Friday, February 19, 2016

..."And that's the way it was!"

Images this week are from Google Images - and show examples of the "Oral Tradition"

I grew up among people who appreciated good story telling!   Telling stories was partly entertainment and partly about building relationship.  I  was born into a world where extended family and friends  gathered on Sunday afternoons - and I remember circles of people sitting in small farm house dining rooms or parlors  talking together.  As the conversation progressed - someone would say - "That reminds me of a story.." ...and off we would go... Everyone listens and remembers, chuckles and agrees...  and that often leads to another story.  Good storytellers were prized - and since many of the stories had  been heard before - the telling of the story was important  - the timing - the emphasis - the accurate recall of details...

This could be me listening to my Uncle John ( except he talked about mountains and dessert - not the ocean ) 

This  is what modern anthropologists would call an oral tradition of telling stories about the past to remind people of who they are.  Some stories were funny , and some  sad, some about overcoming hardships, and some about getting out of scrapes, some personal, some about people long gone.  This last weekend I was talking to a cousin who was telling me again some of his stories ... hearing stories is a powerful way of connecting with people present and past...

Why is out so good to hear someone tell you the stories from their life or history?

One of my favorite family story tellers was one of my uncles - As he got older I told him "Uncle John - I wish you would write your stories down" - and after much encouragement to everybody surprise - he sold his prized hunting rifle and bought a used typewriter - and he began writing  story after story - I told him that I would duplicate and distribute to the family all of his writing - It ended up with over 300 pages of double spaced typing.  I realize that I was urging  him to break the oral tradition - but now I am glad  now to have his stories recorded in print.

Good story telling is different from gossip - The oral history that I knew never made fun of or diminished another person 

Here are two of Uncle John's  stories

"After the war, one day I was walking near the family farm and I saw a sign saying that the next weekend a  pilot would be landing in this cow pasture and would take people up for $5.00.  I had never flown before so it sounded like a good deal - even though he was charging a big price.   When I got there Saturday morning I saw the plane sitting there - it was an old bi-wing plane with  fabric covered wings and two open-air seats - the pilot in front. To get in you had to climb over the side, and once you were seated not much over the head was visible from the outside. 

All cultures - all peoples-  taught with oral history before there were schools

So I got in and fastened the safety belt and the pilot got in the front - and he called on his mechanic to start the motor.   The mechanic took hold of the propeller and the pilot called out 'contact; turned on the ignition switch, and the mechanic gave the propeller a pull ... it started OK and we taxied to the end of the cow field  and turned to face the wind - then the motor stalled ... the pilot climbed out of the cockpit and proceeded to restart the motor  by himself.  The plane immediately started forward  -
The pilot made a dash for the end of the wing to grab hold- but he lost his footing and fell down - and by the time he got up the plane was moving too fast for him to catch it...

Jesus taught by speaking to his followers in the oral tradition

So here I was a passenger in a plane with no pilot racing down the cow pasture...  I first thought to bail out - but the ground by then was moving fast and if I jumped I might break my neck. 
Then I remembered that every gasoline engine has an ignition switch so I climbed into the pilots cockpit and started looking for something that looked like an ignition switch - a rather large toggle switch caught my eye and when I flipped it - the motor came to a sudden stop... it kept rolling forward and stopped a few feet before it would have hit a truck full of airplane gasoline... The pilot came running up and thanked me for stopping the plane and gave me my 5$ back. ... and then took me on a good long ride showing me all the local sights from the air..."

Campfires and story telling - they seem to go together

And a second example:

My brother Frank and a friend George were hunting for Rocky Mountain Goats.  It was late in the season and snow was already thick at high elevations.  They had brought skis along so that we could follow the goats if they moved above the snow line.  They made camp on a little flat place on the rugged granite mountain side - The slopes were very steep ...  In the morning it the sky was  clear and it was very cold.   Frank and George started up the slopes with skis and rifles.  They had no luck seeing goats. After lunch they circled back over the north slope - they crossed the snow field on skis - Frank was a little lower than George-  - he got about half way across and the snow began to move until his skis and quickly gathered speed and volume as it crashed down the mountainside.  When  things settled down,  George went down as fast as he could to where the avalanche stopped and found Frank trapped in the snow - His head was sticking out but her was locked in tight with the snow. he was more or less upright but  his feel were still attached to the skis, and they were were buried deep in the snow.   So George set about digging him out with his hands until Frank could help get free...

Uncle John as a young man on the sides of the Snake River in Idaho - creating good experiences to tell about...

Once they got him out, they took stock of Frank's condition and found only bruises and some sore muscles from the twisting he had done - but  he was otherwise unhurt.  Even his rifle that he carried by a shoulder  strap was still with him... I guess his guardian angle was with him all the way that day!  Frank didn’t feel much like going out the next day - but a day later they were back on the slopes and each of them came home with a nice trophy sized Billy.

Now... sometimes I have trouble relating with some of the stories from my conservationist perspective today - but I still like getting in touch with there view of things a few decades back...  I do think that growing up with such stories gave me a sense that having adventures was good and the importance of being resourceful no matter what... They gave me permission...