Thursday, October 25, 2012

So Many Thoughts

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.


Nance said...

Sue, wow! what a day for you and what an imprint you leave on the lives of those you tell to. This post made my heart well up and brought tears! I do "visit" you most every day. For what I've been up to, I've worked all week and looking forward to a weekend away. Our beautiful fall weather has given way to blessed rain and cooler temps. Winter is just around the corner in Iowa.

Mamabug said...

What a rich experience with the kids and the oldsters. I'm sure your heart must have been overflowing when you left. I've always loved to listen to the stories my older relatives would tell.

Jenny said...

Every time I hear you talk about your visits like this I really want to come hear you in person.

I believe stories are so powerful & can connect people no matter where we come from or how different we are. They connect us through time & space & help us understand other viewpoints.

My son had a misunderstanding with a friend that they were having a hard time getting through. I told him to think of story to share with his friend (an analogy basically) that his friend could relate to. It's funny how that one thought has brought so many stories into our family. We all turn even small things into stories that we share with each other now, not always very eloquently but they usually make our lives much richer by sharing them.

Rowan said...

You've obviously been richly rewarded for the time you have spent with both the young and the old. It makes me wonder whether storytelling might be a great way to reach young people who are labelled 'difficult' - not only telling your stories but listening to theirs.

Granny Sue said...

Rowan, that's a good point. I have noticed over and over that children pointed out to me as potential problems in a performance setting are rarely any trouble at all. There are tellers, like my friend Lorna Czarnota, who work with troubled and at-risk teens on a regular basis. I was with her once at a shelter for older girls (16-21) and they could not wait for her to begin telling stories.

Granny Sue said...

That is a perfect use of stories, Jenny--when we can find a story that others recognize and relate to their own lives. Didn't Jesus do the same with his parables? I hope one day to visit where you live.

Granny Sue said...

Nance, this is the best part of what I do and why I do it--to connect with listeners in a way that links us all in a common experience. There is no other artform I know of that has this very personal approach.

Granny Sue said...

I think your photos tell stories too, Mamabug. You bring beauty to all of us through your photographer's eye.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

"Granny Sue's News and Reviews" has been included in the Sites To See for this week. I hope this helps to point many new visitors in your direction.

Jai Joshi said...

That is so wonderful. You really must have made a difference with those kids, Sue. Good for you and good for us all.


quinn said...

What powerful experiences for all concerned...a perfect "give and take"



Sue -- what a heart rendering post. I once was a substitute teacher in a large city and occasionally was assigned troubled kids. Although I didn't have trouble from them I wish I could have encouraged stories from them like you did. I feel stories really connect people. Thanks -- barbara

Sue said...

Sounds like a marvelous experience with both groups! I agree with your friend, Rowan, that this would be a wonderful way to reach the hearts and minds of troubled students.

Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog, too. I had run across yours a couple of years ago when I was doing some SEO work on my own and then lost track of it again. This time I am going to follow so I can keep up with you.

What amazes me is that we have developed blogs that are similar in so many ways, including the names of the blogs themselves, without even knowing about one another. I guess we are both rhymers by nature. We even have poetry sites in common!


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