Iíve long been interested in how my fellow storytellers became actively involved in the age-old art of oral storytelling. Hereís my story: When I was in my late teens, the youth organization at our church decided to take a group of orphan kids from the Des Moines Childrenís Home on an afternoon fun outing. I went along and enjoyed it so much I continued to take small groups of boys on fishing trips every couple of weeks over the next two years.
While sitting on the river bank waiting for fish to bite, I entertained the kids by making up and telling stories. I was amazed at how much they enjoyed those stories. Later, when discussing past outings, the kids talked more about the stories they heard than the fish they caught, or almost caught. And, yes, they did occasionally catch a nice size catfish.
I particularly remember one story I made up, but it was probably based on a story I previously read. It was about a fictitious catfish I called "Wiggle," caught by one of the boys. He took it home in a pail of water, but didnít have the heart to kill it to provide a fish dinner. So he kept it as his pet. The fish soon started splashing around so much it flipped right out of the pail on several occasions. Pretty soon Wiggle was able to live entirely out of water, and would follow the boy to school every day. When school was out in the afternoon, that catfish was always at the school door waiting for its young master.
One day, disaster struck. The boy was crossing a bridge over a creek. The catfish was, of course, following close behind, as always. But there was quite a space between the planks in the middle of the bridge. The catfish fell through the opening and into the water. Regretfully, the fish drowned. The kids talked about that story for months, wondering if it might really be possible to have a pet catfish. And if they could have such a pet, they would never, ever let it cross a bridge over a creek.
When I was 20, I started a career in broadcasting, as an announcer, DJ, newscaster and program producer-host. I worked at radio and television stations in Omaha and Des Moines. Then, after moving to California, I owned and operated a public relations agency for many years.
At one point, I worked as a counselor at Boys Town, Nebr. Here, I noticed several of my young charges were struggling with a serious case of shyness and lack of self confidence, as I myself had as a boy. I started telling them stories, and had them tell and act out scenes in certain stories. It had a strong corrective influence in their lives.
Today, Iím presenting storytelling programs for a wide range of groups at many types of venues - including continuing programs at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the LA County Museum of Art. I enjoy crawling into the skin of other people, portraying them and telling stories about them. The focus is on the featured character, not me. Thatís enjoyable and good therapy for me. But the most satisfying aspect of my current storytelling is to see its positive impact on listeners - young and old.
C. 2001 Jim Woodard now lives in Ventura, California, but occasionally returns to his home country in the Midwest for storytelling presentations. Phone 805-658-6697. E-mail: Storyjim@storyteller.net