Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Audience of One

I do wish artists would sign their work legibly so proper credit could be given. If you know who painted this lovely, please let me know.

My first storytelling audience had only one member. Mama. Her vision weakened through the years, beginning when I was in elementary school. Cataracts dimmed her sight so that she couldn't read even with her tortoise-shell reading glasses.
(Though I certainly didn't want her to lose her vision, I didn't like the glasses. She looked so stern with them, especially if they slipped down her nose a bit. I made sure I behaved very well when she wore them. In truth, she probably was squinting to see even with them on.)
Once I learned to read--and that's another story for another day--I read voraciously, devouring books like Cookie Monster gobbles cookies, except that I let no morsels fall to the floor. "When you come to a street corner," Mama said almost daily, "stop, look, and listen before you cross." I usually remembered her warning, but as soon as I deemed it safe to cross, my nose would go back into the book I was reading.
Of course, I always signed up for the Bookworm Club at the local public library, smiling smugly when I noticed the "worm" had only 25 segments to it's body. Long before summer was over, I'd have 25 segment stickers carefully applied to the sheet that said Sharon Kay Kirk at the top. "May I fill two?" The librarian would give me her longsuffering look over her glasses and tell me she expected no less.
I read. Mama couldn't. I knew she missed reading, since she used to do it a lot. So I became a storyteller, reading a portion of the book, then telling it to her. I certainly didn't want her to get bored, so, like Jo in Little Women, I did the voices. At points of great excitement, I acted out the action. Mama was not an emotional woman. If the story was funny, she'd laugh. Perhaps at a poignant scene, she'd smile and nod. I don't recall that she ever shed a tear for a story. That was fine. I wept enough for both of us.
Getting through Black Beauty was a challenge, once I reached the scenes of his brutal mistreatment. I couldn't tell it without tears coursing down my cheeks.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, Sharon," Mama said. "It's just a story."
I was never quite sure that was true. If a story was really good, if it stirred the reader at some deep level, didn't there, wouldn't there have to be, elements of truth? Wouldn't Anna Sewell have had to know of such cruelty--perhaps not to a horse named Black Beauty, but to another? It seemed to me that where there was no truth, there was no story.
Mama went with me through my various phases of reading. She heard the stories of every horse novel in the children's department of the library, every Bobbs-Merrill biography, every Bobbsey Twins adventure, and nearly every story in Andrew Lang's colored fairy books. Together we journeyed through childhood classics, including all of Louisa May Alcott's books, Heidi, Robin Hood, and favorite Bible stories. My storytelling was our main entertainments.
Gentle reader, you may ask, "Why didn't you just read the books to her. Why tell them?" The answer is simple. I had already read the books or book scenes. I didn't want to read them over. Storytelling was a more concise way to get through the books. And it was fun! Don't misunderstand. I love oral reading! My one daughter and her family are missionaries on the other side of the planet. When Skype is working well enough to allow it, I read to my grandtreasures for an hour or so. At such times, I have to call a stop when my voice begins to tire. We are a read-aloud family, even when it's long-distance. But it is great fun to hear a story well-told, also.
Thus, I am a writer and raconteur (storyteller).
Write on and read on!
Because of Christ,

Your turn: (Please leave a comment.) How important was reading in your home growing up? Did you ever including storytelling? Feel free to comment on any other aspect of this post.

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