My mind and heart are full tonight, and it is hard to know where to begin telling this story.
I'll start with yesterday at the alternative high school. The students there are either transitional (have had some problems with the law or other issues) or alternative (attending because they prefer the smaller classes or because it fits better with their lives in other respects). I knew going in that there were some troubled teens here, and that there could be issues. I could not wait to meet these kids.
Group one was middle school age kids and one of the possibly troublesome groups. There were about a dozen students in the group. I kept the session informal with lots of interaction and opportunity for them to tell me stories. And stories I heard! There were some that I want to research further, and some that spoke of a longing for home and family. There were no problems at all; it was a time of give and take and just telling stories.
Group two was an alternative group, and again we shared stories and they listened respectfully. This group seemed particularly intrigued with the story of how my parents met during World War II. It would have been my Dad's 90th birthday, so it was nice to know his story resonated with these young people.
Group three was another transitional group, and afterwards I learned that these children were the ones most likely to cause problems. There were none; not a word or action out of place as they listened. I heard stories from them too--of a haunted church, a haunted hollow, and one that really touched my heart from a hearing-impaired student who told her story through her interpreter of messages from a deceased former interpreter. There were tears in this student's eyes as the story was told; I wish so much that there had been time for me to talk with her afterwards.
The last group were the oldest students, alternative students who chose this school for various reasons. Again there was some anticipation of potential disinterest, but once again what I found was a group of listening, interested young people who were into the stories.
And the ballads! As I began each program I told them about my granddaughter Cassie who, as a little girl, sometimes sang along with me on these old songs, and who liked listening to them. Cassie, as long-time readers here know, has gone on to a career in music, writing her own songs, producing a CD and having her songs on the Nick at Nite show Hollywood Heights. And she's their age, only 17. The students listened closely to the ballads, and afterwards told me how much they loved them. That thrilled me, as you can imagine, and humbled me at the same time, to know these old songs had relevance to such a young audience.
As the last group left, one of the older boys hugged me and told me how much he enjoyed the stories and songs. I don't think I could have asked for any better payment than that. It was a hard day in some respects--I worked hard to be sure the kids stayed with me and understood what I was saying, and strove to pick stories and songs they would enjoy. It was also hard emotionally, knowing that so many of them came from troubled backgrounds, and yet...and yet they were like any of us, longing for stories and for connection with each other and with the stories of their own lives.
Today I traveled south to my uncle's assisted living center to tell stories once again to the residents. I visited briefly with my uncle and then let him rest while I waited for the group to assemble. As I waited, I chatted with an elderly woman from my county. And she told me the most amazing and eerie story from her family history, a story of death, omens, and the ways of the old days in West Virginia's mountains. As the group assembled, I decided to forego the sound system and a more formal presentation and opted instead for an informal circle of chairs. I liked this arrangement very much and will continue to use it in future when possible.
I told several of my favorite West Virginia ghost stories and the group listened intently. Then I asked my new friend if I could tell her story. She was happy for me to tell it, and with her beside me to offer clarifications and corrections, we told the story. I was honored more than I can say to know that she entrusted this tale to me. I also told them another story told to me by a resident at the center, and after the session was over, another lady told me the strange story of her son's death. And wants me to tell it. I have always thought that storytellers should spend time in nursing homes, getting to know the residents and hear their stories. I know I will continue to listen and tell there as long as my uncle is a resident, and I am thinking I will also contact a local center to see if they'd like a storyteller too. The richness of stories carried by our elders is vast, and will soon be lost if someone doesn't listen.
As you can see, I am filled with the stories of the past two days, both told tales and those of the heart. Tomorrow I go to yet another age group, elementary students in a rural school. I have a feeling I'll be coming home with more stories.
Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.