People are beginning to talk

Sunday, May 27, 2007
Tyrades Danny Tyree

Is a dying art form showing signs of life?

Storytelling seemed to be consigned to the long-ago days of farmers sitting around the general store potbellied stove, gabbing about furtive moonshiners, hornswoggled tourists, and legendary tomatoes.

But the Giles County Library and Martin Methodist College have launched a series of county-wide storytelling events designed to draw storytellers and listeners from across the country.(The next event is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 14, in front of the Giles County Courthouse in Pulaski.)

Many forces have conspired against the storytelling tradition..For one thing, society has gotten soft and lacks the substantive topics of years past.Once a storyteller might have told about "how Pappy caught cholera coming through the Cumberland Gap in search of land he could clear for a homestead."That just seems to have more pizzazz than "I caught part of a podcast while coming through the McDonalds drive-through in search of a Wi-Fi hot spot."

(Of course good material is only one of the ingredients. Presentation counts as well. My late Uncle Tom lived a rich, full life, but he was so enamored of his own jokes that he would break into gasping, wheezing laughter halfway through and obscure the punchline.One was never sure whether to react to one of his anecdotes with "Ha ha!Those zany mules: you just gotta love 'em!" or "For the love of Mike!What's keeping those paramedics?")

The conciseness of text messages and the organization of PowerPoint presentations leave little room for the meandering stories of yore.You know, the ones that grow with the telling, like "So the College of Cardinals, the B'nai B'rith, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir go into a barů"

Let's face it: we also have a shortage of good listeners. With wide-screen TVs, video games, cell phones, and iPods, it's hard for a speaker to get a word in edgewise.I shudder to think what sort of patched-together oral histories will be passed down through the generations.A tender story of family origins might become "Impoverished sophomore Melvin gave his last morsel of food to Matilda, looked into her eyes-- He shoots! He scores! -- and thus begins the story of the Henderson clan."

I, myself, am a good listener when son Gideon is concerned.I pay rapt attention to his whoppers of aliens, dinosaurs, and super-heroes.I listen because (a) kids are at this cute stage such a short time, (b) such imagination should be encouraged, and (c) if I'm wrapped up enough in the narrative, my wife won't realize that I smelled the poopy Pull-Ups five minutes before she did.

I'm glad that Giles County plans storytelling workshops and contests in the schools.I just wish that my late Uncle Bill could've conducted a workshop.He used to keep me and my brother spellbound and slack-jawed with his lurid accounts of his Army exploits.We had been warned about bovine excrement in the pasture, but not in the dining room, so we didn't question his accounts of ripping off the ear of a soldier who broke line or pinning another G.I.'s hand to the table with a fork because he stole food.

Yes, Uncle Bill was indeed a man who had kissed the Blarney Stone.Probably right before he used it to bludgeon six MPs and a second lieutenant.