Sunday, October 05, 2014

Saturday at Jonesborough

The day started with another gourmet breakfast at Storybrook Farm. John cooked three skillets of his German Pancake Souffle. It was served with huge hunks of sausage, honey laced Greek yogurt, fresh strawberries, peach/raspberry compote, apple compote, orange juice, coffee and tea. All 13 guests sat around a common table enjoying each others stories as we ate and John, Diane, and Brittany served us.

Sheila and I drove down to the White House (not THAT one!) where we park and then walked to the Courthouse Tent where Corinne Stavish was the emcee. She introduced the tall, red-haired Sue O'Halloren. It was no surprise that this American woman spoke of herself as an Irish Catholic. She certainly looks the part. "I was raised Irish," she declared, "That means I was raised on food boiled beyond taste." And the Irish of course are singers. "There is no grief so deep the irish can't sing their way out of it."

Sue's announced first her "Grandma's Story". It was a tale of how Sue explored and discovered the reasons that her grandmother had not wanted to come to America. That exploration took her to the "Old Country" to find her Gainer family. She eventually found herself sitting with her cousin and his wife to talk of family. "I'm told they were speaking English." She learned that her very young grandmother was a very last minute substitute on board the ship to America because her older sister had taken ill. And she was brought to tears to gaze on the hills and sea that her grandmother must have envisioned when she talked of the "Old Country." What a miserable and frightening time she must have experienced below decks on that voyage to an unknown land as a young teen.

Sue led us in singing a couple of Irish songs, admitting, "I sing in the key of see: I open my mouth and see what comes out."

She finished up talking about her experiences during the days after the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the ways our fears allowed us to mistreat of fellow Americans of Islamic faith or even others who were/are sometimes mistaken for Muslims. She came to realize that we white, Christian, Americans were not stigmatized by the actions of a Timothy McVeigh.

Perhaps the highlight of the festival for us this day was the next hour with Kevin Kling. He is storytelling's Robin Williams. Brilliant, rapid-fire, thoughtful and hilarious simultaneously. His stories this day are hard to put on paper. He talked of his taxidermy hobby, which made me think of the brilliant Theodore Roosevelt who kept a natural history collection in his homes and even his dorm room. But I doubt Teddy ever arranged a quartet of squirrels around a table playing cards.

Kevin Kling: "Our lives are stories, not syllogisms."

Quoting a bait shop sign: "Our minnows are guaranteed to catch fish or die trying."

"Ice fishing equals sitting around practicing for when we get old. When we get old it just means sitting around."

After Kevin's set we dashed over to take in Kate Campbell's hour at the Creekside Tent. We'd heard she's great. We liked her, though it was more a musical concert than a storytelling. She tried to expand her reading from Welty and O'Conner to Faulkner, but had a hard time with him. She did find a favorite sentence though and after much effort managed a song with it: "I'm going out into the free world and farm." She wrote another song about the janitor at her father's Baptist church, Delmas Jackson. She told the story of integration in the song: Crazy in Alabama". She was commissioned to write a song inspired by To Kill A Mockingbird and after procrastination and unexpected tears on rereading the book, came up with"Sorrow Free". Her final song was funny but, oh, so true: "Funeral Food". "We sure eat good when someone dies."

Now I rushed to the Library Tent which was completely filled in anticipation of Bil Lepp. I managed to find two single empty chairs on adjacent rows and soon Sheila found me and we dug into soup and sandwiches she had purchased at a church food booth.

Taking on the emcee, Michael Reno Harrell, Bil claimed they had had to remove a tree with the only saw Michael Reno had that worked, a table saw. By the time they'd finished the job the tree had regrown.

But the story was "My Worst Christmas Ever". His Dad's claim that Rudolph had licked the back of his head causing his bald spot put Bil in fear for Rudolph's life, and by extension made his fearful about his own Christmas projects. Besides that a neighbor had declared that if Jimmy Carter were elected President the whole nation was headed straight for Hell. Under that scenario he figured Canada and Mexico would let go of the US and we'd all be in the fiery pit before Christmas anyway. And on top of that his parents had promised the excited pre-school Bil a trip to see Elephant Gerald. But there turned out to be no elephant at all, just a jazz singer. (Ella Fitzgerald).
Bil noted that Christians seem to be the only religion that decorates. "I never see a 12 foot inflatable Buddha or Menorah!"

He finished up with the hilarious railroad tall tale with which he won the West Virginia Liars Contest, a title he won five times.

Sheila and I actally skipped the 4:00 pm session and napped for an hour then headed back to the Creekside Tent to hear Story Slam competition. The six stories were good I admit, though I am still nursing the wounds of having been passed over in the auditions for these six folk. (Just kidding... sort of.) We agreed with the judges that Robin Shulte deserved the win for her tale of a frightening late night experience in a rest-stop toilet.

We went back to the B&B for the supper break and found hot delicious chocolate chip cookies and hot cider. Yum.

We chose the Library Tent again to close out the evening with a session of three tellers. It was labeled "Lighten Up".

Kevin Kling told first about the visit from his wife's cousin from --- was it the Netherlands? Anyway he was armed with a pamphlet titled "Why Americans Act That Way". At the state fair the obnoxious "Dunking Clown" soon inspired international cooperation as the three joined forces to dunk him. "That clown would get get Ghandhi to throw the ball!"

He ended up with a wonderfully moving story about "My Left Arm". Kevin has always had a misformed left arm, but a few years ago a motorcycle accident made his right arm unusable. Now the four-fingered left must do all the work. In a group with others with disabilities the group was asked if they'd take a pill that removed their disability, if such a pill existed. Kevin was the only one who said he would.
A joint effort by his disabled friends was so unified, so courageous, so beautiful that, for that moment at least, "there is no way I would have taken the pill."

Sue O'Halloren told the inspiring story of her own battle with breast cancer in a story titled, "What is Sexy?" I was so glued to this emotional story I took virtually no notes. It was wonderful. She started with the story that all of us can empathize with as she remembered her fears and insecurities of puberty as she waited to "develop".  Then in young middle age finding herself having a "Bye Bye Booby Party" before her mastectomy. She went through a second painful waiting time as she waited for treatments and her own emotions and the love and help of friends to allow her to develop wholeness  again.

Bil Lepp spun a complicated yarn about his friend Skeeter, his (younger) uncle, and himself surviving a corn maze, but more significantly their imaginations. And a second story involving summer camp, his fellow counselors (Suie, Kevin, & emcee Ed Stivender) and three skunks. Two more championship fibs from the champ!

One more day. I wonder what breakfast will bring? And what stories we'll hear.

1 comment:

  1. Christian, Americans were not stigmatized by the actions of a Timothy McVeigh. Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian. He testified that he was not a Christian and would not even let a Christian pastor come in and pray for him when he was executed.