Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Patchwork Tales: Making Stories from Story Fragments

By Linda Goodman

©Linda Goodman, 1/2015

I have hundreds of story fragments (concepts, memories, story starters) running through my head. Every so often, two or more of them collide and a story is born. Those are usually the easiest stories to write. I feel like I am taking dictation.

Sometimes, though, the collision never happens. That means work is required.

After both my parents had passed away, I began telling an anecdote (fragment #1) at family reunions about the first (and only) time that my Daddy every punished me. My Mama, the disciplinarian in our home, was so mad at me that she did not trust herself to administer my punishment. She ordered Daddy to do it for her. To my surprise, he agreed and took me into the back bedroom and shut the door. I was scared, but even worse, I was humiliated. Daddy had never laid a hand on a child. I would be the first child to have ever been bad enough for him to have to hit.

I readied myself for the blow, but it never came. Instead, Daddy whispered to me to start crying, and  I did. Meanwhile, he clapped his hands together hard for about thirty seconds. We did a good job of simulating the sounds of a whipping. In fact, we were so convincing that when Daddy and I came out of that room, Mama wrapped her arms around me and cried, “My baby!” Then she hollered at Daddy for hitting me too hard. She did not speak to him for days.

Whenever I told this anecdote at family gatherings, folks howled with laughter. I decided to take this anecdote to the stage. Before I could do that, though, I had to turn it into a real story. My family laughed at the anecdote because they remembered Mama and Daddy well. My family also knew the context surrounding my story. My storytelling audiences would not have that context. I had to create it for them.

I asked myself why I wanted to share that story. Daddy was a man of great integrity. Why did he choose to make a fool out of Mama? That was totally out of character for him.

Pondering this issue brought back a memory (fragment #2) of overhearing Mama tell Daddy that we children loved him more than we loved her. Daddy told her that was nonsense. “They don’t love me more than they love you,” he insisted. “It’s just that you’re so stern all the time, they’re afraid to show you any affection. It wouldn’t hurt you to show a little compassion once in a while.”

Why was Mama so mad to begin with? That question brought forth another memory (fragment #3): I had asked Mama if I could go home with my friend Cathy after school that day. She had answered NO! I went anyway. I knew in advance what the consequences be. That is, I knew until Daddy was brought into the equation.

Why did he so readily offer to whip me? To make a fool out of the woman he loved and respected most? Or was this his effort to get her to show some compassion to one of her children?

This is where storytelling meets interpretation. I thought back to when I walked out of that room, crocodile tears running down my cheeks, and was met by Mama’s arms, wrapping around me and holding me close. That was the first hug I had ever received from Mama (fragment #4). I don’t know if Daddy planned for that to happen, but in my mind, he did. Because of the hug that resulted from that fake punishment, Mama and I became close. I stopped purposely doing things that I knew would make her mad, and I started to care about her feelings.

This fourth fragment was the key that unlocked the story.  The anecdote about the first time Daddy ever punished me had morphed into being the story of the first time Mama ever hugged me. Titled The Punishment, the story became a tool to illustrate the power of compassion over the power of force.

The Punishment is also one of the tools I use to teach my writing process to participants in my workshop Patchwork Tales: Making Stories from Story Fragments. Everyone has story fragments. Finding the fragments that match up to make a story, much like making a patchwork quilt, can be challenging. It also requires patience when the fragments cannot be matched so easily. Finding the key that unlocked the story to which my anecdote belonged took me almost a year. Once the key was found, however, the story flowed beautifully. In 2014, it received a Winner Award for Tellable Adult Stories from Storytelling World.

