This weekend was the first WV Storytelling Guild Storytellers Retreat. I admit, it was my brainchild and I was apprehensive as to how it would go. My idea was that a few storytellers would get together to work intensively on a story each teller would bring with them. By working in a small group and spending a good chunk of time listening and sharing our insights on each other's stories, I hoped that we would all leave with stories that benefited from the input of other tellers.
I was surprised at the enthusiastic reception my idea received from guild members. We have not had an opportunity to get together for some time and we were all hungry to reconnect. The beginning of March was a good time, and the Wells Inn in Sistersville offered us a good rate. The ducks were marching in a row, it seemed, and all the stars conspiring to make this idea work.
Friday evening about 15 of us arrived at the hotel, ready for our weekend adventure. The Inn provided dinner. I was astounded at the size of the portions and the excellent flavorings in each dish. We learned that the Inn had hired a chef and his skill was apparent in the offerings on the table. We stayed after dinner to talk, plan our work for the next day, and to have our first story swap. With some new members in the group, the evening provided an icebreaker and a chance to get to know everyone.
Saturday morning started out with another amazing meal. If you ordered the full English breakfast, you got bacon, sausage, AND ham, along with three eggs, toast, home fries, etc. Coffee flowed endlessly and the waitress was cheery and efficient. Since rain was predicted for the afternoon we decided to take a little time first to explore the town.
I have been to Sistersville many times over the past 10 years. It's sort of a home away from home for me; I suppose it is the small-town feel, the fine architecture, the Ohio River flowing by, and the sense of history that draws me. For most of our group, however, this was a first trip. We meandered downtown, then to the river and the old oil well exhibit.
Sistersville's oil and gas history is legendary in our state--at the height of the boom the population swelled from 200 to over 20,000 in a few months, and the houseboats at the moorings on the river were so thick that you could walk 20 miles on them and never touch ground. I love the numerous cupolas, neat architectural details, iron fences and the many examples of fine stained glass in the town's buildings, and took many photos of them which you will see in the coming days. And still, I only touched the tip of what is there to see.
After our morning tour we got to work. We divided into 3 groups, and each group had its own place to work. One group stayed in the conference room at the Wells Inn; a second group went down to the basement bar (still closed pending licensing) called the Wooden Derrick, and the third went across the street to the Gaslight Theater. In my group, each person was given 30 minutes to tell us about their story, tell as much of it as they wanted, and then the group provided feedback in the form of praise and suggestions. The process worked fairly well; the biggest problem I saw was that group members often wanted to talk about their own experiences instead of focusing on the story at hand--understandable for this first effort at this process.
Then it was lunch time. Once again the ample and delicious meal provided the backdrop for lively conversations and a chance to deepen our relationships. After lunch, the groups re-formed, with members shifting so that the afternoon groups provided new "ears" to hear the stories and provide feedback. I brought the story of my parents' meeting and marriage to work on, and by the time the afternoon session was over, I had some important new ideas that I will use to make this a strong story that I believe will become one of my very best.
Dinner found me still full from lunch! I knew that bread pudding was available as a dessert so I opted for a small salad and dessert for dinner. It was a wise decision because even then I could eat only half of my dessert. After dinner we moved to the parlor area that is still under construction and had another evening of swapping stories, singing and talking.
About 11pm I snuck outside and took photos of some of the stained glass windows while they were lighted up. The rain was falling in a soft drizzle but the air was still fairly warm and the night walk invigorated me. We stayed up talking until around midnight, then I fell into bed and slept soundly until morning, not even hearing the night train that comes through town each evening, or the river barges that frequently pass on the Ohio River just a block or two from the hotel.
This morning we met again for breakfast and a reluctant farewell. The rain had turned to snow overnight, and as we drove away the lawns were being coated with a soft white blanket.
We were the first group the Wells Inn has hosted since re-opening for business on a limited scale last month. While the ongoing renovations are certainly visible, for us they added to the adventure of the weekend. Owner Charles Winslow gave us a tour of the work in progress and of the Gaslight Theater, and workers were more than happy to tell us anything we wanted to know.
(BTW, I don't think the Wells Inn has a webpage yet, but you can call them at 304-652-1312, or friend them on Facebook to keep up with renovations, etc).