Life Happens: Tell A Story About It
We Are The Stories We Tell- A Collection of True Stories
My work as a playwright over the last two decades has been a humbling experience. As I listen to the amazing stories of the people I interview in communities all across the country, I remain in awe of the power of the human spirit. All of my plays are based on true stories from real, everyday people-- they are the ordinary people doing EXTRAORDINARY things. In this lens, I'll share a few of my favorite stories I've gathered over the years- both mine and those of others-- stories that surprised me, and made me see someone anew. I hope you find them as inspirational as I have.
Daddy had just gotten back from his third tour in Vietnam. I was five. We were out shopping at the commissary on base, near the airfield, so there's lots of air traffic. We're walking to our station wagon and a jet overhead breaks the sound barrier, BOOM! Being near the airfields, mom and I are used to it. We jump a little and laugh. But this is Daddy's second day back from the war. He was carrying a bag of groceries. We'd gotten fixings for hamburgers and hot dogs. Well, my dad hears the boom, tosses the bag to the ground and dives across the parking lot under a truck. Everything in the bag splatters everywhere. My dad is laying on the ground, belly down, yelling "Who's hit! Who's hit!". My mom starts rocking him back and forth like a baby.
I just remember standing in the parking lot, looking at this. Other soldiers coming out of the commissary pass by while all of this is going on. The thing I remember most, is that I was the only one surprised.
It gave me nightmares. I knew the world had monsters. I knew something spooked my father, at least, and if it could scare him, it must be pretty awful. I drew pictures of what this boogeyman might look like: long-nosed demons; wolfmen with blood on their teeth; creatures with fire and smoke circling around them. Then one day I found a picture in the trashcan. From when my dad was in Vietnam. it was a soldier, his buddy, wearing a necklace made out of ears. I don't have to draw pictures anymore. I know what the boogeyman looks like.
Remember...All of the stories on this lens are based on true life stories.
Video Story of BOOM
There are so many things you can do with a story, once you have taken the time to gather it. Here's an example of turning a story into a short movie. This one is about a minute long.
It was hard times and you didn't waste nothing. Feed and seed, even flour and meal came in soft bags. I'd make quilt linings out of them. Take the youngun's old clothes, cut into squares and piece 'em for the tops. You don't waste nothing. Goes for animals, too. I raised turkeys and geese. You know, you raise 'em to eat, but they have other uses. Lay eggs and grow feathers. I figure you can only eat a goose once. But you can get eggs and feathers a lot more'n that. See, geese take a long time to get big enough to feed my family. So I'd raise the geese through a couple seasons. She'd give eggs and feathers a few times before I'd finally roast her in the oven. Let me tell you, it ain't easy working feathers off a dead goose, but you should see me pluck her when she's still alive. I put her between my legs, put something over her mouth so she can't bite me, and then I commence to plucking. Every season there's another youngun that needs a pillow or a bed, so I gotta get the most use I can outta what I got, and them geese can grow feathers again. After I plucked her, she just ran around nekked for a couple weeks before she grew new ones. It didn't hurt 'em. Well it hurt 'em I guess. I'm pretty sure it hurt. It didn't kill 'em anyway. That would come soon enough.
An Amazing Thing Happened on This Lens...
A few weeks into publishing this, I noticed something wonderful. For some reason, readers were inspired by some of these true life stories, and began sharing their own experiences with me, telling me their own stories. I encourage you to take some time, and read the snippets from your Squidoo community neighbors in the Guestbook section at the end of this lens. They are quite touching. And I was honored to have them share their stories with me.
Nickels, Dimes and Dollars
Back in Lewisburg, Arkansas, Papa Charlie was the Ferry operator. People would come and call, "Need a ferry, Mr. Charlie, we need a ferry." He'd come out and carry them across. A penny a person, a nickel for a wagon. He never charged for people going to a funeral. One time he let someone cross, who didn't have a nickel. "Forget about it", Papa says. "Pay me when you can." 50 years later, this man came to my house and had a dollar, and said, "That's my nickel plus interest, because you're daddy let me cross."
