Tag: storytelling

Rainbows of Gray

ocean breaking on huge, jagged rocks

When her daddy refuses to let her return for the last three years of her full-ride scholarship to The Piano Conservatory saying sternly, “Women need a husband not an education – especially an education in playing the piano,” my grandmother agrees to marry Granddaddy who agrees to let her keep her piano. When we are old enough, Grandmother teaches each one of her grandchildren to play the piano. On our assigned day, Granddaddy picks us up after school in his white and gray Ford F-150 and takes us to their house where he treats it to Co’ Colas (in the small bottle, of course, because they taste better) and ‘cream (vanilla ice cream) before our lesson.

From small bottles of soft drink, I learn about forming  relationships over food.

”We weren’t allowed to buy soft drinks at the local store,” he tells me, “but there was one shop owner in town who would sell us a case if nobody was looking. His delivery boy had to carry them to the car, though. We couldn’t risk being seen toting a wooden case of Co’ Colas out of his store because black people didn’t buy enough groceries to keep him in business and white folks, if they saw him selling Co’ Colas to us, would stop shopping there.”

From small bottles of soft drink, he learns about discrimination.

~~~~~~~

”Which bus do I ride home?” the seven-year-old me asks Mother as she drops me off on the first day of second grade.

”Just ride the bus you rode last year,” she tells me, and I do, waking up just as Mr. Dan Phillips pulls the snub-nosed, rounded bus #5 into his barn at the end of his route.

”Mr. Phillips,” I say as he turns the silver upright handle to open the door and let himself out, “am I spending the night with you?”

”Where did you come from Jeanne?” he asks.

I point to the third seat on the row behind him, still rubbing my eyes awake.

”C’mon,” he tells me, chuckling softly. “I’ll take you home.”

”She was sound asleep,” he tells my mother, and she’s so short, I couldn’t see her in the rear view mirror. The routes changed this year. She needs to take bus #2 home now, Robert Storey’s bus.”

From riding a school bus, I learn to ask for help.

As a fourteen year old, he drives a school bus, stretching to make himself big enough to reach the pedals and shift the gears. “We didn’t usually have enough gas to get us through the entire week,” he tells me, “so Friday afternoon I had to zig-zag back and forth across the road to slosh what little gas was still in the tank to keep the engine running and get us all home.”

From driving a school bus, he learns resourcefulness.

~~~~~~~

Harriett Dean, mother of my best friend Dianna, takes us swimming at Lake Spivey. Harriett Dean spreads out a towel and settles herself with a good book while Dianna and I run to the water. Quickly tiring of the pick-up game of Marco Polo and knowing it is too early to get the inevitable grape snow-cone, Dianna gets out of the lake, climbs onto the concrete block wall, grabs her nose, and leaps feet first into the water.

The smile that wraps around her face as she comes to the surface, shaking the excess water from her curls-from-a-box hair tells me this is some fun I want to have, too. I hoist myself up on the wall, walk out to where I think Dianna jumped from, and leap. When I come to the surface, I’m too far out in the dreaded deep end. My feet can’t find the bottom, and every time I try to yell for help, my mouth fills with water leaving no  room for sound. Dianna is making her way back out of the lake for another jump. Harriett Dean is laying face down on the towel now, tanning her back. Nobody else knows or notices me. I am going to drown, and I’m not even sure how they’ll find me because this is a lake, not a swimming pool.

Eventually I dog paddle my way to the shallow end. I will need a nap, but I will live.

From swimming, I learn that just because my friend friend can do something doesn’t mean I can do it, too..

They were to jump from the 40-foot platform because that’s roughly the same distance to the pool as the ship’s deck is to the ocean. He wasn’t afraid because he knew how to swim – his mama made sure of that – but he was puzzled when the Navy survival course instructor barked, “Black people can’t swim, so those of you who can swim form a line over here, and those who can’t swim, fall in behind the two black boys.”

Surprised to learn that black people can’t swim – something he’s been doing his whole life – he watches as self-declared non-swimmers fall in line behind him while his friend Austin, the only other black man within sight, takes a place at the front of the Can Swim Line. One man jumps in, comes to the surface, and swims to the side of the pool. Another does the same, and now it’s Austin’s turn. Austin leaps into the water easy enough, but he goes straight to the bottom and stays there. “We have a rock,” the instructor calls out before he and his assistant dive in to pull Austin to the surface.

Sputtering and coughing as one is wont to do after spending unplanned time under water. Austin catches his breath, looks up at the instructor, and asks wryly, “Which one did you say is the line for those who can’t swim?”

