Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Bowl For You

A Folktale with versions found in Rumania, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Nepal

A unique retelling by Rocci Hildum

Source: Retold by Allison Cox

Copyright 1994

Healing Heart Project

There was a family of potters who worked hard to make a living. There was a grandfather, who had been a potter for a very long time. The grandfather had once been known as a very skilled craftsman who made the finest pots in the land. The grandfather had carried clay from the hillside, shaped pots, mixed glazes, and cut wood to keep the kiln hot. The grandfather taught his trade to his son and together they taught the daughter in law to shape the pots.

As the grandfather grew older he could no longer carry the heavy clay from the hillside. He was no longer strong enough to pump the pedal of his potter’s wheel. Grandfather was too old to cut and carry firewood for the kiln.

Grandfather started to spend his days in the workshop teaching his young granddaughter how to shape the pots and mix the glazes. Grandfather taught his granddaughter his craft. Grandfather held Granddaughter’s hands to teach her how to hold her hands and how to shape the pots. Grandfather taught Granddaughter how to pump the pedal of the potter’s wheel. Grandfather helped Granddaughter mix the glazes in shades of blues, reds and purples and greens and together they painted the pots and bowls with intricate designs.

And as they worked, Grandfather told stories and Granddaughter listened and shaped the clay. And gradually the stories started to shape the clay. And gradually the stories became a part of the pots and bowls and things that Granddaughter shaped.

So when Grandfather told a story about great sailing ships that set off across the seas to explore the world, Granddaughter shaped a pot, long on one side that was painted with bright stripes flaring like banners flying in the wind across the sides.

And when Grandfather told a story about a tiny bird building a nest in the spring, Granddaughter shaped a delicate bowl the beautiful blue color of robin eggs.

The more Grandfather told stories, the more Granddaughter listened. The more Grandaughter listened to Grandfather’s stories, the more the stories shaped the pots. The more that the stories became a part of the pots and bowls that Granddaughter shaped, the more popular they became. People admired the things made by Granddaughter. They could see and hear and feel the stories in the clay. Many people wanted to buy the things made by the granddaughter, even more than those made by her parents.

Gradually Grandfather could no longer hold his hands steady to help shape the clay. Grandfather’s hands were not steady enough to mix glazes or paint pots and bowls.

Grandfather felt so strange sitting idle in the shop where he had worked so hard for so many years. Grandfather began to tell his son and daughter-in-law how to improve the shape of their pots, or how to make the kiln burn hotter or where to dig for the best clay. Grandfather made suggestions of how they should mix the glazes and what colors to paint the things that they made. And Grandfather told his stories.

“Father,” said his son, “You have taught me well how to be a potter and I have been doing it for these many years. Together we taught my wife, your daughter-in-law, to be a potter and together we have been potters for these many years. You do not need to continue to teach me as if I was a child.”

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable sitting in the house, by the fire, instead of spending your days in this cold, damp shop?” asked the daughter-in-law. “Besides, you keep knocking over the pots and bowls with your cane. We cannot afford to lose our work.”

So Grandfather started to spend his days in the house while the rest of the family worked in the shop. It was lonely in the house during the day.

In the evenings, when the family returned to the house, Grandfather was eager to know how their work was going. Grandfather asked his daughter-in-law, “Are the pots and bowls selling well?”

Grandfather was disappointed to learn that the family was not selling as many pots and bowls as they had been.

 “Where are you digging the clay, my son? Are you keeping the kiln hot enough? How are you mixing the glazes?”

The son and daughter-in-law would respond, “Stop badgering us with your questions. You have worked hard and you deserve to rest. You do not need to worry about the pottery any more.”

But the old man couldn't stop asking about the pottery. Making pots with his family had been his whole life and so every evening when they sat down to dinner he would question them more. One night, he asked, again, for the third time that week,

"Are you sure you're digging the right kind of clay. You're not letting that clay dry out too much before you use it are you? Are the colors bright enough?"

The son exchanged looks with his wife and said,

"I wish you paid as much attention to your eating as you do to telling us what we do wrong. Look at yourself. You have half of your meal spilled down your shirt. It's disgusting."

Grandfather looked down at his shirt. His hands shook so much any more that he often spilled his meals on his clothes.

"I can't even get the stains out of your shirts or the tablecloth anymore when I do the wash," added his daughter-in-law.

Grandfather looked at his shirt and at the table. Indeed, Grandfather was embarrassed and ashamed to see that his clothes and the tablecloth were stained from the food that he had dropped. Grandfather looked at the faces of his son and daughter-in-law and they could see his shame. Grandfather slowly rose from the table and with his cane in one hand and his bowl in the other, tottered over to his chair in the corner by the fireplace. Grandfather sat there to finish his meal alone. Grandfather balanced his bowl and spoon with one shaky hand and kept his other hand on his cane to balance himself.

Granddaughter got up to join Grandfather.

"You sit back down and finish your food right here at the table. I wish you were as concerned about your work," her father told her angrily. "We haven't sold one of your pots in a long time. You're just not working as hard as you used to."

