Shhh. Listen to opportunity knocking

Published 7:38 pm Saturday, January 24, 2009

If you’ve ever tried to sell World Book Encyclopedias door-to-door, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Folks run from you.

For several years, Sis and I “tried” to sell World Books and Child Crafts to friends and neighbors. Soon, we didn’t have any friends and our neighbors kept their doors locked and the window shades down.

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Folks would actually dart out into traffic to get on the opposite side of the street from us, and we didn’t get invited to Tupperware parties anymore.

Why, you would have thought that we were runaways from a leper colony.

But, we actually believed that we were offering folks a much-needed service. Children needed the Child Craft to spur their interest in reading and satisfy their curiosity about many subjects. Older kids needed World Books for enlightenment and research.

We were opportunity knocking.

But now that we live in an electronic world, the World Book company has probably gone bankrupt and kids are wired to the World Wide Web instead of having their noses buried in books.

But, from time to time, opportunity comes knocking and, when it does, some folks still run like scared rabbits.

Several years ago when the Brundidge Historical Society decided to expand what it does at the We Piddle Around Theater to include storytelling, folks ran. They didn’t want to sit and listen to people tell stories.

In my limited wisdom, I didn’t understand that.

I grew up listening to stories. That was my only entertainment, except for the radio, the Saturday picture show and an occasional all-night singing.

Mama and I listened to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night and, when there was an all-night singing at the Brundidge school auditorium, we went with Bubba tagging along. When he fell asleep, we would take him home and put him to bed, where Daddy had been since the sun went down. Mama and I would go back and stay until the last note was sung.

Between those times, my only entertainment was listening to stories told mostly by Eunice, Amos, Lizzy and the other folks that lived in the tenant houses on my granddaddy’s “place.”

In the late afternoons, I would make my way to Eunice’s kitchen and rob the oven in her wood stove of a baked sweet potato or a pone of cornbread and find a listening place on her front porch.

Pop always said, “Shhh! Be quiet and listen. You never learn anything when you’re talking.” So, I did a lot more listening than talking while “loitering” on the rough wood floor of that ol’ porch. And, perhaps, the most important thing I learned was to listen.

I learned to listen to the different sounds of their voices. I love the way that Amos could turn a phrase and the way those wonderful ladies said things in ways that I’d never heard before. I loved the pictures they painted in my mind with words.

Listening opened a world of wonder for me. The sounds of birds singing, the whirr of the cotton gin, the babble of a creek, the sound of rain on the roof and the sound of a cold, dark night.

So, no. I didn’t understand when folks said, “I don’t want to sit and listen to people tell stories.”

But with a little arm-twisting and a whole lot of begging door-to-door, the first Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival in 2007 was a great success. Folks “didn’t know it would be like that!” They were amazed that they could be entertained with words.

My daughter, who was the most doubting Thomas, said listening to Donald Davis was like watching a movie. She could see the pictures in her mind. Her pictures …not some that had been created by a Hollywood movie producer. Her pictures.

That’s the beauty of storytelling.

We each create the pictures in our mind and they are unlike those created by anyone else. So storytelling becomes a very personal art and every listener an artist.

Next weekend, the Brundidge Historical Society will bring four of the top storytellers in the country to the stage of the We Piddle Around Theater and the Trojan Center Theater.

Kathryn Tucker Windham — and I dare not call her a legend – at age 90, will be back, as will Donald Davis. Those two are the masters of storytelling. “It just don’t get no better than that.”

Joining them will be two incredible storytellers, Carmen Agra Deedy and Bil Lepp, both are repeat tellers at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. Deedy, like Davis, is high energy, so hold on to your seat. Lepp is laid-back but then most all “liars” are. Aleta Davis of Montgomery will also take the stage Friday night and folks will leave amazed at what she can do.

There’s an old adage that says you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you’ve been.

It’s through the oral tradition that we have learned who we are as a country, as a community, as families and as individuals.

And, those stories have been passed down because someone said, “Shhh! Be quiet and listen.”

I’m still listening.

Jaine Treadwell can be reached at