From a swimming training session, he learns stereotyping.

~~~~~~~

Excerpts of stories from the memory banks of two people – a black man and a white woman who are roughly the same age and who grew up not too far from each other. I learned a lot about racism, racial inequality, and the power of listening and bearing witness that story-swapping afternoon.

I asked which term I should use: desegregation or integration. He prefers desegregation. Why?  Because desegregation brought us together, allowing black to keep their own culture and community. Integration implies they must lose their culture for us to live side by side.

It was the best conversation about race, racism, racial inequality, segregation, and integration I’ve ever had. It happened with a stranger, and it happened because it was true conversation – no attempt or need to convert; no accusations and anger; no finger wagging. Just good old-fashioned back-and-forth conversation, complete with deep listening, bearing witness, and asking questions that rose from a place of curiosity, of sincerely wanting to know more. Chalk one up to the reaffirmation of the  power and value of storytelling and good old-fashioned conversation.

108

Her 108th drawing:

5 108 4 erased

My 108th stitching:

108collage1

Day 2 of the Storytelling Festival started with a car pulling into the parking space right beside us. “Hey,” called out the smiling woman driving, “didn’t we park next to y’all yesterday, too?” They did. How’s that for a needle in the haystack moment?

I didn’t sleep so good last night, and during one of the many wake ups that punctuated the night, I hatched an idea. An idea that pulls together several things I love. I’ll tell you more later, but listen: after we parked and made our way to the bus, I spied a man’s work glove. Husband was kinda’ channeling his dad this morning, so I just bent over, moved the glove from the road to the sidewalk, then kept going. But as we waited in line for the bus to arrive and ferry us over to the storytelling festival, that glove called out to me, saying “Hey, remember your idea? I’m where you start.” And nothing would do but to run back (and I mean run because we were third in line, the bus was coming, and remember – hubs was already not in the best mood), pick up that glove, and tuck it in my pocketbook. We didn’t lose our place in line, and I smiled all day thinking about that special find, reaching in and patting it every now and then. Found some other objects during the day, too, as you can see in the photo. It was a good day for found object loot. There’s a story in these objects – you know there is – and it’s already brewing. Hey, take a close look at that turning leaf – do you see the face? Here’s another shot:

Leaf1

~~~~~~~~~

She is my developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy,
and I am Jeanne, the woman who flat-out loves her.
Go here to start at the beginning and read your way current.
And pssst: there’s a pinterest board, too.

107

First, she draws:

5 107 1 erased

Then I stitch:

107b

If you like stories, take a few minutes to trot over here and help yourself. We’re at the storytelling festival this weekend. I bought myself a thimble for this year’s souvenir – an old, well-used, dented, and tarnished thimble. Seems about right.

Thimble2

~~~~~~~~~

She is my developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy,
and I am Jeanne, the woman who flat-out loves her.
Go here to start at the beginning and read your way current.
And pssst: there’s a pinterest board, too.

stories, stories, everywhere and not a need for drink

Tentop1

Their father was strict – oh my goodness gracious, he was strict. He worked in a garage, and that’s probably why he wouldn’t let them wear shorts outside the house. Fortunately for the older sister, you could set a clock by her father, so in the summer she could lay out in the sun in her swimsuit and still make it inside, change, and be presentable and ready for supper when her daddy got home. They had an aunt named Mary (but everybody called her Aunt Mert cause they all had nicknames. Their Uncle Howard was called Paps. See, I told you: everybody had nicknames.) Aunt Mert was a mess. I mean that woman was a mischief maker. Once, when she was a teenager, Mert’s mother and grandmother dropped her off at church, and as soon as their car rounded the corner, Aunt Mert hopped in her friend’s car and off they went. But tragedy struck: the car wrecked. Flipped over, I’m telling you, and without even slowing down to check on anybody, Aunt Mert scooted on back up to the house where she was when her Mother and Grandmother got in from church. “Goodness gracious,” the grandmother said, “such a wreck you’ve never seen. Those poor young people flipped their new car. What a mess they left all over the road.” “Well, I hope none of them got hurt too bad,” Aunt Mert said. And I want you to know that the mother and grandmother never found out Mert was a passenger in that car.

Door1

Her first house cost $1600. Didn’t have an indoor bathroom, so they saved their money and took up part of the kitchen to build a bathroom. It was her mother’s idea. Her mother was real stupid until this woman got married, then her mother turned smart again.

Clock1

They came down umpteen years ago – 27 or 28 as they recollect – with a couple who they were friends with at that time. The couple moved from Connecticut to Charlotte, NC. After settling into their new home in Charlotte, the friends called one day. “Y’all want to come down and go to the storytelling festival with us?” The husband thought that was the most ridiculous thing he ever heard, so they declined. The next year, the friends called again: “Y’all want to go with us to the storytelling festival?” and this time the couple couldn’t think of a good excuse, so down they trotted from Connecticut to Charlotte where they loaded into one car and came over to the festival. That was either 27 or 28 years ago. Neither one can really remember. (This year the Charlotte couple is in Croatia and are appalled that the folks from Connecticut came to the storytelling festival without them.)

Corn

“Can you hear from back here?” she asked as she sat down next to me. “If they’ll be quiet,” I said, nodding to the two men sitting behind us. “If they make too much noise, we’ll just slap ’em,” a solution that seemed to tickle her. Turns out she’s the wife and grandmother of the men sitting behind us, so you might say that we hit it off right from the start. Her husband is named Brick, named after his Uncle Brick who grew up in Mississippi, two houses down from Tennessee Williams. By all accounts, Tennessee Williams was rather effeminate, and it doesn’t take a great store of imagination to know that made Tennessee a likely target for a fella named Brick. But then Tennessee grew up and wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. With a character named and modeled after, you guessed it: Brick. That very childhood nemesis.

Steeple

Musicians accompany themselves and sing on the sidewalks. Streets are closed. Schools declare today a holiday and rent out their lots and buses. Churches open their doors and sell you soup, sandwich, desserts, beverage, cornbread, and crackers – all you can eat – for $7/person. For three full (and I do mean FULL) days, stories are told under big tents set up all over Jonesborough, Tennessee. The air is filled with stories, and not all of ’em are told on stage . . .

Pumpkin2

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