgan had a cataract in only one eye. Most infants who are born with them have them in both eyes. Also, in infants cataracts are usually accompanied by some degree of mental retardation or a physical malady. Morgan seemed mentally and physically fine. Medical data showed, though, that eighty-five per cent of infants born with cataracts developed glaucoma. For Morgan, the jury was still out on that.

After Morgan's surgery, my son-in-law had to leave for an out of town trip. Melanie brought Morgan to my house to recuperate. On her first night there, I came downstairs after doing the dinner dishes to find Melanie sobbing uncontrollably as she rocked Morgan in the over-stuffed rocking chair in our family room.

“What's wrong, Honey,” I asked her (as if I did not already know).

“Mama,” she cried, “I did everything right! I ate healthy food. I didn't drink any caffeine or consume any alcohol while I was pregnant. I have friends who were doing drugs or drinking every day during their pregnancies, and their babies are fine! Why did this have to happen to my baby?”

For one of only a few times in my life, I was at a loss for words. I had no answers for her.

That night, as I said my prayers, I asked that God might somehow comfort my daughter. As soon as that prayer was uttered, I saw a vivid image in my head of a red paperback book, written by Barry L. Johnson, titled The Visit of the Tomten.

The Visit of the Tomten is set on Christmas Eve in a barn in the Smaland Highlands of Sweden. There, four animals wait for the Christmas gifts that the Tomten will bring them. The more they talk about the gifts they hope to receive, the more excited they get.

The Tomten is a Swedish good-luck elf who delivers Christmas gifts. Every farm has one. To repay the Tomten for his kindness, the farmer's wife leaves a bowl of porridge in the barn for him. Come Christmas morning, if the porridge is gone, the New Year will be a good one.

The animals do not get the gifts that they expected. Ivan, the old dog considered to be the sage of the barnyard, is given a bird with a broken wing. “I don't even like birds!” Ivan rants, “and this one isn't even right!

The animals respond with an vengeful plan: they will kidnap the Tomten when he comes back for the porridge, and they will demand that he give them an explanation for the ridiculous gifts they were given.

The plan is executed and the Tomten is trapped. He is aghast that the animals do not appreciate the gifts he left them! There is no such thing as a ridiculous gift, he insists.

He then goes on to explain the purpose of each gift. To Ivan, he says, “To be asked to take care of the handicapped is no insult. On the contrary, it is a great honor. I chose you to care for the disadvantaged bird because I trusted in your wisdom and courage to give it the very best life it could have.”

I could hardly wait for Melanie to wake up the next morning. I knew exactly what to say to her. When she came down to breakfast, I pulled her aside and said, “Melanie, it's like this - God looked at all the thousands of babies waiting to be born and saw that Morgan had a special problem that would require a special kind of love. So he searched all the expectant mothers, looking for that one mother who could give Morgan the very best life she could have... He chose you.”

It was what she needed to hear. A smile slowly spread across her face as she looked down at her precious daughter. “You're right, Mama,” she whispered. “I love this baby so much, I wouldn't trade her for all the perfect babies in the world.”

Morgan will be 17 years old soon. She has had multiple surgeries on her eye and a few years ago she did develop glaucoma in it. She sees well enough to drive, and she is at the top of her class in school. She does not much care for the story of the Tomten, but that's okay. “Different strokes for different folks,” as they used to say in the 1960's. The story got me and her mama through a rough patch. We will treasure it always.


I bought this book because I was looking for a new story for my Christmas repertoire. After reading it, I decided not to tell it. The chemistry necessary between teller and story was not there. After I shared the story with Melanie, however, I found that it became a part of my story tapestry. The chemistry followed, and I now tell it often, particularly in my Storytelling in the Ministry workshops.

By the way, at the end of the story, the Tomten did not eat the porridge. Regardless, the ending was most satisfying.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Impossible to Translate, But I'll Try

Compact Disc Review

True-life Israeli Stories

$15.00, plus $2.00 shipping and handling.

