October Schedule: Lots of Ghostliness

October is filling up with ghosties! I hope I will see you at one of these events:

October 6: Ripley, WV Middle School full day storytelling

October 10: Tamarack, tour group presentation. Private event.

October 11: Philippi Library, Philippi, WV. WV Ghost Stories, 4:00 for Teen Read Week

October 12-13: West Virginia Storytelling Festival, Weston, WV. Schools event and evening public performance.

October 15: Apple Butter Making at my house!

October 17: Mountaineer Tours, Tamarack, Beckley, WV. Private event.

October 21: Road Scholars presentation, Beckley, WV 9 am

October 21-22: Ripley Ghost Walk, 8pm each evening.

October 25: Grant County (WV) Library, Ghost Stories tentative

October 28: Hurricane High School, Hurricane, WV. Storytelling and workshop

October 31: Jefferson Elementary, Follansbee, WV. Ghost stories all day

October 31: South Parkersburg (WV) Library, Ghost stories, 6:30pm

Til then, happy haunting!

Museum Day at Campus Martius

Saturday August 6th Come to Campus Martius Museum to celebrate Museum Day! All day activities and all free! I'll be there telling stories so say hello if you come by.
From the museum's website: On August 6th come and celebrate Museum Day and discover everything that Campus Martius and the Ohio River Museums have to offer. A visit to the museums will not just be for historical discovery. There will be something for everyone from toddlers to seniors.
A variety of musicians will take us on trips to the past, highlighting various eras, instruments, and locales. Come and relax while you are serenaded by "Riverboat John" Ferguson, Scott Cain, John Whitacre, and Theresa and Richard Halsey.
Susan Fowler, artist, storyteller, and scientist brings her unique teaching techniques to Museum Day as she draws in young and old to learn about the history and environments of our inland waterways.
Doc Hollen, Purveyor of Patent Medicine, will be on hand with his Medicine Show to entertain and mystify. Visitors can step back in time when con men traveled the country side telling tall tales and selling snake oil to cure all.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, accompanied by their wives, Mary Todd Lincoln and Martha Washington will be on hand to greet and visit with museum guests.
Storytellers, Susanna Holstein and Judi Tarowsky will delight audiences with tales of long ago. Come and reminisce with us as they recall stories and events when times were simpler and stories had a lot of heart.
This is just a little of what the day will offer! So, mark your calendars for Saturday, August 6, 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM at Campus Martius & the Ohio River Museums. And remember, this entire event is FREE!

Tales from the Road

Stories from fellow travelers last weekend, all of us stuck for a short while at an airport:

  • the young black lady beside me, whose name was Tuttu (short for her real, Kenyan name), decided I was okay when I remarked as I climbed the stool that I needed either longer legs or a shorter stool. Tuttu was friends with the bartender and told her, "She's good people." We talked about her mother, who lived in Kenya and was getting her Ph.D. in psychology, about the relationship between mothers and daughters, her job as a mortgage litigator, and many other things before she had to leave for her flight, paying for my wine on her way out. 
  • the young man on the other side of me, who works concessions at baseball games, flying from one event to another.
  • a woman who said she was a traveling nurse, on her way to North Carolina for her next job.
  • a very young, thin girl who arrived sobbing. She'd fallen at her hotel and hurt her leg but had to come on to the airport only to find she'd missed her flight because of the traffic. She was in pain, stressed so badly she was shaking all over. We all talked with her and tried to calm her down. She said, "I was only 25% stable before, but now I must be down to about 22%." Poor young thing, I felt so bad for her. She ordered a glass of wine, and the baseball concession worker put it on his tab. He and the traveling nurse were still talking to her when I left.
  • before getting on the plane I picked up some water at a concession stand. The young man was friendly and helpful, with a great smile. "Where are you originally from?" I asked. "Bangladesh," he replied. "A very long way away. Welcome to the US," I said. His grin went from ear to ear. "Thank you, thank you!" 
  • As we waited on the shuttle bus, a couple told me they had been to watch their son in a baseball playoff. They are hoping for a college scholarship for him. Tired from a long trip just to get to the airport, and facing an hour long drive when they landed, they were still beaming as they talked about their 6 children and their hopes for them.
  • As I sat down in my seat on the airplane, the lady beside turned slightly away, huddled over her phone. She never spoke for the entire flight, and I wondered, what story does she have to tell? I will never know, but her face spoke of sadness and stress. 