What fragments are hanging around in your head? Those that make you feel nothing are dead weight. Instead of focusing on them, concentrate on the ones that make you feel an emotion. Which ones give you the warm fuzzies? Which ones scare you? Which ones make you mad? Which ones make you cry? They are the fragments that are seeds for what could be great stories. These fragments are pure storytelling gold.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Passing the Torch

    STF Opening Address, March 5, 1999

                                              Written and Presented by Linda Goodman
         ©Linda Goodman 1999

    The theme for this year’s Sharing the Fire is “Passing the Torch.”   Of course, for one to pass the torch there must be a potential torch-bearer to accept it.  I suspect that a number of you are newcomers to Sharing
    the Fire.  Even some you old-times here may be sitting on the fence, not yet convinced that the storytelling torch is one that you can bear.  Perhaps this conference will make up your mind for you.  At the very least, it will give you a lot to think about.

    Personally, I believe that “Passing the Torch” is a misnomer.  The word “the” implies that there is only one torch to pass.  Every true storyteller has countless torches in his or her cache.  As soon as one is passed along, another is taken and held aloft as the storyteller waits for the next torch bearer to come.  The torches are lit from an eternal flame that burns deep in our hearts, a flame that cannot be ignored once it has made its presence known.  We have no choice but to share the fire, to “pass torches.”

    I could give you many reasons as to why the storytelling torch is a worthy one to pass.  There are the rote reasons that we use all the time – the ones we use to convince schools and other institutions to engage
    storytellers.  I will not enumerate those reasons because you know them already and can probably recite them by heart.  As a storyteller, I have learned that my stories do not work unless they live in my heart.  For
    that reason I would like to share with you why the flame of storytelling burns in my heart, why I could not ignore it even if I tried – and, believe me, I have tried.

    I was born in the town St. Paul in Wise County, Virginia – a coal mining area nestled in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains.  We lived in primitive conditions when I was born there in 1952.  In fact, my family, along with most of the other families we knew, had no electricity: ergo, no television.  That was okay, though.  We managed to find other ways to amuse ourselves.  There were church socials and county fairs.  My favorite activity was to go into the center of town on a Saturday afternoon and listen to the storytellers who gathered there.

    One of the most popular storytellers in the area just happened to be my father. Daddy had had a touch of the wanderlust in his youth and had hopped freight trains all over North America before coming back to Wise County to settle down at the ripe old age of forty-one.  He could hold folks spellbound for hours with his tales of far-off places.  Most of his audience had never been outside Wise County.  Storytelling, I learned early in life, could make me feel like I had actually visited places I had never even seen; could even make me feel like I knew people I had never even met.  My family could not afford movies in those days, but storytelling allowed me to paint pictures in my own imagination – pictures that were just as detailed and real as those on the big screen.

    My parents used storytelling to teach their children and found it to be quite a successful learning tool.  I was never told  to not do something.  Rather, I was told a story about someone who suffered the consequences of the actions I was contemplating.  When my mother found me playing near the road, she did not tell me not to play near the road.  Instead, she said, “You know, my cousin, Marthie Jean, played
    near the road one day.  Wagon come by.  Wheel broke loose.  Rolled over her leg and broke it in three places.  She still limps to this very day!”

    It never occurred to me to ask how one wheel could break a leg in three places.  I never played near the road again.

    When the first European settlers migrated to the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee, they found a people already living there in villages with English-style houses and Christian churches.  These people had the appearance of being white, spoke Elizabethan English, claimed to be “Portyghee”, and called themselves Melungeons.  These are the people from whom I am descended.
    The Melungeons were living on the fertile land of the valleys, the best land: the land that these new settlers wanted, and, indeed, had even been promised, for themselves.  They seized this land by the only legal
    means possible at the time.  They convinced the state of Tennessee to declare the Melungeons to be free people of color.  Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky , and North Carolina followed suit.  Free people of color were not allowed to own land.  They could not even petition the courts to right this injustice.

    The result was that the Melungeons were forced to leave their own land. They were banished into the mountains, pushed further and further back until finally they settled on the rocky soil where no sane person would choose to live.  Folks started calling them by a new name:  ridge-runners.

