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.
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.
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.)
“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.
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 . . .