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Rural reminiscence: Passing down the art of storytelling

By P.D. Dickinson
Storytelling was once one of the best non-physical activities to do on the farm. Some stories were funny, some were scary, some were fantasy and others were suspenseful mysteries. Any and every kind of story imaginable was told and welcomed.
Most of the stories were passed down from generation to generation. Many we’d heard before, but the narrators were so good at their craft that we loved hearing them over and over.
Once in a while, someone would come up with a new one. It would then be added to my mental list to be requested time and time again, like all the rest.
At bedtime, it was great to hear the old classic tales from the Grimm Brothers or any of the old storybooks. The real fun was to hear the anecdotes that had been passed down to our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, or to hear stories about escapades of their youth. Each storyteller had their own special renditions and ways of telling the story that made them unique.
In cold or stormy weather, we would gather indoors with friends and family around a warm stove or blazing fire in the hearth. Bowls of warm, buttered popcorn were passed around, and everyone would sit intent on the person telling the story — Of course, we made sure the storyteller got their share of popcorn too. It was important to take good care of your orator otherwise they might not want to continue with the telling.
Just as people have favorite genres in TV or movies today, different storytellers had favorite types of stories to tell. For example, my paternal grandmother was a small, quiet, proper-acting lady. From her looks and demeanor you wouldn’t think she could tell some of the most gruesome and hair-raising tales you ever heard. They actually gave me nightmares and troubling visions in my young mind for days after hearing them. Not to be rude, but usually when she told her scary stories, I found a way to be occupied in the kitchen with my mother helping to make popcorn or some other treats. I much preferred when our storytellers were telling funny, adventurous, mysterious or fantastical stories.
It was so much fun to watch each narrator add their own facial, voice and body expressions to the stories. There would be widened or narrowed eyes. Sometimes they would use surprised, scared or sneaky faces. At other times, they would actually get up and act out the movements of the characters. Everything they did pulled you in and got you totally involved. Their words and actions helped you see in your own mind the story being played out like a movie.
These tricks of storytelling surely rubbed off on us as we listened. Some of us, as we grew to adulthood, became talented storytellers ourselves. We still rely on the art of verbal storytelling rather than putting the stories into written form, but I shudder to think of how many wonderful stories are lost because no one ever wrote them down. I wish I had the foresight, when I was a child, to write down the stories we were blessed with in all those verbal storytellings.

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