Email: noakrbaum@gmail.com

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

This remarkable CD features stories that are constructed in layers, each layer more delectable than the one preceding it. As you dig through the layers, treasures are discovered. The labor is well worth the effort.

Almost everyone will identify with the frightened girl in Sleep, the CD's first story. This child knows that little evils lie in wait beneath her bed, and she has devised detailed strategies to protect herself against their inevitable invasion. Only a grandmother can turn those little evils into dwarfs and soothe her golden girl to sleep. The last story on this CD, Sleep Epilogue, revisits night time rituals a generation later.

In Why Do I Have That Name, a young Noa demands that her mother tell her why she was given such an unusual name. Patiently, her mother shares its source, leaving both Noa and those listening to this story with new insights to ponder.

My Shidech (My Match) features the unlikely pairing of a creative, unique, intelligent young Israeli woman and a down-to-earth American botanist. Some believe that differences are the glue that keep a couple together, but others seek mutual interests in their partners. In this story, taking risks yields rewards not anticipated.

Top Secret is the story from this CD that I will carry in my heart. This story of an awkward elementary school girl and a relationship that changes in ways she is too young to understand hits close to home. As I listened to this story, the ghosts of own past began to haunt me.

Love Comes in Many Packages portrays mature love centered around a rather frightening excursion in the city. Fortunately, time allows anxiety to morph into humor. 

This CD is more than a way to pass time. It is deep and demands your full attention, as all classics do. The stories are set in Israel, but their truths are universal. They are mirrors of our own internal truths.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Looking at Life Through Time's Telescope

Compact Disc Review

Skinny Dipping

Written, collected, and performed by Martha Reed Johnson
Recorded by Jake Dempsey for TreeHouse Artists
$15.00 for CD; $9.99 for download
Reviewed By Linda Goodman
Life's journey is full of surprises. When we take a look back at the cards life has dealt us, we are often surprised by the lessons we have learned. Those tense moments that made us cringe with embarrassment often make us laugh when we look at them through the telescope of time. Bratty siblings become our comforters; lessons are passed on from generation to generation; and sometimes the impossible becomes possible.

Skinny Dipping, this CD's title story, examines the teen-age brain, which, as we all know, sometimes does not work as it should. A quick dip in the cold New England ocean is followed by an unpleasant surprise. Luckily Martha knows how to make good use of seaweed. A kind policeman and a cool mom make this story a happy memory instead of the proverbial mistake best left forgotten.

Brat finds Martha enjoying bribes from two young lovers who want to be alone. Being ignored is bearable when candy and ice cream are substituted for a brother's company. Years later, however, that brother's company is the sweetest gift.

Martha's younger sister is Blond, Beautiful, and Bubbly – a Barbie doll girl who commands attention wherever she goes. Such charm is easy to envy and easy to resent, but Martha learns that “you don't leave family behind.” Family loves you, no matter what.

The Watch is about Teddy, whose father works for the Seth Thomas Watch Company. Teddy loves tools, especially hammers. A hammer in the hand of a curious child, however, can be a wrecking device. Teddy inherits the wreckage he creates, and a lesson is passed along from one generation to the next.

Dr. Timothy Johnson, a bonus track, was recorded live by Blackwater Entertainment at the Storytelling Festival of the Carolina's. This story of a very smart German Shepherd with PTSD and a habit of wandering for long periods of time takes a hilarious turn when his namesake comes into the picture. Can dogs really make phone calls?

After listening to this CD, I could not help but admire the dynamics of the Johnson family. Every infraction becomes a blessing. That is the gift that family members give to one another when love is at their core. Martha's family stories are her gift to us.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Kitty Talk

© 2013 Linda Goodman

I cannot remember a time that I did not love cats. When I was little, any kitty would do. I loved having a little ball of fur curled up on my lap while I scratched behind its ears and listened to the little motor inside it, the one that purred until my fingertips tingled.

