Mama's Ghost Story for Halloween

Mama and Mary Alice Herbert

I was married and living in San Antonio,Texas when Mama and Daddy moved into the house at 1118 Buchanan Street in Charlotte, North Carolina. So I was hardly prepared the first time I drove into the drive way to open the driver’s side of the car and practically step onto the Herberts kitchen steps. The only thing that stood between those two houses was a shared concrete driveway. Before I saw my own mama I looked full into the face of Mary Alice Herbert who was standing at the sink in her kitchen staring out the window.

Mama was in Georgia with the family when Daddy came up to Charlotte and signed a lease. He probably never noticed that they were going to be living in their neighbor’s hip pocket because so much was right about the house. The catholic school was across the street for the youngest two children and St.Patrick’s Church was next door to the school.

Mama and Daddy moved into the two story Cape Cod on New Year’s Day 1960. It was an unusual New Years Day for Charlotte; it was freezing cold and it was snowing.

If Mama had any qualms they must have been swept away by Mary Alice Herbert - she stepped across the driveway that separated their houses and gathered up the youngest child and took her to her warm kitchen next door to play while the movers emptied the truck. That’s just the sort of good neighbor she was. Over the next twenty years Mama and Mary Alice became very good friends and it’s a good thing because they did live VERY close.

You could step out of my mother’s kitchen, down three steps, take five long strides and step onto the grey wooden stoop outside the Herbert kitchen. A bit of sugar or a cup of coffee or just a friendly word or two was always near to hand.

Both the Herberts and the Diggles lived their lives through their back doors so they saw each other often during the day and everybody knew who was coming and who was going and they usually knew where and why.

I have been there and heard a sharp rap on the back screen door “Louise, Louise”. Mary Alice had a high-pitched Minnesota accent.

Mary Alice Herbert died in December in 1980. Mama really missed her. Jerry and Martha Ann divided the furniture and closed up the Herbert’s house. Mama said that for weeks she really hated driving into the driveway, especially at night when it was so dark on that other side. Once they closed the house Jerry stopped coming over. Mama got used to the dark house and Mary Alice drifted out of her mind.

Since I live away I keep up with Mama’s life over the phone ? we tell each other the stories of what has been happening during the week

“Ellouise you are not going to believe this. You are just not going to believe it ? I hardly believe it myself - but as God is my witness it’s true.

Your Daddy and I were sitting in the den the other afternoon – that’s Monday. I was watching the Young and the Restless - You know I am always Johnny on the spot at 12:30 p.m. for my program.
When - right in the middle of the program I heard Mary Alice calling my name, “Louise, Louise.” Just like she used to. We never lock our back door and she would stick her head in and call me in that funny way of talking she had.

At first I passed it off - just my imagination. Then I heard it again,”Louise, Louise." Ellouise she has been dead six months and I heard her voice as clear as a bell as if she had just stepped out of her kitchen door and across the driveway.

I was startled I can tell you. Robert, Robert . do you hear something?

What? No, I don?t hear anything? What are you talking about?

Robert, I heard Mary Alice calling my name.

Louie, that?s crazy. You're just imagining it.

I guess you're right. It must be my imagination - but I tell you - it sounded just like her,

Well I didn't think anything more about it.

The next night - that's Tuesday - I was washing the dishes. I was in suds up to my elbows with the pots - when I heard a rap at the kitchen door - just like Mary Alice used to do - and then she called out, - Louise, Louise. T here was no mistake. It was Mary Alice. I lived next door to that woman for twenty years and I would know that voice anywhere.

I went to the door. No one was there. I closed the back door and went back to the sink.

Louise, Louise. She called me again.

Robert, I called your Daddy. Robert. He came into the kitchen.

Robert I just heard Mary Alice calling me again.

Louie this is foolishness. Mary Alice Herbert is dead. Dead people do not come to your back door. What is the matter with you?

Nothing is the matter with me. I tell you Mary Alice Herbert is trying to tell me something. And I know it. I am going to call Hilda Ricketts right now. She has the keys to that house and I think she needs to check on things. Something is not right..

Well, Ellouise, I called Hilda and told her about my hearing Mary Alice calling me and she didn't laugh or make fun like you Daddy was doing. She came right down like I asked her to. She checked all through the house. Checked out all the doors and the windows. Everything was fine. So she locked everything up again and went home.

The next day - that's Wednesday- I was sitting I the den. The Young and the Restless was just over when the front door bell rang. I nearly jumped out of my skin it starled me so bad. Nobody comes to our front door.

Hilda was standing on the porch with her dog. She had something in her hand

"Louise I know why Mary Alice was calling you." She waved an envelope under my nose. I could see that it came from Wachovia Bank. "I was walking Pepper - and when I came to Mary Alice's sidewalk it was as if something was pushing me up that walk and onto her front porch. Look what I found in the mailbox next to the door.
THIS is what Mary Alice was trying to tell you."
The letter had been outside so long the glue had come loose on the flap.

Hilda pulled out a check for $5,000.

"Louise look at this. It has been in that box for four months.
No wonder Mary Alice is restless. You know how careful she was with a dollar."

"I will call Jerry and tell him to come get it."

"You sure have been a good friend to her Louise - Don't you know Mary Alice is going to sleep better tonight."

"I knew it, Ellouise, I knew it was her.
And I've told your Daddy that too."

I guess Mary Alice did rest well after that because she never called out to Mama again.


Storytelling and Red is Sexy

3 Beautiful Things

1. Storytelling tonight. Friends walking into the room when you are getting ready to tell stories is a beautiful sight and warms my heart. I was telling stories for my annual adult HAUNTS program tonight. I selected stories that were tied together by a North Carolina connection. Started off with Jack and the Haunted House, then two family ghost stories, followed by stories of several ghosts I have crossed paths with myself and closed with a real nervous-making old story, The Evil Eye.

