A Historic Weekend

jonesboroghHistory seems to be a running theme with me lately. Mostly the mid to late 1800’s through the mid 1900’s. This Saturday I went to Jonesborough, Tennessee. It is the state’s oldest town and the storytelling capital of the world. Every year, during the first week in October, Jonesborough hosts the National Storytelling Festival.  I have never been but I have heard that it really is something special.

We took the walking tour of Historic Jonesborough and learned a lot. Jonesborough was the birthplace of one of Roosevelt’s rough riders, and at least three U.S. presidents stayed there for awhile. In the 1800’s it was the last post of civilization west.

The old Inn still stands, where men were packed as many to a room as would fit. That teameans in the bed and in the floor. You didn’t get a room to yourself or even a bed. We were able to look around upstairs at a few of the rooms that had been restored to the Victorian era. I knew about the Victorian fondness for wallpaper but it is different seeing it up close; with the bright blue patterns on the wall and the pink circle patterns on the ceiling.

Jonesborough is a place of interesting shops like Paul’s Pens Odds & Ends where I bought a new writing implement. I can’t call it just a pen because the cartridge is removable and has pencil lead which can take its place. Each item in the shop is crafted with awe inspiring talent. I loved the dragon pens and the ones made from 30,000 year old wood.

Jonesborough was a interesting trip through time. However, on Sunday I took another trip which was just as interesting. The kids and I drove over to Red Clay State Park which was the last seat of the Cherokee national government before the Trail of Tears. This weekend for the first time in 176 years, three of the recognized tribes met at the ancestral council grounds.

cherokee 2015My children got a chance to see a piece of the past. Like many in the area, we are descended from Cherokee. The Irish and the German in our bloodline hides the native blood behind blue eyes and light hair, but it is still there.

My son really enjoyed it. He got to hear how the water spider brought fire to the Cherokee basketspeople and how the Eagle carries prayers to the creator. He got to touch soap stone and see how it is carved. He got to see baskets being woven. We had a fun weekend and we all came away with a bit more knowledge.

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Digging Up Story Bones

Recently I started looking into an old legend. You can read that post here. I ended up side tracked. I still intend to investigate further but right now I am temporarily distracted by the story of my family.

My daughter had to write a paper about something the happened in our family’s past that was relevant to history. So I told her an old family story that had been told to me. Then I began to wonder. What year did that happen anyway?

So I looked up my great-grandfather on line to see when he died and discover his first name wasn’t what I thought it was. He didn’t go by his first name. His parents were listed and I found out that my great-great-grandfather was named Napoleon. (Not that one.) That was intriguing enough that I dug deeper.

Before I realized it I had unburied bones and skeletons from the family closet left and right. One many times great grandsire was apparently a bit of a womanizer, judging by how he traded in wives. Another many times great grandame like one particular family so much that she picked a brother and just kept going down the list whenever she lost one.

It made me think about how much family history is lost. While reading up on local stories for my vampire legend, I came across tales I recalled hearing from my grandparents when I was a child. Now I am considering writing a book of tales myself. Rather than the usual way I go about making thing out of whole cloth, I will tell the tales I heard growing up.

I can put into print the story of how my uncle cut the tale off of my great-aunt’s cat. Or how my cousin used to chase me around our grandparents yard with the foot of a chicken, while the adults plucked the rest of the bird on the porch steps. Maybe even how my dad found a baby ground hog and brought it home one day. My mom had to feed it with a baby bottle until it got big enough for carrots and things.

There are a lot of stories. I bet my cousins have a few too. Maybe even some of the same ones from a different perspective.

Chasing Tall Tales

A week ago my mom bought a booklet of local ghost stories a thrift store for a quarter. Just twenty-two pages long, bound with staples and orange card stock, it really doesn’t look like much. However, the first story in this book has been driving me to distraction. Short enough to be considered flash fiction, the story is only two paragraphs long and is a reprint of something that appeared in a local paper nearly 20 years ago.

Roughly it states that, while working on widening a rural road, a road crew dug up a body of an adult woman. She was buried in the middle of the road with a wooded stake through her heart. Both the stake and the body had been petrified.

The lack of information immediately intrigued my curiosity. I am well aware that this a toothless gifwork of fiction. Sort of a local legend. It’s the kind of thing my older cousins used to make up to scare me when we took walks in the woods near my grandparents house. However, whatever it is inside that makes me a writer started whispering, “What if?”

It is plausible that a woman could have been killed and buried in an unmarked grave. Depending on when she was buried, maybe there wasn’t a road there at the time. Or maybe it was the only convenient spot. The story wouldn’t leave me alone. It claimed to have happened less than thirty minutes away, so I began digging. (Figuratively. I am pretty sure I would be writing this on the walls of the local jail if I actually tried digging up the road.)

Armed with just the name of the road I searched and found out that they did widen the road back in 1917. I also discover there has been precedence set for the petrification of human remains, if under the right conditions. The part of the road were the story claims the woman was buried runs close to the Hiwassee river. This is important because not only would the soil need the right minerals but it would also need the right amount of moisture.

