Friday, April 30, 2010

A Folktale About Friendship

Family folktales come out of our life experiences. Where we live, what we do with our lives (career, hobbies, etc.) and who we have relationships with are all of the stuff of these unique and personal folk stories. They reveal what is most important to us about our relationships with family and friends and can fall into many different categories, including lovers, enemies and friends.
Here is a folktale about friendship written by Dick Ingebritson of Minnesota.

Unanticipated Gold Mine: New Great Friendship

August 1957 found our family in Paris. Two wee folk, Liesbeth, age two, and Tim, age one, and my wife Truus. We flew to France as I had accepted a job as a teacher in a defense department school in Verdun, France.

Arriving at the army base, we were billeted in a small hotel in the center of town. Getting on in that limited setting was more than a challenge for Truus. The bathroom, very necessary for a family, one member still in diapers, was down the hall. The first day Truus noticed we were sharing the room with some rather frisky brown mice.

Enduring this for a week was enough. The housing officer gave us two adjoining rooms in the Bachelor’s Officer Quarters (BOQ). It was warm, clean and sunny and we were provided with a crib, and an electric roaster and frying pan with which to cook our foods. The only fridge was on the first floor and whenever my wife needed something from the fridge, she had to run downstairs. If she forgot to cough or announce her presence in some way, she was given a lesson in male anatomy in the hall for this was a gentleman’s building.

Eventually we were given a rather cozy upper condo. There was no central heat so we had to buy a stove and feed it regularly to keep warm. Our home away from home was cozy enough. We were the only ones who weren’t in the BOQ, so my colleagues found it more homelike to come see us and have a cup of some of some fluid or other. We had lots of company.

Teachers with initiative enough to find a teaching position in France were an interesting crew. So interesting were they that after fifty plus years, we still count some of them among our friends.

Top choice of the teaching staff who became lifelong friends were Pete and Nora Gonzalez from San Francisco. Can’t recall our first meeting but the chemistry was right from the beginning. Impressed first was I with Pete’s indomitable optimism. Housing was less than desired, school faculties limited, administration inexperienced and an uncertainty about our acceptance by the French phased Pete not at all. Never was he without a smile. He had an infectious laugh and we were never certain his feet touched the ground, so easily did he move. To see him and Nora dance at the officer’s club was a treat for everyone.

As months rolled by our frequent coffees with Pete and Nora were the highlights of our week. Our kids were very fond of them. Liesbeth could not pronounce NORA but said NOWA. Still today she is NOWA!

One evening in our home, Nora, the quiet one with the very pleasant laugh, suggested we have a different sort of conversation. Her suggestion was that since we lived 2000 miles apart, the chances of seeing each other were perhaps remote. Since that was true, she suggested we be open and honest with each other. Her idea was the following:

that we very honestly tell each other what our first impression of each other was.

Exciting, exhilarating --- maybe. Her idea was followed by the suggestion that Truus and I could begin by recalling the first impression we had of them.

My impression of them was reached when Truus and I took turns running to eat at the officer’s club while the other babysat. Often I would see Pete and Nora enter the officer’s club to eat. I didn’t enjoy eating by myself but I lacked the courage to ask to join them. They seemed so sophisticated and austere. I hesitated to approach them.

As part of this experiment suggested by Nora, I told them what my first impression of them was. Reaction: (a) surely I was joking, (b) disbelief! No way they thought would they give them impression. I assured them that, indeed, was my observation.

We moved to questions “Does anyone realize what impression they give?” “Do most people think of the impression they give?” “Do most people care what impression they give?” “If you don’t care for the impression you give, can you change it?”

Conversations such as this have been our fare these sixty years since that initial year in France.

Pete and Nora have raised two fine young men; have three grandchildren and have visited us several times. We, with our family, have also visited them. Pete left us last year after a gallant struggle with coronary problems. Twice have we seen Nora since then and that will continue.

That open forthright conversation suggested by Nora in Verdun perhaps cemented our relationship. Be great had we more similar relationships.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Family Folktales - Write Your Own!

Family folktales- every family’s got ‘em!
Family Folktales: Write Your Own
6:30-7:30 pm, Wednesdays, May 12 & 19 Or 10am-12:15pm Saturday, May 15
Conference Room, Rohnert Park Community Center, 5401 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park
$32 residents/$39 non-residents
Fee includes Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories workbook

Family heroes, prized heirlooms, and memorable gatherings are among the many folktale themes participants will write about in the upcoming Family Folktales: Write Your Own! workshop. The first session will be held 6:30-7:30 pm on May 12 and 19. The second session will be offered from 10am to 12:15pm on May 15. Both classes will be held at the Rohnert Park Community Center Conference Room at 5401 Snyder Lane.

The workshop which provides useful information about how to turn family stories into family folktales is for all levels of writers. The course will include an introduction to folktale motifs and in-class writing exercises designed to generate easy-to-write folktales.

Participants will receive a copy of the 122-page Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories workbook. Written by workshop facilitator Karen Pierce Gonzalez it was published by Folkheart Press (2009) and provides folktale guidelines, sample folktales and information about folktale podcasts and scrapbooking techniques as well as other creative resources for preserving folktales.

Karen Pierce Gonzalez is a member of the Western States Folklore Society and earned her degree in Anthropological Linguistics/Folklore from Sonoma State University. She has been facilitating writing workshops for many years and has earned several fiction and non-fiction awards, including Farmhouse Magazine’s Editor Choice Award and nomination for the Pushcart Prize in short stories.

She is currently at work on Folktales You Can Eat, a collection of food related folktales and foodlore.

Registration fee for the workshop is $32 Rohnert Park residents, $39 non-residents. For more information, call 707-792-5476 or 707-792-4376. Wheelchair accessible.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Folktales On "Coffee Street"

This week I sat at a black wrought iron bistro table. It was one of many on the pebbled sidewalk of “Coffee Street”. One city-block long, the street boasts several national chain coffee shops attached to brand name bookstores that now replace what used to be independently owned establishments.

Now, as back then, the early April sun was generous. Coffee drinkers, like sunflowers, sat outside turning their faces to the warm light. They basked in its summer-is-coming promise.

At the table next to me were two older, retired men who were reminiscing about their respective careers. While I was not eavesdropping, I was able to hear an occasional partial sentence. I was struck by how even just a phrase conjured up the start of a folktale.

For example:
“When I was in Nigeria we didn’t worry about that…” said the light-haired man.

Worried about what I wanted to know. What was going on at the time that would have caused worry and how was that worry handled?

Ever on the lookout for living folktales, I was tempted to lean over and tell them to preserve the folktales they were telling one another. Concerned about appearing to be nosey, I said nothing. Instead I wondered whether or not they even knew they were telling each other folktales.

Most people don’t.

That’s the rub for me. Especially when it takes literally only minutes at a time to preserve a folktale that can be shared with others long after we are no longer around to do the telling ourselves.

Either one of those men could have jotted down bullet points about what they were sharing. At a later time they could have gone back to those bullet points and flushed them out into a sentence or two… maybe even three. And that would have constituted a folktale their families and friends could have enjoyed for years to come.

It’s really that simple. So the next time you find yourself telling others about a special place, thing or relationship in your life, try to find a few moments afterwards to jot down a few notes about that folktale-in-the-making.

You (and others) will be glad you did!