The girl looked up at her father and said,

"To shape and paint beautiful pots, I need Grandfathers' beautiful stories."

“You need to concentrate on your work and stop being distracted by listening to those foolish stories,” said her father.

From that night on, grandfather continued to eat his meals in the corner in his chair. He would balance his bowl with one hand and spoon his food with the other. Since his hands shook, he would sometimes loose his grip on the bowl and his dinner would drop to the floor, the bowl crashing to pieces.

The daughter-in-law became angry, " I can't keep making bowls just so you can break them.” Grandfather sat in his chair with tears in his eyes.

A few nights later, grandfather was telling Granddaughter a story, sitting together in his corner, when the girl's mother walked up to them with a wooden bowl in her hand.

"Here, I bought this at the market today for you. Maybe now you won't break your dinner bowl anymore."

Grandfather felt the shame and embarrassment rise in him again and he just sat. Granddaughter took the bowl from her mother and looked at it, turning it over and over in her hands.

"Grandfather, may I borrow this? " she asked.

Grandfather shrugged sadly and the girl set off to the pottery shop.

In a little while, Granddaughter returned with a block of wood and a knife and started to carve the piece of wood, seated on the floor in Grandfather’s corner.

“Tell me a story, Grandfather.”

Grandfather started to tell a sad story.

Granddaughter carved the block of wood, pausing every once in a while and comparing the block of wood to Grandfather's bowl. And as Grandfather told the story, Granddaughter shaped the block of wood and listened to Grandfather’s story. And as Grandfather told the sad story, the story started to shape the block of wood, the story started to become part of the wood.

The girl's parents were setting the table with the evening meal. Her father came over to see what his daughter was working on.

"What's this? Have you given up on pottery altogether and decided to take up woodworking?" her father joked.

"Oh no, Father, but I thought I'd better learn how to shape a wooden bowl, " the girl answered, keeping her eyes on her whittling. "One day you and mother will be old and your hands will be unsteady, and you will need wooden bowls too.”

The husband and wife looked at their daughter in shocked silence and then they turned to see tears in each others’ eyes. This time, it was their turn to shake, as they slowly sank to their knees and begged Grandfather to forgive them.

From that day Grandfather ate his meals at the table with the family, from a pottery bowl made by his family.

Every day Grandfather joined his family in the pottery shop again. The old man would spend his days in the shop, sometimes dozing in a chair, but usually telling stories.

And while Grandfather told stories, Granddaughter, and the son and the daughter-in-law would listen and they would shape the pots. And the stories began to shape the clay, the stories became a part of the clay.

So when Grandfather told a story about a great dragon with shining green wings, the daughter-in-law listened and shaped a deep shining green bowl with handles that stretched wide.

And when Grandfather told a story about an enchanted princess with long flowing hair and eyes that sparkled, his son would shape a long slender vase that sparkled in the sunlight.

The pots and bowls began to sell well again. The family lived on together in this way for many more years, not always in harmony, but certainly with more caring than before.

Monday, July 16, 2012

“Hey, Mr. Pig Story Man”
by Rocci Hildum
June 5, 2008

I had a wonderful time at the Northwest Folklife Festival at the Seattle Center over Labor Day Weekend, May 23 – 26, 2008. It is always a dilemma when I am at a festival like that choosing which performers I want to see. Every choice is a choice not to see another wonderful performer. That is why I was so happy when I went to the Story Swap on Monday May 26, 2008 in the Center House Theater. There was a smallish crowd, but a crowd who had made the choice of all the music and dance and crafts and food to come to hear stories.

I had told stories in the Center House Theater on Sunday and the audience was wonderful. I had a great reception and told three of my favorite stories, including one that has some amusing audience participation. But I intentionally saved my very favorite story for the Story Swap.

I told The Absolutely True Story of the Three Little Pigs. I originally wrote this story for a friend of mine who was working on developing a land trust in Leavenworth. Ever since it has been one of my favorite, and apparently one of my audience’s favorite stories.

Later on Monday I was rushing past the Center House on my way to a workshop when I heard someone behind me calling, “Mr. Pig Story Man, Mr. Pig Story Man.” I have been called many things, some of which would not be appropriate for inclusion here, but I had never been referred to as Mr. Pig Story Man before. However, seven years of college and two degrees has prepared me well to be able to make certain logical inferences based on carefully considering all of the available information and evidence. I inferred that someone who did not know my given name was actually calling for me.

I stopped and turned around to find a woman out of breath running after me. She told me how much she had enjoyed my story. We exchanged business cards and agreed that we would keep in touch.

As I have reflected on that little incident, which lasted perhaps one or two minutes in an otherwise very busy and eventful weekend, it occurs to me how much power the right story, at the right time, and to the right audience can have. Of all the entertainment and connections I made that weekend this one will probably be the one I most remember, especially now since I am writing about it. But I suspect that my new friend will also remember this incident, probably more so because she may be reading this right now.