And one last story, this one from the flight over. I opened the magazine provided by the airline to find the crossword puzzle, hoping no one else had done it. Someone had--or had tried to. It was impossible to complete because there were so many errors in the answers the person before me had written down, but they had left some notes on the page:

"I love you, Pop."
"I know you're here."
"Go with me tomorrow."

So much conveyed in those few words. We used to call our father Pop too. Whoever this person was, I hope that whatever they were facing the next day went well for them. Surely it did, with their Pop looking over them.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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Back Roads

I traveling across West Virginia by a road that once was a main route, but its importance has been replaced by an interstate highway. I like back ways because there are so many sights to see.
Like the two young men on a steep hillside with a grubbing hoe, digging something...what? Sassafras? Mandrake? Old traditions pass down here, and it's not unusual to see people out gathering berries, nuts, roots and wild greens.
Another young man with a tripod and camera was filming Cathedral Falls, one of several waterfalls along my route. Two older men in required black Harley gear pulled up on their motorcycles and walked over to look at the falls too. I wondered if they knew they were blocking the younger man's camera. The young man said nothing, just shifted his tripod further down the footbridge. 

A reminder of bad times in the past, and yet today, this is a beautiful restful place. I wonder if the spirits of those dead men haunt this place.

Further down the road, an older man sat on his porch steps working the crossword puzzle in the newspaper while across the way an elderly woman shook a handwoven throw rug over the porch rail. Did she make the rug? 
A man at the gas pumps, filling up the tank on his 1992 Chevy pickup with the Vortex engine, told me he bought the truck new, kept it in the garage all these years. He looked ill, pale and tired, but his face lit up as he talked about his truck.
In the front yard of a house trailer was the sign,"LIARS GO TO HELL". Two young women shouted at each other across the road, their anger darkening the sunny day. Who lied? About what? I don't think I really want to know.
A guy on a motorized bicycle was riding down the street of a small mountain town, wearing a WWI helmet. 
At a restaurant where we stopped for dinner, a lone older man with a brace on his leg and a cane talked long to the waitress who waited and listened patiently to his story, and I wondered about him, wanted to speak to him but did not. What was his story?
A birthday party with pink balloons at a state park picnic shelter built by the CCC in the 1930's made me smile and I thought those young men who built it would be happy that it was still being used for family events.
Everywhere, people were going about their business while I traveled through and wonder about them, their lives, and the places they live. Some of them may find their way into a story; all of them affected me without them ever knowing I passed by.

Family and Stories

Ernest Thomas Hagger, courtesy of Julie Day
It's been a quiet week for storytelling, and May will be a quiet month altogether for me, but that's okay because with 3 graduations, the Connelly family reunion and our 30th anniversary this month, it's going to be a very busy time with family events. 

Family is really the heart of our lives, and of our stories. The stories I tell often reflect my upbringing--values, morals, ethics, and just as often might be about my family. 

The new story I am working on is about a grandfather I never knew but who is now as real to me as I'd sat on his lap, thanks to the diligent work of my cousin Julie in England. 

So many stories are hidden in our genealogy. And yet many of us wait until those who might know about the people and events of past generations are gone too. We are fortunate that one aunt is still living and still remembers. Find that one in your family, and ask the questions now, before the answers are buried with your elders.

Silent Night

 Jeff Seager and I had a fine time this past weekend, presenting the first of our Here We Come A-Caroling! programs. Our program includes Christmas carols both well-known and obscure, with the stories of the songs' creation and audience sing-along and participation.

Each year we add new material to our presentation to keep it fresh and lively, and then there are a few pieces that are requested year after year, like Silent Night.

Silent Night, as you may know, was written by Joseph Mohr almost 200 years ago, in 1816 while he was a young priest in Austria. He was transferred the following year to St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf and there he asked Franz Gruber to compose a guitar melody for the poem he had written. Gruber complied and the two men performed the song that year (1818) for midnight mass on Christmas Eve).  The men called it simply Tyrolean Folk Song.