2. An unexpected gift of stories is a beautiful thing. Just after I started the stories a short and bent elderly woman with faded red hair dressed in pink gamely pushed her walker into the room and sat down. Afterwards she stood with difficulty and pushed her walker over next to me to chat. "I have stories", she said. Speaking in a softened European accent she told me fascinating stories of her childhood. "I will be brief." she assured me. Then she told how her family escaped from Warsaw, were shipped to Siberia and then how her mother's hats fed them all.

3. The sound of the vacuum cleaner - when I am not the one pushing it is beautiful music to my ears.
CNN reports tonight that scientific studies confirm that men see women in red as more sexy.


Bits of Color

3 Beautiful Things

1. When I was telling a program of scary stories this afternoon I watched the kids' eyes widen and their mouths drop open as they followed the stories. Wonderful to see them let themselves into the stories that way. Among other short stories I told The Golden Arm, Jack and the Haunted House and Cat and Mouse. I particularly like telling the Jack Tales. At the end a fourth grade girl raised her hand and asked to tell a story. We still had a bit of time so she could. She did a really nice telling of "The Green Velvet Ribbon." Surprises like this are also part of the joy of these programs.

At the beginning, when I told the students that I was going to tell scary stories one girl, a fourth grader, jumped up. "Are they real.?" I could tell she was frightened. "No," I said - "they are stories." Then she sat down and I watched her relax and enjoy all the stories. And I tabled several true stories I had planned to tell. That's the trick isn't it? Watch out for the audience.

And its not just young audiences. There is a woman who lives at a retirement home where I tell regularly who reminds me often, "tell me if it is going to be scary." And I do. Sometimes she leaves and some times she stays. She choses.

2. Taking time to play with photos. Even when I should be doing something else.

3. Just look at these PA White Lady peaches from this summer. Beautiful color and I remember - they tasted so sweet and delicious.


Irish Cycle

Halloween is around the corner.
For storytellers this is the time of scary stories.

For me - this is a ghostly week.

I worked all day on ghost stories - getting ready for my annual solo "haunts" for adults program Wednesday night.

The theme has emerged as "haunted houses". I have worked in two haunted houses and I am combining that story with a few haunted hotels. All are personal stories and most are about ghosts. These are stories I have collected myself. When I am smart enough to ask - people tell me scary stories that happened to them. And a couple of family ghosts.

My family is a little bit haunted. In fact its the family haunts that started me telling ghost stories.

These stories are so much fun. Now.

I am surprised at myself sometimes that I like to tell the scary stories so much - because when I was a kid I hated them. They gave me the shivers and I was the one in the group that could get really scared.

So far as horror movies were concerned - I was the girl in the lobby drinking all that water - you know the one who - at just the right moment - dashes up the aisle like someone is after them.

Now I can tell them so that they scare YOU.

Reminds me.

My mother had a macabre bent. She liked to hear about weird happenings and she went through a period when she read True Crime magazines.

Have you ever looked through those things? Graphic up close photos of the killings and the killers. That was Mama's bedtime reading -- to put herself to sleep. Wasn't she afraid she would have killers lurking in her dreams?

Now how funny is that? I should have asked her about it. Was she looking for something - in particular?

Or just enjoying not being scared.



3 Beautiful Things
1. Josephine Withers and I met at the National Museum of Women in the Arts to tour the Role Models exhibition and to work out the plans for a workshop we will be conducting at the Museum in two weeks as a companion to the exhibit. Our ideas and plans are really exciting and I am looking forward to the workshop. Its always fun to see how things turn out.
2. Bright and sunny - a good day to drive downtown - the kind of weather that makes Washington look wonderful.
3. Warm enough that Jim and I enjoyed sitting outside at Einsteins for a bagel and coffee. Used the time to work out a travel schedule for our trip to CA next March when we will juggle The Rogue Festival with our visit with Robin and her boys and an add-on - some time at Bass Lake so that we can make our long promised visit to Yosemite. We have not been up to Yosemite in more than a dozen years and that's too long. My John Muir and Ansel Adams books are at-the-ready.


Leveraging Memories

3 Beautiful Things
1. Memories are the building blocks I use to find and create personal stories. Connecting old memories and combining them with something that is happening NOW is one of my favorite games. When I am lucky - voila - a story.
2. Lately I am playing with old photographs - for the memories associated with them - and for the possibilities to create a new image from them. This block tower is made from a cropped and altered passage of a photo I took when my daughter and I visited a salvage yard in Oakland, CA a few years ago. She was looking for something for her house - I was hunting with my camera. We were both hopeful seekers.
3. Having a day at home so that I can play - with memories and photos. Lately I have not had blocks of time at home to concentrate and play - this makes today a beautiful day even though its grey and raining.


Irish Mocha

3 Beautiful Things

1. Playing around with old photographs from Ireland - making something new - Irish Mocha.

2. Gallery sitting today all was quiet. I love those hours when the gallery is filled with light and n no one comes in so I can focus on just a few tasks and get them done.

3. At the end of the day my friend Claudia
stopped by Gallery 10 for a quick visit before she takes off for Germany..

Chatting about what she will be doing in Berlin brought back memories of our visit there - "make a pilgrimage to see the Nefertiti" I suggest.

The bust of Nefertiti in the Altes Museum is definitely a beautiful thing to remember.

During our catching up when I tell Claudia about finding Lourdes in Paducah, Ky when I had to go to the hospital for a gorilla to save my voice - she laughs. "Oh, no, not another hospital."

"I know. I know. Ridiculous." Anyone that has read this blog for very long knows that Jim and I seem to attract hospitals whenever we venture into strange lands.

"Ellouise - its a story - your tour of hospitals across the U.S."