    The origin of the Melungeons is a mystery to this day, but many stories have circulated about where they came from and what kind of people they are.  So many theories have been put forth that the Melungeons are often referred to as “Sons and Daughters of the Legend.”  Legend, in this instance, is not a complimentary term.  I heard those legends often when I was a child.  One of them claimed that the Melungeons were tri-racial isolates, an ominous mixture of renegade Indian, escaped slave, and poor
    white trash.  Always the stories about Melungeons contained adjectives like inbred, immoral, filthy, and ignorant.  Some of the stories even used us as a substitute for the boogey-man.  “If you don’t behave,” children were told, “the Melungeons will get you!”

    Thank God that I had the stories of my father, a man whom I knew to speak true, to counter-balance the stories that I heard when I went into town.  My father’s stories were about a people so intelligent that they could grow vegetables from rock; a people of integrity, who would rather die than go against their principles; a people who communed with nature to the point that they could predict the weather as well as any modern weatherman, who knew the habits of any animal native to their mountain home; a people dedicated to family and fiercely loyal to friends.  My father’s stories are responsible for the pride that I have in my heritage today.  I shudder to think what my life would have been like, had I not had him to expose the lies that were told by those who did not know or understand us.

    Today the Melungeon story has been preserved in a book entitled Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People.  In this book, author N. Brent Kennedy reclaims the dignity that had been lost to so many
    Melungeons.  As a result of his story, many who have spent their lives hiding their pasts have come forward to claim their heritage at last. Our story is being told and told often, and the story’s power is making those who once derided our way of life not only hear, but listen.

    When my family moved from the Appalachian Mountains to Portsmouth, Virginia, we found that Portsmouth folks (City Slickers, we called them) did not care much for hillbillies in their midst.  We were outsiders.  The grown-ups, I believe, did not mind being outsiders.  In fact, I believe they preferred it that way.  But we children wanted nothing more than to fit into our new environment.  My brother Allen hit upon the idea that the Great Dismal Swamp, which was just a few miles from our apartment, was the way to do it. 

    All of us kids knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone else, who had gone into that swamp and never returned – just disappeared.  Dozens of stories circulated about what might have happened to them.  My brother Allen managed to convince my brother Lee that if the two of them could go into that swamp, spend the day, and live to tell the tale, they would be heroes.  Everyone would want to be their friend. 

    That is how I came to be among a group of children standing on the edge of the swamp one Saturday morning, waving to my brothers as they walked inside.  Tears streaked my face – I was sure that I would never see either of them again.  But in the late afternoon, back out they came, bringing with them a tale of having found a grown man sunk up to his neck in quicksand.  They claimed they had each grabbed an arm and popped him up to safety.

    It never occurred to the rest of us kids to ask my brothers where that man was.  All we knew was that they had spent the day in the swamp and had not only managed to survive, but had saved a life in the bargain.  My brothers’ plan had worked.  They did become heroes.  Everyone wanted to be their friend.  And I was  an eye-witness to a real-life example of how storytelling can break down barriers.  My brothers became leaders among the kids in our neighborhood.  They became a valued part of the community that had scorned them.  That was a lesson I have never forgotten, and as I have moved around the country for the past sixteen years, I have learned that storytellers do not remain friendless for long.

    On August 8, 1987, my brother Lee called and gave me the sad news that my father was in the hospital.  He was dying of bone cancer, and the doctors expected him to live for just a few days longer.  I left my home in Connecticut and flew down to Virginia to be with him.  There was a crowd of people in his hospital room when I arrived, and so I hung back until the crowd had thinned out and only my sister and I were left in the room with him.  The morphine was wearing off and he was in a great deal of pain when he finally saw me.  I took his hand, and he whispered, “Please, Linda, take me home.”

    I looked at his swollen body, the tubes, and the needles – and I knew that I could not do what he was asking.  I brushed his forehead with my lips, looked deep into his eyes, and said, “Daddy, I can’t take you home.  But maybe I can make this place feel more like home.  Would you like that?”

