Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tell Me a Story . . .

Annalon Gilbreath as "Sally Scull"
Storytelling has become almost a lost art in our culture, but thanks to a number of committed people who know the value of a good tale, it has made a revival in recent years.

Even in Jesus’ time, stories were an important method of communication. When people asked him questions, he often answered with a story. It was how he got his point across, sometimes with a cryptic story that was lost on those who were not seriously seeking answers.

Through the centuries, numerous cultures in the world have preserved their sense of history by telling stories. Whether you call it folklore, ancient legends, or tall tales, everyone seems to love a good story.

I was born and raised into a family that knew about stories. There was no chance I would grow up not loving to hear family tales because both of my parents came from families that appreciated a good yarn.

My mother’s sister was their family historian, and her memory served her well as she recounted the family stories that had been passed down from her dad. She could really get into a good fairy tale too, complete with facial expressions and voice changes. When I was very small, I often stayed with her and would beg for stories. Being a former elementary teacher, she loved entertaining my young mind with fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Two of my favorites were “the Three Billy Goats Gruff” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Whether she was the quaking voice of the goats, fearful of the troll under the bridge, or made the booming voice of the Giant who chased Jack down the beanstalk, she made my little heart beat faster and I would shiver in fear . . . but would ask for those same stories again and again. She loved to tell in later years how she would promise me a story before my nap, and my eyelids would be drooping in sleep as the story ended. She would start to tiptoe out of the room and my eyes would pop open and I would say, “Tell me another ‘tory!”

My father came from a family of eight children and whenever they came together, we always heard the accounts of their escapades as children. Daddy and each of his siblings loved to tell their stories, and as children we all knew most of them by heart. They told many of the same ones over and over when they were together: setting the stage, building up the suspense, leaning forward on their knees as they neared the punch line or climax of the tale (eyes glistening with humor), and we all sat breathless, waiting. We knew the way the story ended; no surprises there. Yet we listened to it each time with fresh ears, allowing our minds to be led down the familiar trail as they set the story up yet one more time. I remember knowing the punch line and waiting expectantly to hear it once again, and all of us falling out laughing as if we had never heard it before. So valuable, to grow up in the home of a storyteller! Perhaps it is why I write; I love a good story, and can’t wait to make up more of my own and share them with other people. It is my way of giving something I think is valuable for others to enjoy.

Just last week, I was privileged to hear a professional storyteller give a first-person historical account of the life of Sally Scull. Annalon Gilbreath of Lubbock, Texas came to our gathering in period costume, with the Texas accent of her character flowing from her mouth, and her gestures and posture making the character believable. I found myself so caught up in the story that I actually believed she WAS Sally Scull.

Annalon, herself a former Midland school teacher, portrayed Sally’s years in Texas as a hard-headed, pistol-packing woman on the Texas frontier. Born in 1817 in Illinois, Sally moved with her family to Texas in 1823 and fearlessly faced all the trials and agonies of living a frontier life. History books would probably not paint such a charming picture of Sally, who married and divorced several Texas men, and killed (or at least threatened) anyone who got in her way. She was hard-wired to manage and control her own affairs with dogged determination, which was probably one reason why all her marriages failed so miserably. Yet Annalon brought to light not only the hardened tough woman Sally had become, but gave us a glimpse into her life that made me unable to feel anything but compassion and even amusement at her character.

I am grateful for people like Annalon, who know how to tell a good story. I loved her depiction of Sally Scull, and her ability to teach, amuse, and give us perspective on what life might have been like in another period of our history.

What is your story? We all have a story telling where we have been, what we have done, what we remember, and the people and events that have influenced us. I encourage you not to keep that inside yourself, hidden away. When the opportunity arises, tell your story to a child or grandchild. Recount things you remember that might be of value to someone else. Our stories help define us, and they are also part of our legacy. What we leave behind to future generations is bound up in our stories. Tell yours.