GREENFIELD – Once a month, a dozen or so folks gather at the Hancock County Public Library, and the sharing begins.
The group, known as the “As I Recall Storytelling Guild,” usually begins with a theme that participants can follow, but as story meanders into story, the yarns spin into a stream of consciousness of memories, some dating back more than 70 years.
At a recent meeting, the theme for the month was romance, but participant John Robertson, 91, took the narrative in a different direction as he remembered a time in the early 1970s when he and his young son, looking for some father-son adventure, opted to join the Indian Guides at the local YMCA. They soon found themselves in the fast-moving, 50-degree Jack’s Fork River in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.
Robertson — a veteran storyteller — set the scene, and his audience laughed in anticipation of what was to come: as Murphy’s Law would have it, their canoe tipped, dumping Robertson and his boy into the frigid water. But all’s well that ends well: Robertson managed to get himself and his cold, wet and crying 6-year-old back into an upright canoe for the remainder of the trip.
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“That was the longest 45 minutes of my life,” he recalled.
The group passed around a microphone, and Tom Graham, 69, returned the topic to the romance theme by recounting his high school days when he was forced to give away the location of his best friend’s favorite parking spot — down by the river. Graham’s friend and his date were out past curfew, and the girl’s father was calling around, trying to find her. Graham got a call from his friend’s father and had to spill the beans.
As it turns out, all was in innocence. Graham’s friend explained that the car engine had died, and with the weather being cold, the girl didn’t want to be left alone. That was the story, at least.
“I asked him how they stayed warm,” Tom said with a twinkle. “He said, ‘Any way we could.’”
Robertson, the de facto leader of the storytelling group at the library, was instrumental in its creation. Several years ago, while vacationing with friends in Jonesborough, Tennessee, he attended the National Storytelling Festival and happened to wander into a tent where visitors to the festival could stop in and tell a five-minute story or two.
Robertson was so enthralled by his experience that he began attending a monthly storytelling group in Indianapolis sponsored by the Storytelling Arts of Indiana. He eventually scored a grant for the Storytelling Arts of Indiana and convinced the group to come out to Greenfield and help him start a storytelling guild.
Coached by Bob Sanders, co-founder of Storytelling Arts of Indiana, and professional storyteller Ken Ogus, the fledgling storytellers sat through through six sessions of the art of storytelling, of listening and how to give feedback.
Since then, the group, which serves as a social outlet and a touchstone for its members, has continued to meet.
Member Ann Noe Dunnichay, 84, enjoys getting together with people she can relate to.
“We’re keeping stories alive,” Dunnichay said. “What I enjoy a lot is listening to someone tell a story, and it bring backs memories that I haven’t had for a long time, and it’s a good feeling.”
“We just go to the library and enjoy it,” added Patsy Jilg, 76. Dunnichay and Jilg live in the same neighborhood as Robertson, and the three of them often go out to lunch before heading to the afternoon meeting.
As nostalgia ran its course through the recent gathering, the topic meandered into favorite radio programs of the ’30s and ’40s, and Robertson reminisced about a visit to a Detroit radio station to see a live performance of “The Lone Ranger” radio program. Robertson recalled that seeing it in person was much different than using his imagination to visualize the action from the radio broadcast.
Sitting behind the glass of the soundproof booth in the studio, 12-year-old Robertson noticed that Tonto didn’t look like a Native American at all; he was startled to notice the actor portraying Tonto had blonde hair.
“And the Lone Ranger didn’t have a mask,” he recollected. “He had blue jeans on!”
The magic evaporated even further as toilet plungers emerged to create the galloping sound of the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver.
“That horse was never as big and beautiful and noble as the one on the radio,” he lamented.
As the storytelling wound down, some members commented of the value of the oral history recounted at each session and discussed the possibility of recording some of their stories for future generations.
“It amazes me all the stories we have,” said Gwen Betor, 80, a member of the guild since its inception. “One story leads to another, and everyone has a story.”
The group, which is always looking for new members of any age, meets for 90 minutes at 1 p.m., the second Monday of the month at the Hancock County Public Library, 900 W. McKenzie Road. It’s next meeting will be May 9. Visit hcplibrary.org to learn more.