    He nodded and closed his eyes, and I began to tell him the stories that he had told me when I was a little girl.  I told his favorites:  Taily Bone, Sody Salyrytus, and Lazy Jack.  Somewhere near the end of the
    telling, a nurse came in and gave him a shot of morphine.  A short while later he was snoring.  He slept in peace and I was relieved that his pain had been temporarily relieved.  But I also felt helpless and useless.  He had made such a simple request, for the first time asking me to do something for him, and I had been unable to fulfill it.  At just that moment, my sister, as though reading my thoughts, touched my shoulder and said, “You gave him what he wanted, Linda.  Your stories took him home.”

    At ten o’clock that evening, the hospital called me at my parents’ apartment to let me know that my father had passed away.  I called my brothers and my sister.  We all gathered together with my mother, trying
    to imagine our family without its anchor.  Tears flowed freely at first.  All we could see was darkness.  But then something amazing happened.  My brother Lee told the story about how my father had once gotten his foot stuck in my mother’s favorite coffee pot.  Then I told the story of the time that Daddy thought the preacher was the Fuller Brush man.  My sister Evelyn told about the day he had waited in the wrong house for my brother Lee to come home.  My brother Allen told about the time Daddy had made delicious biscuits, but had not checked the measuring cup first.  Our biscuits were filled with screws, nuts, and bolts. Suddenly the tears were replaced by laughter, and the image of our father suffering in that hospital bed was vanquished.  The stories enabled us to celebrate the strong and vital man that he had been, the man whom we were blessed to call father.

    A year-and-a-half later, on February 28, 1989, I received a phone call from my mother, who wanted to talk.  I was busy studying for an economics exam and told her that I would call her back.  “I’ll only keep you a few minutes,” she countered.

    Anyone who knew my mother knew that she was not capable of a conversation that lasted only a few minutes.  “I’ll call you back tomorrow, Momma,” I insisted, and as I was hanging up the phone, I could hear her say, in the background, “Nobody wants to talk to me.”

    I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to stop studying and call her back that evening.  “Tomorrow,” I reasoned, “I will have more time.”

    The next day, after I had taken my exam, I returned to my office to call Momma.  But before I could pick up the phone to dial, it rang.  It was my brother Allen, calling to tell me that my mother had passed away during the night.  She had not even been sick.  Her death was a total surprise.

    After the funeral in Virginia, I returned home to Connecticut carrying the burden of knowing that I had refused  to talk with my mother on the last day of her life.  I dealt with this burden by burying it.   I kept myself too busy to think about it.  I ignored my husband and my daughter most of the time, and when I was not ignoring them, I was making them miserable.  A year passed before my husband reached the limit his patience could endure.  “You need help,” he insisted.

    I found that help from a wonderful grief counselor in Coventry, Connecticut, who advised me to deal with my grief and guilt through my storytelling.  I took her advice and starting writing and telling stories about my mother.

    The first story I wrote was The Radio, which was about a Christmas present that my mother had bought me.  As I shared this story, I remembered the warmth and strength of my mother’s love.  Then I wrote The Punishment, the story of a fake whipping from my father that had moved my mother to show me compassion at a time when I did not think she was capable of compassion.  This story, too, made me remember my mother’s love.

    Neither of these stories helped me, however, because my mother’s love had never been in question.  I needed a story that would convince me that she knew that I loved her.  I was at the lowest and darkest point in my life when I remembered the first birthday present I had ever bought my mother.  The memory was so vivid that I ran to my word processor immediately, unable to wait to get the story in written form.  It flowed so quickly and so easily that I feel strange when I take credit as its author.  I prefer to think of this story as a special gift from a guardian angel, my mother.  The Bobby Pins was my salvation. 

    Telling The Bobby Pins helps me to remember that the brief conversation that my mother and I had on the evening before she died was just one moment in time.  There were other moments as well, and they were beautiful.  I know that my mother was aware of the deep love I had for her.. 

    Whenever I share stories about either of my parents, people come up to me afterwards and tell me how lucky I am to have been raised by two such wonderful people.  What better tribute can be paid to a loved one?

