Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Weekly Geeks: Other Forms of Storytelling

The theme of this week's Weekly Geeks centers on other forms of storytelling besides books. The possibilities are all intriguing: TV shows, movies, music, theater. How do we tell stories? Where do we find stories? I love the stories told on TV and movies, in music and music videos, and at the theater. But when I think of storytelling, I think of my father.

My father is a poet, although he has spent his life as a scientist. To do what he does (apple breeding, fruit-growing) takes the gentle soul of a poet; I believe botany--or botany-in-nature as opposed to taxonomy, for example-- and poetry are intertwined beyond the sacred worlds of science and literature. A wild rose tangled in a rusty barbed-wire fence appeals to both the poet and the botanist, as does an orchard heavy with apple blossoms.

My father is a natural storyteller. These days one can get a master's degree in storytelling; East Tennessee State University offers one. If you live in East Tennessee, you are likely aware of the National Storytelling Festival held annually in Jonesborough. Closer to home, Pigeon Forge has been hosting a Storytelling Festival the past few years that is growing each year.

But it is my father's storytelling that I like best. My earliest memories include my father telling stories on long car trips. Rarely did we hear the same story twice. He might tell orchard stories, Grandma Riley stories, army stories, or war stories. He might tell childhood stories of growing up amidst a swarm of wild Irish cousins in tiny Dix, Illinois. One-room schoolhouse stories, fire on the farm stories. War stories never included battle, but rather the slices of life that spoke of survival: chocolate ration bars scraped into mugs of sweetened-condensed milk and warmed over a fire along the Rhine to make the best hot chocolate ever. The private from Long Island who always wanted "an-coy-veys." Too much salt in the beans.

When my father tells stories, his voice slips back into a gentle southern dialect. Although he has lived in New York State for 40 years--nearly half his life--the distinguishable sounds of Southern Illinois are just beneath his tongue. A smallish drawl, a lingering of vowels.

Around the dinner table at night, we soak in his stories still. In the past two decades he has recorded many of these stories in writing, and when I read them, I hear his voice clear as the scent of apple blossoms in April. The greatest storyteller at the National Festival could not, for me, compare to my father and his collection of slices of life.

5 comments:

Chris said...

Beautiful post!

Heather Johnson said...

What an excellent post! My mom is the storyteller in our family. She's from New York (Brooklyn) and despite living in Maryland for over 30 years, she still says "Cwaw-fee" for coffee, "he-ya" for here, and "Heath-a" for Heather. LOL!

Unlike your dad, she did tell the same stories over and over again, but always by request. We couldn't get enough of our favorites!

Debra Durham said...

A touching post. Thank you. Seems you have inherited the story-telling gene from your father. Brava!

gautami tripathy said...

You made me nostalgic. My dad was a great story teller. He used to tell it us, his children andhis grand children. Now in our family, my youngest nephew seems to have inherited.He was too young to remember my dad's story telling, when my dad passed away.

Tell a Story!

Kerry said...

Beautiful post. These must be special memories indeed. Have you thought of recording your father's stories so you have them on audio?

My mother recently sent me an old cassette tape of my grandfather (now deceased) telling stories. I recorded it into digital media so that it will continue to survive. I didn't get to listen in full as I had other things to do, but it was lovely hearing my grandparents' voices in the background, as well as myself and my brother and sister as children (I couldn't tell which of us was which because our voices have changed since then). It was lovely and I must find time to listen to the file properly.