We never know when or who or how our favorite story will touch someone. What lasting impressions our words may have. And so I have decided that from now on, my favorite story is the one I am telling right now … not this story about the woman calling me Mr. Pig Story Man, I mean the story that I am telling at any given moment will be my favorite story.

I know that when I tell The Absolutely True Story Of The Three Little Pigs everything that makes that story my favorite, or at least that did make it my favorite, gets reflected in how I tell that story. There is just a little more animation, a lift to my voice and a sparkle in my eye. I love all the stories I tell, but what if I told every story as if it were my very favorite story?  What if every story reflected my love and appreciation for that story’s unique gifts and joys? Why, who knows what might happen, I might be walking somewhere some day and hear someone calling behind me, “Mr. Ananzi Story Man, Mr. Ananzi Story Man.”

I think that would be a wonderful compliment!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Barking Mouse

A unique retelling of a Cuban folktale

Once upon a time there was a family of mice, la Familia Raton.

There was Mamá Ratón, who was Mama Mouse. And there was Papa Raton, who was Papa Mouse. And there were Hermano y Hermano Raton, who were brother and sister mouse.

La Familia Raton, lived in el Casa Grande, the big house. Actually they lived in a very little small tiny hole in the corner of el Casa Grande.

Mama’s, job was to do the cooking and the cleaning and laundry and ironing and sewing and to take care of Papa, Hermano, y Hermana. Papa’s job was to be the Papa. But also, every night when it was dark Papa Raton would creep out silently to la Cucina, the kitchen. Papa would gather up bits of bread pan and fruit, fruta, and cheese, queso that had dropped to ground. Sometimes Papa snuck into the cabinets through a hole he had chewed with his big front teeth and he would bring back seeds, semillas, crackers, galletas, cereal, cereales, or if la Familia Raton was especially lucky, peanut butter, manteca de maní. Papa Raton would then sneak back very silently to the little small tiny hole in the corner of la Casa Grande and Mama Raton would prepare the food and set the table.

One day Mama Raton said, “Did you know that there is a beautiful garden, el jardin bonita, in the back of el Casa Grande. It is a beautiful sunny day and I think that we should go on a picnic, ir de merienda. Everyone agreed and they were all excited. Mama packed a lunch and everyone went outside to la jardin and had a wonderful lunch.

It really was a quite beautiful and sunny day and after everyone had finished lunch Hermano y Hermana asked, “Can we go and play, jugar?” Mama y Papa said, “Yes, you may go and play, but whatever you do, stay away from the wall, la tapia, because on the other side lives el gato the cat, and he will eat you!”

Hermano y Hermana promised not go near la tapia and off they went to play. But you know how children sometimes are … they forget the things that they promise. And anyways, Hermano wasn’t even sure there really was an el gato. He had always heard stories about el gato but he’d never seen el gato. So, very slowly, gradually Hermano y Hermana got closer and closer and closer to la tapia until Hermano was looking right through a crack in la tapia. Hermano crept up slowly to the crack in la tapia and he looked through trying to see if there really was an el gato on the other side. All of a sudden a paw, pata, with sharp claws, las uñas, popped out.

Hermano jumped back as fast as he could. He was breathing hard and his face was all red. Hermano’s heart, la corazón, was beating so hard he held his hand to his chest. La pata del gato was reaching through the crack in la tapia but el gato could not reach Hermano y Hermana.

When Hermano y Hermana realized that el gato could not reach them they started laughing risueño and making fun of el gato. El gato is estúpido. El gato is muy feo. El gato is so lento, lento, lento. El gato is just afraid, asustado, of us. El gato is just a big coward, cobarde. Hermano y Hermana were laughing so hard that they didn’t see when la pata del gato disappeared back through the crack in la tapia.

Then hermano y hermana heard a sound. A very frightening sound. They looked up. Way, way up to the top of la tapia and there sat el gato smiling at them with his big yellow eyes, ojos amarillos, and his big sharp teeth, los dientes afilado. Hermano y hermana started running. They were screaming at the top of their lungs, “Save us, save us, el gato is going to eat us!!”

Papa Raton heard hermano y hermana and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not afraid of any old el gato.Hermano y hermana ran behind Papa and hid. El gato was running right towards them. Los dientes afilado del gato were smiling and los ojos amarillos were shining. When Papa saw el gato Papa said, “Aye, protoger me” and Papa jumped behind Mama Raton.

Mama Raton said, “Don’t worry, I know just what to do.”

El gato was running straight towards la familia Raton. Los dientes afilado del gato were drooling and las uñas del gato were pouncing towards them and el gato was staring at la familia Raton with his ojos amarillos. Right when el gato got to Mama Raton, face to face, cara a cara, Mama Raton stared into los ojos amarillos and said, “GUF GUF GUF GUF!!!” (in English we might say bark, bark, bark – apparently Latino dogs speak Spanish as well as the humans)

El gato stopped in his tracks, turned around, ran all the way back to la tapia, jumped over to the other side and they never saw el gato again.

Mama Raton turned around and said, “See its always good to know a second language, lenguaje segundo.