In 1867 there was a great flood that decimated the area. It took out bridges and caused a train wreck where many died. There are even claims that the streets of Chattanooga were so flooded, that a man living on Lookout Mountain watched bodies float down them.

background-313572_1280So if the mythical woman had been killed and buried before the flood, then it is even plausible that she could have been petrified. If she existed. But if so, what happened to the body? Why was she buried in the road? Did whomever it was that killed her think they were slaying a vampire or a witch?

These are questions I don’t have answers to yet. I did find a similar story in a book called The Granny Curse and Other legends from East Tennessee by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett. It is about a chair haunted by the ghost of a vampire. (I didn’t know vampires could have ghosts but stranger things have become local legends.)

I am still investigating. Some people will probably laugh at me for chasing ghost stories and say I am on a snipe hunt or a wild goose chase. Just because it may not turn out to be true, doesn’t mean it isn’t teaching me a lot about the past. I had no knowledge of the flood of 1867 or of body petrification until now. I am sure it will end up being useful at some point, even if it is only in fiction.

Same Story, Different Voice

A_picture_is_worth_a_thousand_wordsPeople tell me things.  I don’t know why but they do.  I can be ringing up items at work or standing in line at the bank and people start talking.  Some days there is even a theme.

There was a night at work, not too long ago, where everyone I came across had a divorce story or a child custody battle to tell me about.  (My cousin is going through something like that right now.)  I have heard all about ex-husbands and wives, favorite dog breeds, the trouble with banks, what milk tastes best, health issues, money issues…you name it.

whats-your-storyThe thing is, even though the faces change and the details differ, the story remains the same. People tell me about heartbreaks, about joys, about pain and sadness.  Sometimes the story isn’t spoken in words.  Sometimes the words just frame the story, like the story of loneliness.   Loneliness usually starts out with “When my kids were young…” or “When my wife was still alive…”  The beginnings aren’t always the same but the core of the story is.

That is why they say everything has already been written.  Everyone has the same stories, MedievalWeavingTLLivingWisdomSacredthey are just colored by our point of view. That is a good thing.  The common thread joins us together.  It is what makes people focus on stories.  The voice telling the story gives it enough separation from what we already know to make interesting.

When writing, the “originality” of the tale doesn’t matter as much as the voice we tell it in.  A college student, a widow, and a cat lady have all experienced loneliness.  It is the voice of the person telling of the experience that makes it different.

Watching the snow fall and a word about morality tales

snow in the treesIt is 6am.  I have been awake for around an hour and a half.  A hot cup of tea is to my right and a cat sits on my window sill to the left.  He is making these distracting purring/chirping sounds because he wants to go outside but the porch is cover in snow.

We received about six inches of fluffy white stuff last night.  I went out when it first started falling and covered my car with a table cloth.  Then around 11pm I went out with a bowl and scooped up snow for snow cream.  The kids loved it.

After filling our bellies full of snow and sugar, the three of us crawled into my bed and moving castlecuddled together while I read them the next chapter of Howl’s Moving Castle.  By the end of the chapter both kids were snoring softly.  Putting the book away with a head pillowed on each shoulder was a little difficult but I managed.

There is no school today so when the sun comes up and my two lovelies awake, we will probably go build snowmen (or snow daleks) after breakfast.  Once sufficiently chilled we will come in to warm drinks and hot soup.  I may write a little, but more than likely I will end up curled up on the couch with my daughter watching Doctor Who.

I have spent the past hour catching up on blog posts I’ve black-41201_640missed this week and doing a little writing work so I won’t feel guilty later.  I also purchased Reflections:On the Magic of Writing  by Diana Wynne Jones.  It is a collection of essays and speeches.  I’ve been reading it slowly.  It is one of those books that makes you want to stop and think after every chapter.

A blog post that I read this morning also made me stop and think.  (You can check it out over at Comet Tales or follow the link above.)  It was in regard to the debate about what writers should be striving for in their writing.

Is it our job to teach?  Is it our job to send messages to our readers?  Should we be standing on soap boxes or telling stories?  Is there a way to do both?  Should we do both?  soapbox_webThese are all questions I gave some serious thought to after reading Stephanie Osborn’s post.

Writer-once-upon-a-time-1024x576In the end, my answers to these questions were simple.  Just write the story.  Anything else that should be in there will fall into place naturally.  People (or at least me as reader) like to read stories.  They don’t often like to read lectures.  Morality tales were the only plays allowed once upon a time.  I think that is one of the reasons Shakespeare was such a breath of fresh air and has survived so long.  He was prolific and gave people variety.

I have no historical accounts to back this up right now.  In fact I imagine my time is just a little off and I do know there were other playwrights that wrote things that were not 284646_432685473474603_712801232_nchurch approved before.  I could look it up. I may do a blog post on that alone one day.  However, this post is running long and my tea cup is empty.  That means it is time to wrap this up.  I encourage you to read Stephanie’s blog post yourself and come up with your own answers.  As with everything in writing, answers to questions like this seem to be author specific. Not all answers work for everyone.