" Actually I have thought about that - "

Now - as I write this about Claudia's up-coming trip and stir my own memories about Germany I realize Jim and I launched that tour in August 1985 in Hamburg, Germany at the St. George Hospital - the same summer we went to made our pilgrimmage to see the Nefertiti in Berlin. Ah, yes - more to come.

Memories are wonderful. Connections. Connections.

Its like picking up stitches in a piece of knitting. Pulling the treads together.


Big Mama

Big Mama, collage, e. schoettler
Talking with my sister Kathy today.
"Where is your small pox vaccination scar?" she asked.
I had to think a minute.
"On my leg. On the outside of my leg, at the hip. "
"Mine is too, and so is Lynda's."
"That's how they did it when we had them. For girls anyway."
She corrected me. "no, that's not how they did it - for everybody.
Mama made sure that's how we had ours done."
It triggered a memory. Kathy went on.
"Don't you remember. She said she had such an ugly small pox vaccination scar on her arm that she made them do it on our legs - so that her girls could wear sleeveless blouses."
"That's right. I had forgotten. Hey I like that - we are different - thanks to Mama."
I miss Mama. Every day I think of something I want to tell her or ask her. I want to call her. I guess that feeling will always be there. But her number is disconnected.
Finding this memory about the small pox vaccinations adds another scrap to my memory quilt- reminding me how Mama looked out for us. And that feels good - connected.
What about your small pox scar? Are we right in thinking this is something Mama thought up -
do other people have it in different places?


Afternoon in Nashville

As we started to leave the Country Music Hall of Fame I was stopped by the beautiful afternooon light and the shadow patterns that filled the atrium lobby. Could not pass that up.


Sailing Memory

Sailing on the Chesapeake Saturday was exciting - and when I was thinking about it later - I connected with the memory of another afternoon that I went sailing on the Chesapeake.

In 1954 shortly after I arrived in Baltimore to enter nurse's training at The Johns Hopkins Hospital I met a local guy at one of the informal "mixers" at Hampton House. He was tall, very tall, sun-tanned, with blonde hair bleached several shades lighter by the sun. You know, a Tab Hunter kind of guy. And, did I say he was very cute looking too? (This was before I met Jim.)

During that party he told me about his sail-boat which was docked somewhere on the Bay near his parents home. I don't remember our conversation but I would not be surprised if I had told him about the Hubbard and how I had always wanted to sail on it. You know, making small talk.

Would I like to go sailing? We would make up a group for a Sunday afternoon.
I was persuaded. I said, Yes.

On that Sunday afternoon Jack arrived in his shining well-finned Chevrolet - lots of gleaming chrome and white wall tires. Such a gentleman - he opened the door for me and I slid into the red leather front seat.

I did not tell him that not only was I not a swimmer; that I was deathly afraid of the water.

As I recall we met two other couples at the boat dock. They were laughing and friendly and put me right at ease. This guy had an impressive boat: tall masts, more than two sails, gleaming polished wood and any wood that wasn't polished was freshly painted white. He must have spent hours tending to it. As we shoved off he suggested I move up front and get some sun on the prow. I did - stretched out on the cool wood and tried to relax.

The wind picked up. The boat was slipping quickly through the water - suddenly the boat "tacked " to the left - on the shore-side. The boat leaned toward the water - and I was rolling over and over and into the water. I began thrashing my arms frantically and screaming.

"Help. Help." My date seemed unconcerned so I called out louder as I kicked my legs in a sort of desperate dog-paddle to keep my head above water.

That tall, blonde guy didn't look so cute when he leaned over the edge of his sail-boat and called out to me - " Ellouise, calm down, if you put your feet down - you can walk to shore - we will come around and pick you up." Everyone was laughing - all except one.

I decided I could live without him and his boat so that was the end of my sailing on the Chesapeake. Until this past Saturday.


Steady at the Helm

As soon as Skipper Ed Farley had both sails up, they filled and billowed and the boat picked up speed. He motioned to me to take the helm of Skipjack H.M. Krentz. I grabbed the spokes and as he waved directions to me I turned the wheel to keep the boat on course. The chilly blustering wind swept my hair straight up and whipped into my face. It felt wonderful.

Jim snapped this picture - to document a connection I never thought I would actually experience.

The year I was born my grandfather bought a skipjack, the H.M. Hubbard, in St. Michaels, Maryland. Here I was more than a few years later - swallowing my non-swimmer's fear of the water - at the helm of a Maryland built Skipjack heading out onto the Chesapeake Bay from St. Michaels.

I was six weeks old when Dad Jack, my father , a family friend and the seller sailed The Hubbard down the in-land waterway from Maryland to North Carolina. I assumed to Wrightsville Beach. I was too young to ever sail on the boat but for years. I listened to the stories of what sounded to me like exciting adventures on the water. A picture of The Hubbard hung in my grandparent's living room and one of the favorite family pictures shows Dad Jack at the helm of his boat. This is my mate for his picture.

Dad Jack sold The Hubbard about 1941 and bought a house on Harbor Island at Wrightsville Beach.
I have lots of my own stories about the house and those environs. But I always wished I had sailed with them on The Hubbard.

There will be more to the story. Jim and I collected information on skipjacks and were given leads for finding out who built The Hubbard. I am learning about skipjacks, the Chesapeake Bay and the oyster business as I savor a few family stories.

Another surprise from storytelling - the job at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum put me in the path of another story. This is one of my favorite kinds of stories - one in which you connect a memory with a real time experience -


A Great Day by the Bay

Jim and I were up early and heading east toward St. Michael's, Maryland which is located on the Eastern Shore. I was hired to tell two sets of nature stories at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum as part of their Fall Family Day Celebration.

The one thing we had not bargained for was driving east - into the rising sun - the blinding rising sun - particularly as we drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I am not that comfortable on soaring bridges in the first place and not being able to see really kills any fun. Interesting start for the day. With my vision still blurred by the sun I decided I would tell Rooster Calls the Sun. At the beginning of that Chinese Folktale there are 9 suns in the sky - I felt I could relate to that. Blinded.