In 1970 I was given a seal point Siamese cat as an engagement present. I named him Beau Garcon, and I did not expect to like him. I had seen Lady and the Tramp, and the Siamese cats in that movie were EVIL!!! Beau, however, turned out to be my dream cat. He followed me from room to room, and whenever I sat down, he jumped onto my lap immediately and stared up at me with his sky blue eyes. He loved to have his ears scratched and his purr was a lullaby. Beau was also vocal. His meows and his whyyyys filled the house, especially when he was annoyed or excited.

After Beau passed on, I had three other Siamese cats, and they all possessed that same sweet temperament, that same degree of affection, and that same vocal hardiness. It would have been impossible for me to not love them. In fact, I spoiled them rotten.

When my daughter was born, however, my cats had to play second fiddle. I could hardly believe that this delightful little red-headed infant who never stopped smiling was my child. I was so fascinated with her capacity for joy (an enigma to me) that nothing else seemed to matter. Every free minute I had was hers.

Years later, though, my daughter went to bed one evening a normal kid and woke up the next morning a teenager. Being seen in the presence of her parents was a rare form of torture to her. Trying too hard to win back her affection just made things worse.

Instead of mourning the time I had once spent with my daughter, I adopted a petite seal point Siamese cat that I named Marisa. She was the runt of her litter and had been neglected by her mother. Every other cat I ever had knew instinctively how to use the litter box. Marisa was the first cat that I had ever actually had to potty train. She was quite pitiful. She needed me, and I needed to be needed. I lavished all my pent up affection on her. She adored being the light of my life and we became inseparable.

In 1988, my father passed away and my mother came to live with me. Mama did not like cats, and she wanted to make sure that I knew it. As we left her Virginia apartment and began driving the ten hours to my home in Connecticut, she asked, “Do you still have that cat?”

“Of course, Mama,” I told her. “You know that I love that cat.”

A few hours down the road, Mama said, “You know I don't like cats. They can take your breath away and smother you in your sleep.”

“Mama, that is just an old mountain superstition,” I insisted. "Marisa sleeps with me every night and hasn't smothered me yet."

A few more hours down the road, Mama warned me, “Cats will tear your furniture up with their long, sharp claws.”

“Marisa has been with me for years and has never clawed any of my furniture,” I assured her.

When we finally arrived at my house, I helped my mother to the kitchen door. Marisa was waiting for us. She and Mama glared at one another for a minute or two before Marisa retreated to the far side of the room.

The next day, while I was making dinner, Marisa rubbed her lean body against my leg as Mama watch us with extreme distaste plastered all over her face. “I don't see how you can stand a cat in the kitchen!” she snapped.

“Mama,” I said sweetly, an idea forming itself in my head, “what you don't understand is that Marisa is special.”

“I don't see anything special about it,” she retorted.

“Mama, that's because you don't know that Marisa can talk,” I informed her.

“Huh!” she barked in disbelief. “Cat's can't talk!”

As if on cue, Marisa walked slowly and elegantly to the kitchen door and cried “Meow!”

“See,” I told Mama, “she said 'Me out'.”

Mama, her face as pale as a ghost, gasped! “Why, it did sound like she said “Me out'!”

I looked a Marisa and said, “No, Marisa, you can't go out.”

“Whyyyys?” was her plaintive response.

I looked at Mama and said, “See, she wants to know why she can't go out.”

“Why....it did sound like she asked you 'why'!” Mama was beside herself. “What else can she say?”

“Marisa is a cat of few words, Mama,” I confided. “She mostly likes to listen. And she is real good at keeping secrets.”

After I finished the dishes that evening, I went downstairs to the family room. As I approached the doorway, I could see Mama sitting on the sofa with Marisa curled up beside her. Marisa's sky blue eyes stared up into Mama's as Mama gently rubbed the top of Marisa's head. Mama was whispering to Marisa, telling her about my father and how hard it had been to lose him.

They did not know that I was listening, and I did not want to interrupt this most special moment. I walked back upstairs, knowing that I would have to get used to sharing Marisa's affection for as long as Mama chose to live with us. I hoped that would be a long time.