    On August 15, 1996, my granddaughter Morgan was born.  She seemed perfect, but one week after her birth, a routine exam revealed a problem with her right eye.  She was immediately rushed to a pediatric ophthalmologist, who discovered a cataract.

    The pediatrician had prepared us for the possibility of a tumor, so to me the diagnosis of a cataract seemed like good news.  My daughter Melanie, however, was devastated.  The weekend after the surgery, Melanie and Morgan stayed at my home.  Morgan was in a lot of pain and needed constant care and comfort.  That Saturday evening, I came downstairs to find Melanie, tears running down her face, rocking Morgan back and forth as she held her close.  When I asked her what was wrong, she was indignant.  “I did everything right!”  she protested.  “I didn’t drink or smoke.  I know people who did drugs when they were pregnant, and their babies are fine!  Why did this have to happen to my baby?”

    I had no answers for her, but that evening as I said my prayers I asked that somehow Melanie would find some peace so that she could enjoy her child and get on with the business of living. 

    That night as I tried to get to sleep, I remembered a story entitled The Visit of the Tomten, by Barry L. Johnson.  I had ordered the story from Upper Room Books a few years earlier, with the intention of adding it to my Christmas repertoire.  I had told the story only a few times when I realized that there was no spark between it and me, no chemistry.  I had stopped telling the story.

    The Visit of the Tomten is set in Sweden on Christmas Eve.  It is the story of four animals waiting for the Tomten to bring their Christmas gifts.  The animals know exactly what they want, and feel confident that the Tomten will oblige them.   As it turns out, however, the animals not only do not get what they want, they cannot make any sense of the gifts they do get.  Ivan, the dog, the sage of the barnyard, gets a bird with a broken wing.  “I hate birds!” he rails, “and this one isn’t even right!”  Angry, the animals devise a plan to trap the Tomten and make him explain their ridiculous gifts.

    Once caught, the Tomten is dumbfounded.  “No gift is ridiculous!” he exclaims, before proceeding to explain the gifts’ value.  To Ivan, he says, “To be asked to take care of the handicapped is no insult.  On the contrary, it is a great honor.  I chose you to care for the disadvantaged bird because I trusted your wisdom  and courage to give it the very best life it could have.”

    The next morning I could not wait to speak to Melanie.  I shared Mr. Johnson’s story with her, and I added a postscript.  I told her that I could see God in heaven looking at all these babies waiting to be born, and he knew that Morgan had a special problem.  With this in mind, He surveyed all of the expectant mothers on earth, looking for that special one with the wisdom and courage to give Morgan the very best life she could have.  “Melanie,” I assured her, “He chose you.”

    It was just what she needed to hear.  After a moment’s reflection, her eyes lit up and a smile spread across her face.  “That’s right, Momma,” she enthused.  “I wouldn’t trade Morgan for all the perfect babies in the world.  I’m going to make sure that she has everything she needs.”

    After my husband and I relocated from Massachusetts to Virginia in 1998, I spent some time reflecting on my career as a storyteller thus far.  This reflection caused me to feel a certain pride tinged with sadness.  I had been successful in convincing others of the power and value of storytelling, and I am proud to say that I have been instrumental in bringing a number of remarkable storytellers into fold.  I had been a complete failure, however, in convincing family members to take up the cause. Suddenly I understood my father’s sense of urgency to get all his stories told, as well as the sense of peace he felt when I told him that I wanted to share stories about our family.  When I am gone, I told myself, the bulk of my stories will go with me.  I thought that the only way to avoid this was to get published, and so I began writing furiously.