Why did Mohr ask specifically for a guitar melody? Some speculate that it was because the organ was out of order--there is the legend that a mouse chewed on the organ bellows, making it impossible to play. Those who knew Mohr, however, knew he loved to play the guitar, so perhaps he just wanted a guitar melody he could play in church.

It is a fact that a master organ builder who had come to repair the organ many times in the past was called again to fix some problem, and he saw the music, liked it and obtained a copy which he took home with him to the Ziller Valley region.  At the time there were two families of traveling singers (like the Von Trapp family in Sound of Music) in the Ziller Valley. They heard the song and added it to their performances. They changed a few notes here and there and the song became the one we know today, but it was still written in German.

In 1839 the Rainer Family came to America and the song was first performed here in New York City; by this time its title had been changed to Stille Nacht. It was eventually translated into English in 1859 by John Freeman Young, and included in his book CAROLS FOR CHRISTMAS TIDE.

For many years it was assumed that the music for Silent Night was composed by one of the famous composers of the time (Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart). Franz Gruber wrote to the emperor claiming that he had written the music but his claim was ignored. The controversy over the composer was put to rest almost 180 years later in 1995 when a manuscript in Mohr’s handwriting notes that he wrote the lyrics and that Franz Gruber wrote the melody.

The song continued to be popular became part of another story, one that happened during World War I. At Christmas in 1914 a truce was declared, and in one place on the battlefields of France a German soldier began singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night). His song was heard by the Allied soldiers in the trenches on the other side of the battlefield, and led to all of them singing it, each in their own language. Men from both armies crossed the no-man's-land between the two sides and even, according to the legend, engaged in a game of soccer. At the end of the truce, they all retreated to their own sides and the war commenced once more. It was the first and only Christmas truce ever declared during a war, probably because the leaders on both sides realized the danger of men getting to know each other personally and perhaps not being able to fire on those they had met as friends. 

This is a powerful story, particularly when linked to the peace and beauty of the song Silent Night, and a favorite of our audiences.

Christmas Lore: The Christmas Tree

Good morning!

I spent some time reading up on the history of the Christmas tree this morning while I drank my tea. My friend Jeff and I are putting together our Christmas carols program and adding new material for this year's presentations. I always enjoy the research as we prepare the songs and stories each year.

The tree is another example of the blending of earlier pagan beliefs with the symbols and beliefs of Christianity as this "new" religion. Mistletoe, holly, a Solstice/winter celebration, the Yule log and many other aspects of earlier traditions found their way into the rituals associated with the celebration of Christ's birth. Early missionaries often found ways to link the old ways to their teachings.

The legend of Saint Boniface is one good example. According to the story, Boniface came upon a group of pagans preparing a human sacrifice at their sacred oak, called Donar's Oak. Boniface took an axe and struck a blow at the tree, which immediately fell. He then pointed to an evergreen as a symbol of the everlasting life promised by the religion he brought to them.

From The Christmas Tree by Daniel J. Foley,
Chilton Company Book Division, NY: 1960.
The custom of a decorated and lighted evergreen began in Germany, beginning with a pyramid made of wood and lighted with candles and decorated. Since it was also the custom to bring a small evergreen inside for greenery in the winter months, it's not difficult to see how the lights and decorations moved from thelichshtock to the evergreen (usually a fir). The idea did not reach American shores until the Victorian era, making its way from Germany to England first. In many instances, the greenery was simply an evergreen bough places on a table and decorated.

My 2014 tree
Some years I have a real tree, others years we have an artificial tree, but always I bring in live greenery to decorate my house, continuing the old tradition of "bringing in Christmas."

My 2011 tree
There is nothing like the scent of pine to make me feel the season is truly here. I won't do it just yet, though, because the greens will dry out, and it's still too soon to be decorating in my opinion. I prefer to wait until we've enjoyed Thanksgiving, and then move gradually into the next season. But working on the carols program puts me in the holiday mood, and makes me look forward to the pleasures on the way.