I noticed many formations of geese flying 0ver-head - the eastern shore is part of the migratory path - and decided The Talkative Turtle was a must to tell.

While I checked in and prepared for the first set Jim roamed the campus with the camera. I knew he was enjoying being on-the-water , a treat for us, and that he would be taking a look at all the exhibits. And there was a lot to see - an old lighthouse, a 1901 Skipjack in the repair shed being re-done to mention only two. Later we did have our crab lunch at the "Crab Claw" restaurant just outside the gate of the museum. We sat over-looking the St. Michael's harbor
enjoying clam chowder and splitting a very generous and delicious crab salad.

I told stories in the Bay History Building surrounded by old maps, ship models, and other artifacts connected to the history of the bay - even an old hand hewn canoe made from a huge tree. This rich history is fascinating and friendly docents are ready to tour the exhibits with you to bring it to life.

My story programs alternated with presentation by a very knowledgeable naturalist from the Salisbury Zoo.
She brought a few live animals with her - one a very interesting stuffed specimen of a Nurtia.
She explained that the nutria was not native here but had been introduced into the area in the early 1800s for a new source of fur. The scheme failed but the nurtia (a rodent - see the feet and the long tight tail ) stayed on and multiplied. Today they are wreaking havoc with the habitat.

This owl - a barred owl - has a wing missing. It was rescued brought to the zoo. The Barred Owl has a yellow beak and I wish you could see in this picture - brown eyes. Its the only typical owl that has brown eyes - the others have yellow eyes.

Just check out the face on this Maryland Terrapin - our state's official reptile and therefore a protected species.

Did you know those dot patterns on the Terrapin are like a fingerprint - completely individual - turtle to turtle?
The terrapin is a swimmer and has webbed feet. This terrapin, now five years old, came to the zoo as a hatchling. Because it has been raised in capitivity it cannot forage for itself - so it could not survivie in wild.
The children were fascinated to see these animals so up-close-and personal. And I loved getting the know the characters in my stories even better.

When my work was done Jim and I joined a group for a cruise on the Bay aboard the Skipjack
H.M. Krentz. To say it was a wonderful experience doesn't begin to touch it.
Jim was in hog heaven and on that boat I closed a circle in our family history and started on a new story. More on that tomorrow.


Good Words About Kevin Kling

Sometimes a gem pops up when you are surfing.

Having just seen Kevin Kling at the National Storytelling Festival I enjoyed reading this excellent review of his performance after that at the Hoosier Storytelling Festival. Good storyteller - good writing.


Through a Child's Eyes

Saturday I will be telling nature and environmental stories for family day at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum a pleasant drive away in St. Michaels, MD, on the Eastern Shore. Jim's going with me so that we can enjoy a leisurely "crab" lunch by the water. And, how good is this after so much time on the road - I get to tell stories, see a great place, and then we sleep at home in our own bed.

Thinking about the stories I will tell and the kids that are likely to be there I was reminded of a trip we made a few years ago with our daughter Robin and her family. It was a California nature holiday, thanks to Robin's research of the area and the wide-eyed wonder of our youngest grand-son. He is four years older now - but he has lost none of his interest in and wonder at the natural world. What a blessing.

I wrote about it at the time and am sharing it again.

Butterflies and Birds
"You don't take a trip - - a trip takes you." John Steinbeck - Travels with Charley

The Central Coast of California is also part of the Pacific Flyway - the migrating path of the Monarch Butterfly and many bird species. The warmth of the area is a protection from freezing and the instinct to survive draws them there.

I am not a naturtalist by nature but our daughter Robin's youngest son is. His excitement over and fascination with anything crawling, flying, nesting, and swimming is contagious.

Pismo Beach

We made a pilgrimmage to the butterfly grove at Pismo State Park where Monarch Butterflies nest for the winter. They arrive in October and stay until March. 100,000 or more each year. What is so special about this non-descript grove of Eucalyptus trees which borders a main highway that the Monarchs return here year after year? Who knows. The docent tells us the butterflies like the warmth and protection of tall trees not necessarily Eucalyptus trees. We walk along a path that circles though the grove peering into the trees at the huge mounds of butterflies nestled on the branches.

I breathe in and enjoy the faintly medicinal perfume from the trees. It reminds me of my grandmother's cough drops. I am glad they chose this place. Our oldest grandson points out what he thinks is another large clump of butterflies high overhead. It moves. Not a mound at all - it is a large owl. The boys finally get a clear fix on the bird in the near-by stationary telescope. Yep. An owl all-right, a horned owl.

Butterflies, a barn owl, and, oh, yes - red tail hawks circling overhead. This is beginning to feel like a set-up for a nature trip.

Morro Bay: When Robin read that the Natural History Museum at Morro Bay is the only one maintained by the California State Parks System we made it a destination. The smallish round building sits on the top of a hill overlooking Morro Bay. The wall facing Morro Rock has large glass windows which frame commanding views of the bay, the rock and the basin. The interactive exhibits are fun for kids and instructive for everyone. When Brad and I stand admiring a view of he bay, he tells me to look at the sailboats anchored below. "If the boat points left the tide is coming in. If it points right the tide is going out. If they are pointing straight it means the tide is changing.' News to me.

The docent points out a flock of geese floating below: " Those are artic geese. They arrived in November and they will stay til March. They come here because of the eelgrass - its the same grass they eat off Alaska." Another group taking refuge along the Pacific Flyway. Later than afternoon we spot twelve Great Blue Herons nesting in huge evergreen trees near the water. A white egret has sheltered in the same trees and is impressive as it takes flight. Red tailed hawks circling slowing over us, hunting for a snack.

