National Story Telling, Festival Day 1

By Karen

I am writing about my first day at the National Story Telling Festival on battery power by flashlight, firelight and moonlight at my campsite picnic table beside the Nolichucky River in Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park. We chose this campground because it is closest to the festival, but the whitewater view out our tent window doesn’t hurt!

We started our morning by sleeping through the alarm, but we we able to get out nearly on time regardless. As we drove to our first day of story telling I was looking forward to hearing Kathryn Tucker Windham. She is the only story teller I was previously familiar with. I heard her tell ghost stories at Calico Fort, an art festival in Fort Deposit, AL when I was a child.

As we drove along the road into Jonesborough we passed a man driving a red truck. He was wearing a straw hat and eating what looked like a breakfast biscuit. He pinched off a piece for his dog, a happy, energetic mutt. After they were done eating he sped up a little and then he passed us. It was easy to appreciate small things like this and the mountain view with faint fog lifting over the river as we eased on in to town. We were glad that we had arrived early to check things out the day before, but the crowds were well managed not so bad as I feared. The streets were closed to vehicle traffic and open to walkers, official golf carts and handicapped scooters. Around every corner there was a beautiful home or church and a bake sale.

I enjoyed every story teller that I heard today, but of course I enjoyed the one teller I already knew the most, Kathryn Tucker Windham. A story, like a song, is better once you know what inspires it well. Mrs. Windham tells stories of a south where I grew up. She has known it longer. Her small town and her small town church were smaller than mine (a rare thing), but the sound was familiar just the same. Today she told a story of growing up in her church and the way she amused herself while sitting through sermons. It really took me back. I remember the musings that I wandered through as a child only half aware of the sermon. There were many similarities. We both knew a pair of sisters. In her church both were hard of hearing. In mine only one. We both knew who would sleep through the sermon. It is good to go home every now and then, and good to go with someone who’s been there in spirit.

For lunch we went a little further than most places, we walked a block away and up a hill to have soup and cornbread with homemade dessert at the Mustard Seed Meeting House. It was a delicious and friendly break.

This was the first time that I enjoyed story telling as a large scale formal performance and the event does cause one to explore the importance and value of story telling, as an art, as therapy as song, as history and culture. It is a defining part of our lives. My father is the primary teller in our family. He can get so excited that the tears roll down his face while he leads the room in laughter. Family stories remind us who we are. I think that story telling is where Russ’ Alabama family culture and mine overlap in the most comfortable of ways. Today was a pleasant new experience and a trip home at the same time. I look forward to the rest of the weekend.

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