It wasn't the nickel he was paying back. It was the kindness. Paid back twenty times over. I remember when he brought it to the door, how he held it out to me. And he said it still wasn't enough. "If I gave you ten dollars, or twenty or a hundred. No matter how many nickels I have to my name, none of them would ever add up to one act of kindness. And I want you to know that."
When he brought that dollar, it reminded me of a story of my own, from when I was a little girl. Papa Charlie and Mama did everything they could to give my sister and me a good Christmas. We didn't have a lot during the year, but Christmas was always something a little special. They would get us something from town, In Morroillton, to make it extra special. Now, Lewisburg in the 1930's was very off the beaten path. There was no path unless you beat it yourself, so going to Morrilton was an all day trip. You couldn't just drive to town like you do today. And my mother couldn't really buy Christmas presents like you think of today. First, we didn't have money. Then, we didn't have a way back and forth.
When my sister and I were seven and eight, I remember they got my little sister a china doll. They were saving money for another china doll for me. They finally had enough money, but they couldn't find a way to get to town to buy it in time for Christmas. Mama decided she'd put the money she saved inside of a walnut. She boxed it up really pretty, painted the shell, and put the dimes inside to surprise me. And that was my gift. A walnut shell. When my sister got a china doll. Well, I pitched a fit. I took the walnut and threw it, and those dimes rolled all over the floor. Mama cried while she picked up the dimes. I wanted her to feel bad. She spoiled my Christmas.
Some time later, I think it was summertime, Papa had just carried someone across on the ferry, and asked me to put the money in the box. It was a penny. Remember, I told you, it was a penny a person. I put the penny in the box, and next to it, was the walnut, with the dimes inside. For the first time, I opened it up and counted, and there were 13 dimes. A hundred and thirty times my Papa carried someone across the river. And I realized what I had done.
I think about that man, who brought the dollar. How he said he didn't have enough nickels to pay back an act of kindness. If you can't pay for an act of kindness, how can you ever pay for an act of meanness?
I Am Honored That This Lens Received The Purple Star Award in August 2011. Thank You So Much To The Squidoo Team For Your Encouragement.
Your Own Life Stories
In this age of high-tech, we have so many opportunities to gather our family stories and pass down their legacy to the next generation-- books, digital recorders, video recorders. The opportunities are many- but are you taking advantage of them? This coming holiday season, try pulling out a tape recorder, or even a pen and paper, and ask your parents and grand parents to tell you a story about when they were growing up. Your grandchildren and future grandchildren will thank you.
Have You Started Gathering Your Family's Stories Yet?
Now In Print! - Available in e-download and Soft Cover
- How To Collect Your Community's Story
This book, which started out as a Squidoo lens, has proven to be an effecctive tool for communities, families, and organizations, as they begin to gather their stories. This full color, hands-on-guide, details how to go about gathering stories, how
For the Stories of Your Life
I go through lots of journals each year, filling them with the memories of other people. My favorite are the ones without lines. For my projects, I use digital recorders. No more worries about breaking or storing tapes. If you feel inspired to go gather stories, I highly recommend these tools.
Want To Learn How To Gather Your Family Or Community's Story? - These Folks Have Been Teaching This For Over 20 years
Whether it is for an entire community, a class reunion, a business organization or a family, Community Performance, International are the experts in helping any group uncover the story gems hidden within. Check out their site if you've got questions about starting a story-gathering effort of your own.
- Community Performance International
Story. It's What We Do.
Note To Self...
(1) remember to ask mom about what life was like when she was little
(2) ask dad about his time in the war
(3) get Ruby's beer bread recipe. ask her who she got it from
(4) remind everyone to ASK SOMEONE for their story.
Do you have a story you would like to share? Is there a story that gets told at all of your family gatherings? I'd love to hear them.