The eight year old and I walk near the water's edge on a mucky stretch of shore to get a closer look at a Long Billed Curlew. The curlew pays us no mind and continues plunging its long beak deep into the gooey mud in search of food. We keep quiet and watch.

My grandson breaks the silence, "Its worth getting mud on your shoes to see stuff like this."


Remembering that trip and our grandson's wonder I am selecting stories that will prompt the children to take a second look and stories that will prick their imaginations.
A few of the stories I have selected:

How Raven Brought the Tides

All Things Are Connected

The Earth on Turtles Back

and, maybe I will tell them about our family "nature" trip in California,
or how I used to go crabbing in the salt marshes near my grandmother's house at Wrightsville Beach, NC
and don't forget the sand fiddlers,
or some of the stories I heard as a child about The Hubbard, a skipjack my grandfather bought in St. Michael's. He and my daddy sailed it down the in-land water-way to its berth at Wrightsville Beach.
I think I will call my aunt today and catch up on some of those stories.

Try " Nature of the Estuary: Chespeake Bay - a Field Guide." by Christopher P. White if you are interested in learning about the Bay. Its really fascinating.


Studying on it.

Find myself thinking about the fun I have been having lately telling stories at Williamsburg and Grand Rivers Storytelling Festivals - and wondering - how to do more of that kind of work! Hmmmmmmmmm.

I guess this is my first toss of that wish to the universe - always interesting to see what happens when you actually say out loud what you want. The first person to hear it - in this case me - is often the one most effected. Because now - if I really want that - I can start dreaming of how to make the wish come true.

Anybody out there looking for an "old time southern storyteller"? I was born to talk, tell "finely crafted" stories and can really draw audiences into the stories.

Hey - that sounds like an ad.



I am filling in the blanks on Paducah and the storytelling. Will be adding pictures tomorrow.
I do this to digest it for myself - so I don't want to move on until I complete my wind-up.

If you want to read about the trip and the stories - please back up two days. I am keeping things in chronological order.

Told stories this afternoon at a retirement home. I really enjoy telling for these folks - mostly women. Some, like Andy's Aunt Marguerite are so sharp I have to stay on my toes while others are "traveling" during the stories - but they too often surprise me when they let me know they followed the story and heard every word.

Tomorrow I will be teaching an after school art and story class for middle school students. Talk about challenges!

And I am preparing for two performances at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum this week-end.

Sometime I must run several loads of laundry.


Home from Kentucky

It was a great trip. Jim and I enjoyed every minute of it and I will write more later - with pictures. We did not walk in the house until after 11 pm and I am tired.

Driving back from the BWI airport we felt the difference in traffic immediately - it's heavy 24/7. We have thoroughly enjoyed driving on Interstates with fewer cars and on back roads with plenty of local color.

A quick summary of these five days:
*Wonderful quality time with our friend Ann in Paducah.

*New sights and experiences - from the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to finally visiting the National Quilt Museum in Paducah.

*Good stories told by fine storytellers.

* Telling my stories to new audiences - who welcomed me warmly and loved my stories.
A woman came up afterwaards - smiling big saying, " I loved it. I loved it." That's a great feeling.
* Notching another hospital on our belt - Lourdes Hospital in Paducah - after four days of dosing a cough and laryngitis with every home remedy in the book and stocking up on over-the counter cure-alls at Tenn and Ky pharmacies - Jim called a halt and said - its time for antibiotics. Or I would not be telling on Saturday.
Lourdes was great. Good doctor in the ER prescribed a "gorilla" to attack my "atypical infection" which he lovingly called the West Kentucky Crud. In all fairness - this started in Jonesboro, TN a week before with a killer sore-throat.
I have always wanted to go to Lourdes - but expected that trip to be to France not Kentucy. Hey, take the blessings and the cures where you find them.


Saturday - Touristing and Stories

We got an early start for a bit of touristing so that we could be back home in time for me to take a nap before I have to perform tonight at Grand Rivers. I was grateful for the nap-time. The antibiotic is helping but I have really been feeling lousy and coughing during the night does nothing for restful sleep.

First stop - a new recycling station set up in a barn like building that you drive through. They have it set up for maximum efficency - no holdinh up the line - I barely had time to catch a picture - or the noise.


We stopped to admire the monument figures at the point where Lewis and Clark are supposed to have crossed the Ohio River.

Then Jim and I toured the River Heritage museum
which is housed in the oldest building in Paducah. Interesting exhibits about the River, transport and industry, and about the devastating flood of 1937 when the Ohio overran its banks and inundated the town. After that they built the river wall.

Lunch - always take time to eat. Ann introduced us to her favorite barbecue stop. Take my word for it - very good barbecue and a real home-town flavor to the place.

After nap and a snack we set off for Grand Rivers. Tonight I needed to be early to gets settled, lighted and wired-up.

Highway 24 crosses the Tennessee River on the way to Grand Rivers.

I was driving when I saw the twin bridges coming up. There was no place to switch drivers so Jim agreed to try the video on my small digital. Oops, we forgot that the camera picks up sound too.

For the second night of the festival Kim had set up a three person line-up. Kaci Bolls, me, and Michael Reno Harrell.

Kaci is a Nashville singer and songwriter who was to perform for 20 minutes, leaving me 40 - 45 minutes to complete the opening half of the show. Michael Reno Harrell, also a singer-songwriter as well as a storyteller would complete the evening with an hour of songs and stories.

Before the show we settled into the performers' area backstage - which I loved. A sitting area and two dressing rooms - one for men and one for women and each had a private bathroom. I was delighted with having facilities so close-by. The sitting area gives performers a chance to visit as well as to relax.
You can see Michael settled comfortably under the life-size Elvis.

