Being a storyteller, Iíve experienced a wide variety of responses from individuals in my audiences. This is one of the fun aspects of storytelling. But one recent response tops them all.
I was asked to provide an audio tape with a selection of stories for radio station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa (my home town). The station had launched a series of programs dedicated to the age-old art of oral storytelling, and the program director was asking several professional tellers from throughout the country to submit tapes for airing their stories.
Several of my stories were aired, and soon thereafter I received a very interesting letter from a Mr. Walter Walters in Des Moines. At first I didnít recognize his name. But as I read his letter I realized this was little Walter who lived at the Des Moines Childrenís Home at the corner of High Street and Harding Road in Des Moines many years ago.
A bit of background.
When I was a teenager in the 1940s, I was an active member of First Methodist Church in downtown Des Moines. My church youth group decided to do something nice for the kids at the childrenís home, so we planned and outing with them.
It was a one-time deal for all members of the youth group, except me. I enjoyed the afternoon at Waterworks Park with these kids so much I continued to take small groups of boys from the home on fishing trips almost every week over the next three years.
In addition to the fishing trips, I occasionally stopped at the home when riding my Harley Davidson motorcycle with my pet Cocker Spaniel dog proudly sitting in a box mounted over the back fender. No dogs lived at this home. The kids really enjoyed playing with Patter, my friendly pooch. One of my most enthusiastic fishing trip boys was Walter, along with his brother, Lee.
After these many years, here comes a letter from Walter, now in his 50s. He had heard one of my stories on WHO radio and called the program director to obtain my mailing address. Still not sure whether or not I was the person he remembered from his youth, he wrote: "Are you by any chance the Jim Woodard who took kids from the Des Moines Childrenís Home on fishing trips many year ago?"
Indeed I was that person. And it was great to hear from Walter - the first and only contact Iíve ever had from one of those youngsters. Weíve been communicating ever since that first letter. I enjoyed my volunteer work at the childrenís home so much I applied for and obtained a full-time position as a counselor at Boys Town, Nebr. Here, I worked for two years before getting married and raising my own family. It was during this time at Boys Town that I started my practice of storytelling.
Iíve also heard from several of my charges at Boys Town, usually resulting from newspaper stories about my storytelling programs. Itís always good to hear from them. Storytelling can be a great communications catalyst. It often brings people together in very unexpected ways.
Incidentally, WHO radio in Des Moines is the station where Ronald Reagan worked as a sportscaster for several years when he was a young man. And currently, Iím the regularly featured storyteller at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. The world isnít so large after all.
C. 1999-2002 Jim Woodard is a professional storyteller and writer. He has delivered hundreds of storytelling programs for groups (children and adults) in West Coast cities and the Midwest. He also writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column. Phone 805/658-6697