It was Fall 1995. My son's 4th grade class had an overnight field trip to Camp Chingachgook, a nearby YMCA camp on Lake George. I went along as a chaperone and was assigned to a girls cabin.
At lunch, we were all informed that each cabin could do something, such as sing a song, after dinner that night by the fireplace. I told the girls in my cabin, "I know an Iroquois story about why Bear has a stubby tail. It starts with Bear bragging to each animal he meets in the forest about how his tail is better than theirs. Each of you can choose which animal you want to be and just talk to me, as Bear." No one had any other ideas, so we decided to tell the story together. It seemed simple enough -- they would tell me in a whisper which animal they were as I came up to them, I would greet them, insult their tail, and they would get huffy and leave. We didn't even have a rehearsal during the few minutes of spare time we had in our schedule.
At dinner, however, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I had only told stories on a few occasions, to small groups -- stories I had heard storytellers tell. I just mimicked, as best I could remember, what the storytellers had said and done. I had no training. There were over 100 4th graders and about 40 chaperones and camp leaders. What had I been thinking??? But it was too late to do anything but go forward.
When it was our turn, we went to the front of the room, with the girls sitting in a line. I started, just the same way as the storyteller I had heard:
"Long, long ago (using the sweeping hand gesture I had seen to indicate long ago), when animals could still speak, Bear had a great big long fluffy tail. It was so long that it could go from me to you (pointing to a 4th grader about 20 feet away.)"
I remember being amazed at this point. In that large room with almost 150 people, it was completely quiet, and my voice filled the space. It was magical.
When it was time for the girls' parts, the first girl chirpily told Bear that her little bird tail was just what she needed. Everything was going fine until one girl froze after she told me which animal she was. So Bear just her asked questions that she could answer with a "yes" or a "no."
At the end, we all got a nice round of applause. Many people came up to me exclaiming, "How did you do that between lunch and now? It was wonderful." I said, "The story made it easy to do. The girls quickly figured out what animal they wanted to be and what they wanted to say."
That night, in my sleeping bag in my bunk bed, I went over the events of the evening and started shaking -- an adrenalin surge. It had been so wonderful. I knew then that I had to learn about storytelling. I had no idea what I would do with storytelling since I had spent the last 24 years as a computer programmer. I even had a masters degree in computer science. Nonetheless, I was absolutely certain that if I didn't pursue storytelling, that I would regret it the rest of my life.
At age 45, I found my vocation.
Copyright 2010 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.