I really enjoyed the dressing room.
And the chance to visit with Kaci and ask her a bit about being a songwriter in Nashville, "Do you write from pain or sweetness?" It opened a chat about how sometimes the songs come from either place - initially more from pain and as you go on from a better, sweeter place. Not so different from storytelling. Later I pulled a stool into the wings so that I could enjoy her performance. A lovely young woman, she has a strong and good voice and her songs have something to say. She has what it takes and I hope she makes it in the music business. ( You can see and hear her for yourself on You Tube.)

Re: Ellouise's stories. When I walked out onto the stage I was relieved that I had asked for the lights to be adjusted so that I could see the faces in the first three rows and in spots on the side wings. "are you ready for stories?" They called back, "yes." I had decided to tell personal stories.

I opened with "The Wedding Dress" a story about a wedding dress I bought for my daughters in a thrift shop in California - a mother's mistake. People relate to the story - thrift shop shopping is common coast to coast and establishes a good bond. My second story, "The Tatooed Man", is a true story about a double amputee vet of the war in Iraq. This story was given to me in a doctor's office waiting room and I have hispermission to tell it. Its funny and touching. My third story, "The Dalmation Blurt", is really Jim's story and I like to introduce him and thank him for letting me tell it. Oh, its also my story - about my $550 blurt at a charity auction that could have cost a lot more than money except that Jim's forgiveness saved the day. The audience came with me in the stories - and that is such a great feeling.

Michael Reno Harrell is a stiking figure on stage with his flowing white hair. he tells stories of growing up in NC Appalachia as lead-ins for his songs. He has a fine voice and sure fingers on his C.F. Martin guitar. I loved hearing him talk about his guitar which had traveled the world playing at USO shows before he bought it.

Michael has an easy and informal style which captures the audience and brings them into his engaging stories. He took us from his early mountain boyhood home and a hair-raising bicycle ride in one story to freezing snow drifts in Boston in another and we all went with him willlingly.

On a personal note: I particularly enjoyed talking with Michael and his wife, Joan, when I discovered they have a strong Charlotte connection. Small world took over when Joan told me she had lived on Clement Avenue for many years - that's in my childhood neighborhood - one of those streets I usually re-visit when I go "home". Talking with them ignited many memories. For instance when he told me that the Visualite Theater is now a music place and he has performed there - I remembered that I had sung from that stage myself - when I was six years old - for one of those Saturday kid-talent radio programs which were popular in the 194os. Don't you love it? Meeting somebody from the old neighborhood across times and out of state.


Friday - Touristing and Stories

We started off the day in downtown Paducah - parking at the edge of the Ohio River facing the river wall. We took in the panels of the river wall which have been decorated with paintings of scenes drawn from local history.

We enjoyed a pleasant lunch at d. Starnes
which is located in an old semi-restored building - keeping exposed old-brick walls inside. I like that kind of thing. I decided to try the "home-made" pimento cheese sandwich and while I loved the sweet tea and the atmosphere the pimento cheese fell short. Too sweet to come close to Daddy's recipe. He always added a few grains of cayenne pepper and that makes a big difference.

We moved on to the National Quilt Museum which is located near the spot where Lewis and Clark crossed the Ohio River.

The Quilt Museum is housed in an architectually unimpressive brick building - but the building is not what one comes for. The prize - the collection - hangs on th walls of the quilt galleries. My friend Ann is a museum tour guide so there was "lots" for her to tell us about the quilts.
When I asked about quilts by several Maryland quilters that I know she explained that to protect the quilts the main galleries are changed frequently. It doesn't matter - you have come to see the "best" and you do - in all styles and patterns - hand quilted and machine quilted.

I was particularly taken with the works of Eleanor McCain. Her quilts are part of a special on-loan exhibition. Using variations on the 9-square pattern, altering scale and texture, she creates masterful works which keep you guessing as to how she worked out the geometry. They tease your eyes with her skillful placements of subtle color variations and value shifts. I pulled over a side chair and sat down in front of several so I could study them. Since seeing her works my fingers have been itching to try some 9-patches when I get home.

This evening we went to Badgett Playhouse
in Grand Rivers to catch the first evening of the storytelling festival and so I could check out the theater for my storytelling Saturday night.

This is the first time for Grand Rivers Storytelling Festival. People in the area are surprisingly new to storytelling so this is a challenge and an opportunity for grand Rivers Tourism to bring something new and special to the area. Grand Rivers is a water-resort community located at Land Between the Lakes, a very beautiful Park area on two lakes. It is close to Paducah and easily accessible to Nashville and other areas.

For this first Grand Rivers Storytelling producer Kim Kraemer wisely booked national storyteller Andy Offut Irwin to kick things off.

The evening program opened with a young music group from Nashville followed by seasoned Kentucky storyteller Mary Hamilton.
She began with a personal story followed by a well-crafted tall tale in which she wove three folktales to call out her Kentucky roots and her family. It was a tale well-told. I was delighted when I recognized the "split dog" in the center of the story. Since most people in the audience were new to storytelling I doubt they knew the "split dog" as an old traditional story often recast by storytellers. But for those of us who did know it, her skillful use of the tale added an extra level of appreciation.

Andy Offutt Irwin is known for his comedic talents and antics, spontaneous sounds and accomplished whistling. I had just enjoyed his two hour Midnight Cabaret in Jonesboro so I was looking foward to his set tonight.

And I did enjoy it - but I was surprised to connect with his stories in an unexpected way.

Irwin tells many of his stories about or through the voice of 87 year old Marguerite Chapman, MD, a cultured Georgia woman who is his aunt/persona. When he speaks as Marguerite his accent and the measure of his voice are spot-on and evoke memories of many southern women I have known and loved.

Andy O. Irwin is a humorist and through Marguerite he uses his skill with subtle humor to reveal and play with the vagaries of health and shiftings of wellness, the slippages, mental and physical, and life-losses faced by people who are aging - with degrees of grace. While you are laughing or smiling at/with Aunt Marguerite you are opening your heart to someone you know.

