Rose Avent, a storyteller in the Arlington Spellbinders Program, says she believes everyone has a story to tell — folk tales, fairy tales, every country around the world has stories.
“Today’s story is not an old one; it’s a story from 2022 by Kobi Yamada, but it has the flavor of an old story and appealed to me.”
Avent takes her chair in front of the group and begins. “A child no one had ever seen before was given an odd little gift. It was an oval box and when she took off the lid she found a piece of candy. It was the most novel candy, like a warm summer day.” The child devoured it but when she tried to get another piece, the lid wouldn’t come off. She tried everything to get it off and got angry.
The next day she was going to throw the box away when the lid came off revealing a unique shimmering candy. She closed her eyes. It was like a warm hug and a wild adventure rolled into one.
She realized what a gift she had been given and that if she had as much candy as she could eat she wouldn’t appreciate it. She learned the importance of one gift a day to savor because she never knew how much she would get.
Dana Kluegel is next with a different kind of story. “It’s an old folk tale from India.” She stands in front of the group moving around as she tells her story about a king who was a happy guy but one thing he didn’t like was to take a bath. “He hadn’t taken a bath for a week. No, a month. Well, a year.” Kluegel holds her nose.
The king decides to walk down to the river and he soaks himself, brushes his teeth, plays with his toy boat. He scrubs his feet. “You don’t want to be king with dirty feet.” But wherever the king walked he got dirty feet. The king gave his servant Gabu three days to solve this problem.
The first idea was to sweep up the dirt. “Everyone get your brushes. 1-2-3- sweep.” But the dirt went up in the air and caused a dust storm and everyone was coughing. Gabu’s tiny voice could be heard to say, “What will I do.” Kluegel paces the room.
“I know, wash it away 1-2-3. Everyone get buckets.” But the water went over the whole village up to the waist, then the chest.
The king’s deep voice could be heard to say, “Gabu, I didn’t ask you to build a swimming pool.”
The final solution was to stitch together leather over the whole area and there was no dirt. But the plants would die and the animals would have no food and the people would die. So they cut the leather back and tied it to the king’s feet.”
And Kluegel concludes, “This is the way we got our own shoes.”
Avent and Kluegel are both part of the Arlington chapter of the National Spellbinders which participates in the Arlington 55-plus programs. Avent says, “We have all undergone training. The program covers so many things like where to find your stories, the beginning and the end so the audiences know when the story is finished. It’s tricker than you think.” Avent says she has been telling her stories for over ten years and Kluegel remembers it must have been about 24 years for her.
Kluegel says it is habit forming. “If you don’t tell a story, you feel something is missing.” In addition, she says “It keeps my skills up and gives me a lift along with the people who hear the story.”
Avent remembers her first story was “Suzy the Duck” which came from a picture book. While she says they don’t usually use props, in this case she remembers using a duck that made a quack sound which was perfect for the story. Before Covid the group often told stories to children but now the Spellbinders still aren’t allowed back in the schools. Kluegel explains the program was meant to be intergenerational; many children don’t have grandparents nearby.
Kluegel loves to tell folktales. “It doesn’t matter what country. There are generations of storytelling. Kluegel says sometimes she does adjust her stories. For instance, she may curtail some of the violence or if the king wants to give away his daughter, the story changes so the daughter gets to decide.
Since the stories are told from memory to create images both Avent and Kluegel had practiced this morning — Avent in the car and Kluegel on her dog. “Of course he liked it; he’d just had a walk and a treat.” And both of them practice the stories on their grandchildren.
The Spellbinders is a national organization with local chapters focused on the art of storytelling. The program works to build strong caring relationships between older adults and youth. It was originated in the early 1980’s by Germaine Dietsch who was alarmed at the growing disconnect between the generations that would deprive elders of their sense of meaning and youngsters of their sources of wisdom and talent.