One day when I was eight, my mom said my sister and I didn't have to go to school that day. I was really surprised - Mom would often keep us home for special occasions, but it was only the first week of school. She packed our backpacks with some snacks and coloring books, and we were off on an adventure!
We pulled up to a house that I didn't even notice. I was too distracted by the huge expanse of lawn dotted with big white event tents. We sat down on the folding chairs in one of the tents, and a gentleman got on stage with an polka-dotted bow tie and a lovely Southern drawl. And Donald Davis told us a story.
He told us about Miss Daisy, his fourth-grade teacher, who helped them plan a trip around the world instead of teaching them out of the textbook. They calculated the distance between the Nile and the Amazon, but they never did math. They plotted a trip through all seven continents, but never studied geography. And when one boy got lice and had his head shaved, Miss Daisy told the class it was a sacrifice to Neptune, god of the sea. Donald stood with his hands on his hips, arms akimbo and face scrunched up as he told us how Miss Daisy dealt with a bully.
I was enthralled. The whole day went on like that, with wonderful tellers and amazing stories that stuck in my head and blossomed in my imagination. I was already a voracious reader, and this was like a book but better! I was PART of the story they told. I could sing along and laugh and listen and all of that helped the teller make the story better. My sister and I didn't pull out our coloring books once.
Stories are woven into the fiber of our culture. They are how we learn, how we remember, how we empathize with someone we don't know. I've had my heart touched by a woman telling how her parents' love could bend steel. I've learned, through stories, that humor is a wonderful way to deal with a problem, and if something is embarrassing now, it will probably be HILARIOUS later.
That little festival that I went to at Karen Ashton's home is now a national festival with its own park in Provo Canyon - the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. I have never missed once in sixteen years. It's the beginning of autumn for me, and I look forward to it every year. This Labor Day weekend, I got to take my son. I know he isn't old enough yet, but he'll understand soon.
Donald Davis, still telling, still in his bow tie, was there again this year. I went and shook his hand and said, "Thank you."