In my opinion Irwin's work is more than entertaining - it is important as a window into the world as it is for the aging. Let's face it people - we are all headed there - no matter how much our society tries to hide them from us. I appreciate that Andy handles the material with loving kindness - not slapstick and ridicule.

There are interviews on YOU TUBE now in which Ira Glass talks about storytelling and his belief that stories need to be more than funny, more than surface - that they need a moment of reflection if they are to satisfy the listener.

Andy Offutt Irwin satisfies.


Made it to Kentucky

Great weather here in Nashville and Paducah, KY.

Before Jim and I left Nashville we drove through downtown and then spent an enjoyable three hours at the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. So much of the early exhibits and recordings reminded me of my daddy - he loved the Grand Ole Opry - every Saturday night. Other names brought back memories, Eddie Arnold, Hank Williams, and Tennessee Ernie Ford - to name only a few. Glad we took the time for that trip down memory lane.

Easy drive over to Paducah. What traffic? compared to what we are used to in the Washington Metro area.

Spending time with our friend Ann who moved back to Paducah three years ago. More about that later.

Also better pay attention to stories - I am here to "work" a bit. But touristing is diverting and fun.



Pleasant trip from Baltimore on Southwest Air Lines this morning until the pilot announced, "we will pause service for a few minutes while we come down through these clouds - a little chop ahead." Flight attendnats strapped in and I clutched Jim's arm. I do hate that. And it was more than a bit of chop - it was a lot of bumping around - but we landed smoothly. Whew!

We are staying overnight at the Scarritt-Bennet Retreat Center because we wanted to see these buildings and do something a bit different. The collegiate gothic buildings are lovely grey stone built in 1928. This woman's college now serves as a retreat center. The rooms are plain and comfortable and the staff is friendly and welcoming. Our window looks out onto their in-ground labyrinth - nice. Also near-by a comfortable 1920s cottage has recently been converted to an art gallery - The Front Porch - Gallery F. The first show is an exhibition of feminist works by Nashville women artists. I enjoyed seeing the gallery and the art works. And, to top if off - a gracious former bedroom serves as a shop featuring appealing craft works by local artists at remarkable prices.

Scarrit Bennet is on the edge of Vanderbilt Campus - meaning there are many food-choices near-by and the vital presence of college undergrads.
This evening we were delighted to find ourselves easily close to downtown Nashville. We drove down for a good dinner at Demos and a taste of the music nightlife Nashville is famous for.

Its a brief taste of Nashville - a bit off the regular tourist route - but we have enjoyed it and would like to come back for a longer visit.

Tomorrow we move on to Paducah.

On another subject -

Our room has a tv
I asked for it.
And CNN pours forth gloom and doom on the Wall Street story.

I wasn't over-wrought until I heard about the additional money dump to AIG.
And, could I have heard this correctly
That after the first infusion of government (our) money - the company executives spend $400,000 on meals, spas and stuff for themselves.
They needed a massage while folks were losing their retirement funds. Poor babies.
Are they nuts.

Do they think the people - that's us - are stupid?

Are we?

sitsi visit.


Alongside the Stories in Jonesboro

An enterprising guy hung some enticing goodies on his front porch on the Main Street in Jonesboro. His location between the Creekside Tent and the 2nd Avenue Tent was heavily trafficed and I saw many hands reaching up to check a price tag or finger the fabrics. I spotted a brightly colored and beautiful silk long-sleeved over-shirt with a very nice price tag. I tried it on but - oops - a couple of sizes too small - the shirt not me. Since I have given up buying things I need to shrink to - he hung it back on the railing. When I walked by an hour later - it was gone. Someone else's lucky find.

I could not take my eyes off this altered jacket collar worn by the woman sitting in front of me in the Courthouse Tent on Sunday Morning.
"Did you do that?" Mary from Wisconsin was delighted to tell me how she selected the buttons, anchored them with Elmer's Glue, and sewed them on with her sewing machine. Now, that sewing machine bit is a feat to ponder. She let me take a picture so that I would not forget how to do it myself.
Just you wait. I have several jackets from the Concord, NC Salvation Army Store that will have a new life after their button treatment.

It is hard to quit Jonesboro for another year but I had better - as I need to get to my packing. Tomorrow morning Jim and I fly to Nashville and then drive to Paducah, KY for the Grand Rivers Storytelling Festival this week-end. I am excited about telling stories with Michael Reno Harrell - but I am also eager for my first visit to the National Quilt Museum in Paducah. I love stories but quilts run them a close second.

But then why not - quilts are full of stories, aren't they?


The Dog Left Scat on the Rug

Hey what's happening?

Stock market is tumbling,

Politicians are spending big bucks so we can watch them tossing dirt clods at each other
and my dog left scat* on the rug.

No fun, no uplift in this

I feel like running back to Jonesboro
Where there are stories
I want to hear.
Stories that make me feel good.

* I heard that scat word from storyteller Doug Elliott - its the word he uses during one of his nature stories about Dung Beetles - sounds so much more refined, don't you think.


Jonesboro - Day 4 and home

We left mid-day so that we could see the early morning story sessions. And have another chance to see Ben Haggerty, the wonderful teller from Great Britain. He told a wonderful rendition of "The Blue Deer" ( I am guessing at the title) a mythic tale with magic and shape-shifters - that ends as the origin of the "green man".

Excellent day for the drive and we shortened the trip comparing stories we had heard and talking about tellers, their skills and their tales. It was just the right way to close the week-end.


Jonesboro - Day 3

Another excellent day.


Kevin Kling - a full hour with his fine minnesota humor - he keeps you laughing, dalling out of your seat, to build you us s tat you're reading when he squeezes your heart.

Ben Haggarty - lives up to his reputation as Great Britain's finest teller - and shows us all the ART of telling a folktale.

