Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rescued by Elijah

Stories just seem to find me. Yesterday I was on my way to tell stories at the Hagood Mill Storytelling Festival in Pickens, South Carolina. It was a rainy, foggy and overall gloomy morning, which I must say fit my mood.

 I had fallen asleep the night before crying from the waves of grief that have consumed me this week.  A week filled with Red Sox playoff games, my parents wedding anniversary and birthdays, left me missing my dad intensely. And now I was on my way to tell stories on stage for the first time in too long.  As I drove through the mist and fog I thought about the stories I wanted to tell. So many of my stories are filled with “Dadisms” that I found myself questioning whether I’d be able to get through a single story without choking up on stage.

As I pulled into the parking lot tears streamed down my cheeks and I just didn’t know if I’d be able to get through the day. But I wiped my tears and told myself to “Josie Up!” (that’ll be next week’s story) and get out there and enjoy all the stories I’d hear.

I took a deep breath, popped the trunk latch to get my CD’s, stepped out of the car and shut the door. I knew immediately that I had once again locked my keys in the car. Oh how I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve done that!! My next car will definitely have a keyless entry!

Staring into my trunk I noticed the back seat release latch and said a little prayer of thanksgiving. Perhaps I’d be able to get in my car after all without having to call a locksmith, again. I pulled and pulled on that latch, but nothing happened. Finally I got the great idea to bang/push on the seat alternately with pulling on the release latch. It eventually worked. Now I looked at my trunk and that little opening into my car and thought, “No way is my Dairy Queen, Dunkin Donut loving butt getting through there . . . I need a kid!”

I looked around at the crowds gathering for the festival and quickly assessed that this was a typical 60+ age crowd and did not see any potential trunk crawling kids. So again I looked to the heavens and said, “Lord please help out your dingbat, story loving, grieving girl hear – I need a kid, quick.”

 As soon as I offered up my ridiculous little prayer, a mini-van drove into the parking lot and I spotted two little blond heads in their car seats.  I approached the mini-van, introduced myself and my dilemma. The grand-dad driving the mini-van was a dead-ringer for GomerPile with a smile and voice to match, and his grandsons could have easily been my Russell and Joel at age 5 and 2. But I knew without a doubt that God has a sense of humor when that 5 year old boy jumped out of the van to help me and landed wearing a pair of black cowboy boots   (just like my Russell’s  -“Naked Cowboy” boots) and introduced himself as Elijah – Really, “Elijah”?! Ok God, now you’re just showing off!

Grand-dad Gomer lifted Elijah into my trunk and I was rescued, but not just rescued from being locked out of my trunk. I now had a story to tell, a healed heart and inspiration to tell the “Naked Cowboy” story on stage for the first time. God is good.

Rescued from my own stupidity, and given a reprieve from the grief consuming me, the weather may have remained gloomy but my heart was filled with the wonder and power of the stories that surrounded me. I love a God with a sense of humor.

 And if you’ve never been to the Hagood Mill Storytelling Festival, I must say it is worth the trip! A perfect setting nestled in the hills of Pickens, SC. This year I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Ellouise Schoettler, Derrick Phillips and John Fowler. Great stories and a beautiful location – mark your calendar now for the third Saturday in October 2014 . . . See you there!
(c) 10.20.2013 Martha Reed Johnson


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lessons From "The Wayback"

“The Wayback” does not refer to stories from “way back when” but instead refers to the pre-minivan place where many of my generation spent our childhood. “The Wayback” of the family station wagon was the place where the youngest family members were positioned for family road trips - long and short. There were no seatbelts, or seats for that matter, no DVD screens or game consoles. We were simply dumped back there to bounce around for the journey and figure out a way to entertain ourselves.

It was a place where you either learned to get along with your siblings, or didn’t. But either way it didn’t matter, you were stuck back there with them. Often it was hot, and no amount of pillows or blankets could make it comfortable, especially when your younger sister spent all the time in the “wayback” chattering nonstop.

My life in the wayback began in a playpen and lasted well into my teen years. It was there that I learned to get along with my sister, that you don’t leave family behind and that littering is not tolerated.

I was recently reminded of the “no littering lesson” as I a drove down a country road on my way to a storytelling gig. On the side of the road for a quarter mile stretch there were beer cans, fast food bags, super size drink cups and other assorted trash strewn carelessly amidst the grass and scrub trees. Obviously someone had not learned the “no littering” rule. It is simply baffling to me that someone can throw their trash out their window and not give it a second thought. I mean really! Who do they think is going to clean up their trash!!

I remember vividly the day I learned NOT to litter. I was eight and my sister was six. We were in the “wayback” of the family station wagon somewhere between Massachusetts and California. We’d been back there for weeks! We (my brothers) had tried to leave my sister in Utah but had been unsuccessful. That was the moment we learned “you don’t leave family behind”! But I digress – back to littering.

My sister and I were playing around in the “wayback”.  It was a hot day and all the windows were open. The wind was whipping through the car blowing our hair everywhere. She handed me a piece of Trident gum and I quickly unwrapped the piece and popped it in my mouth. The gum wrapper slipped through my fingers and sailed out the back window of the wagon. Some how my father saw that wrapper flicker in his rear view mirror and sail away.

Immediately he pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car and walked around to the back window. He leaned in and asked us, “Whose wrapper was that?” We both pointed to the other one and said, “Hers”. We then watched Dad walk to the camping gear we towed behind us in a small sail boat. He pulled the canvas back revealing the camping gear and pulled out a Hefty trash bag. He walked back over to our window, handed us the trash bag and instructed us to pick up the trash on the side of the road.

While Beth and I walked along the side of the road picking up trash, Mom, Dad and the boys sat by the side of the road drinking lemonade. When Beth and I had filled most of that trash bag we walked back over to Dad to ask if we were done. He looked at us and asked, “Did you find your gum wrapper?”

Are you kidding me! We didn’t find our gum wrapper, but we did learn a valuable lesson that day. I never littered again – even by accident.

Twenty-five years later it was a lesson I taught my sons along a country road in West Virginia. You don’t leave your trash behind. I sure wish everyone had learned that lesson when they were young. What a beautiful world it would be . . . .
(c) 10.06.2013 Martha Reed Johnson