Susan Minton - did catch a full hour od her talented humor and character observations. I am a new fan.

Elizabeth Ellis - at her finest.


Jonesboro Day 2

Jim and I started out early this morning but even so we ran into Virginia storytellers Ralph and Margaret Chatham on Main Street proudly sporting quite a collection of Jonesboro fabric swatches. Each one of those patches is an entry badge for a festival here - that represents lots of stories and great memories.

Jim and I hurried on to the Pancake house for breakfast. Housed in a 1920s bunglalow which is now the restaurant, the Pancake House serves good food cooked on order. " Its home cooking - served in an old home." the owner quipped. We ate hearty knowing that we had a busy day ahead. Today was our first shift as tent monitors - and we also knew it would be a long day - past midnight by the time we had seen Andy Offut Irwin's Midnight Cabaret.

Three story highlights:

Beth Horner - excellent teller using famly stories and genealogy - how have I missed her before.

Michael Reno Harrell : NC musician and storyteller, laid back style and wonderful voice. I will be telling with him nex week-end in KY so glad to preview his stories.

Minton Sparks: using words, images and movement to make spot on comments about life and people. Will be looking for more of her tomorrow,

Stories enriched by meeting people, catching up with internet friends and spending time with Donald and Letty Nance -
Donald and I go back as far as Elizabeth Elementary School in Charlotte, NC and about four years ago discovered that we share this love of stories and Jonesboro.


Jonesboro- Day 1

Crickett Parmalee arrived promptly at 5:30 am. Jim and I were stowing the last minute items in the car. We were only 5 minutes behind when we pulled up at Jane Dorfman's at 6:05 am. I am mentioning the times because it was a struggle to get up and going that early.

Leaving in the dark we welcomed the sunrise later as we drove down Highway 66 and then Highway 81 through the Shenandoah Valley. Lovely.

With four drivers an eight hour drive is easier. And good conversation shortens the trip. Our carpool to Jonesboro is now a welcome tradition.

Mandy, our Tom Tom voice, called out "you have reached your destination". Our first stop was the Visitors Center . First off Jim snapped a picture of me, Crickett and Jane to mark the start of this year's trip.
I bought the latest blue workshirt because I wear these shirts for telling stories and I also enjoy adding the new logo design every year.

After Jim and I dropped Jane and Crickett off at their lodgings we drove back down Main Street, parked, and set off on a walk through town. The first person we ran into was St. Louis Storyteller Mary Garrett.
It was great seeing her and a catch-up chat with Mary was a terrific way to start the week-end.

We three then meandered over to the "cabin" to check on a few things.
Almost immediately I noticed a woman at the counter who was wearing a marvelous hand-painted vest.
"Mary look at that vest."
"You definitely need a picture of that vest." I snapped one of the back. "Ellouise go ahead - ask her to let you take one from the front too. What's the harm."

I asked. The woman said yes. A we spoke she looked very familiar - but I was not sure who she was. " you look so familiar."
"My name is Adrian Lieberman." Ofcourse - we metseveral times last week-end in Williamsburg where her husband Syd was a featured teller. The tellers and spouses had even eaten meals together.
We connected. "Ah, yes." Then back to this splendid vest.
"Did you make your vest?"
"" No, actually, I found it in a thrift shop."
"I love that."
Mary piped up. "Don't you tell stories about thrift shop clothes, Ellouise?"
"yes I do - and now this gives me another bit for a story."
Thanks, Adrian. Thanks, Mary.
Reminder: if you want a story - ask for it.

As we left the cabin Mary stopped her friend Sherry Norfolk. As we chatted I remembered that Bobbie Norfolk, her husband, told me last week that she had written the wonderful Billy Goats Gruff Rap. I asked her about it. She hesitated and then said, " Well, I did not eactly write it - I dreamed it. I just woke uo one morning and it was all there so I wrote it down. Sometimes we tell it in tandem."
Wow - another insight into how storytellers come by stories - in their dreams.

Tonight Jim and I are going to the National Storytelling Network Story Concert. More about that later.

Written later:
Back from the NSN Concert:

Two highlights for me:
Barbara Freeman told a wonderful new story, The Perfect Heart, a very touching story about the power of love and caring. All the more impressive in that it was a first time telling. She opened saying - "this is my 37th festival, this is home, I should be able to take a risk at home." She did and it was good.

Bobby Norfolk is a class act. He told the Billy Goats Gruff Rap - an active, emotive tale, quick paced and delightful and during the telling found himself paired with a deaf interpreter who was also a miming comic. It was hilarious. Norfolk instead of being thrown by this unexpected competition on stage turned it into a partnering and worked with her comedic talents to to turn the story into a riotous hit which brought down the house.

Only one brief rough spot for me today - as we drove past the turn off to Highway 77 - and the arrow sign points to the exit for Charlotte - I thought of Mama. No use making this turn she's not there. A wave of heavy sadnessy rolled over me. I did not say anything until I told Jim about it later. " That's grief. Its normal. It has not been that long. Ellouise." Not long and yet too long.

I am grateful for stories and storytelling.


Busy Day -Topped off with Fine Stories

Grand evening of stories in Kensington. Linda Fang told classic Chinese stories to an audience that was transported by her telling. A magical evening.

Fine stories are a great way to start off our trip to Jonesboro tomorrow. Next time Linda and I see each other it will be in Jonesboro - in a tent or strolling through town.

Leaving the office for a few days means steady nit picking to tie up loose ends.

Number one on my list today was registering for the 2009 Rogue Festival. The application on the website went "live" at 3 PM EST. I was sitting in front of the computer monitor - at the ready. Its a first come first serve selection for the venues and I am hoping that I will be back at Ashtree Studio again this year. This will be my third year - wouldn't miss it.

Now - that I feel good from Linda Fang's stories I will watch the US Sente vote and hope the story ends as well fo the country on that score.