    In October, however, I reconnected with my niece Sandi. I began to tell Sandi the story of our family’s Melungeon heritage.  Sandi had not heard any of these stories before. Indeed, she had not even known that we were of Melungeon descent.  “These are amazing stories!”she declared. While Sandi prefers listening to telling, her love of story has inspsired her children to become storytellers.They have taken up the torch! *

    I hope that by the end of this weekend, those of you who are sitting on the fence will be convinced to take up the cause of storytelling, to be torch bearers.  But I would be remiss if I did not warn you that with the torch comes responsibility.  The torch must be held high, because its flame is white-hot and can destroy everything in its path if it falls into the wrong hands.  Make those who would take it from you reach for it.  Remember that story was one of the instruments that Hitler used to justify exterminating anyone who do did fit his model for the master race.  Bigots have used story to convince the ignorant and na├»ve that certain races are inferior to others.  For every person who heard my father’s stories of Melungeon wisdom and integrity, there was another who heard the stories of Melungeon ignorance in filth.  Unfortunately, the tellers of those false stories were just as powerful and just as eloquent as my father. 

    When you leave this conference, take a torch with you.  Use it to light the flame in your own heart.  Draw on the flame’s energy to bring joy to others.  Draw on the its wisdom to teach the truth.  Draw on its power to heal and reconcile.  Then wait for the next torch bearer to come along and pass the torch to him.  Share the fire.

    *2015 Update: Sandi now has six children. If you were at the NSN Conference in Richmond, VA in 2013, you may have met four of them there. They are the Lowery children, and they belong to a group called The Story Warriors, led by Les Schafer. They performed at the pre-conference activities. The group is still going strong.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Flash Fiction

When I was living in Massachusetts in the mid 1990s, I was invited to be one of the featured storytellers at the New England Modern Storytelling Festival in Windsor, Maine. One of the venues in which I was going to be participating was called Flash Fiction. We were advised that our stories could be no more than four minutes long and that people in the audience would be expecting to laugh.
This was a dilemma for me. My average story was twenty minutes long, and, at that time, serious stories were my trademark. Two days before I had to leave for the festival, I still did not have a four minute, funny story. I was about to panic, when I remembered a joke that my friend Cathy told me when we were in the third grade. That joke, I realized, would make a great middle for a story. I just had to add a beginning and an end.
This is what I came up with:


Why Fire Trucks Are Red?
By Linda Goodman
©copyright Sept/1994

            My friend Kelly is in the second grade, and last week she came home with an unusual homework assignment. She had to find out why fire trucks are red.
Kelly needed some help, and the first person she asked was her father. “Daddy, can you tell  me why fire trucks are red?”
            “Well,” he chortled, “ They’re red…..hahaha….THEY’RE RED BECAUSE THEY’RE EMBARRASSED!” He laughed so hard he had to lean on the refrigerator to keep from falling on the floor.
            Kelly should have known better than to ask her father. He made a joke out of everything.
            So she asked her mother. “Mama, do you know why fire trucks are red?”
            Kelly’s mother was the no nonsense type. She turned to Kelly with both hands on her hips and said, “They’re red because somebody painted them that color.”
            Kelly knew that her mother’s answer was correct, but she did not think that it was the answer her teacher was looking for.
            Finally, Kelly asked the smartest person she knew: her grandmother. “Grandmama, can you tell me why fire trucks are red?”
            “Well sure I can,” her grandmother assured her. “That’s right easy, actually. It’s like this: One plus one is two, and two plus two is four. Four times three is twelve…. That’s right isn’t it?”
            “Yes, Grandmama, it is,” Kelly told her.
            Her grandmother nodded and said, “I thought so,” before continuing, “Now twelve inches is a foot, and last week I went to the hardware store and bought myself a foot ruler…. now let me see…. Queen Mary was a ruler…. and so was Queen Elizabeth. And Queen Elizabeth was also the name of a ship….a ship that sailed the seven seas. And what is in the seven seas? FISH! And every single one of those fish have fins…. The fins, now, they got uppity and went off to fight the Russians…. and the Russians are also called Reds. And fire trucks are always rushin’. AND THAT’S WHY FIRE TRUCKS ARE RED!
            Kelly liked her grandmother’s answer best, and that’s the one that she turned in to her teacher the next day. And guess what! She got an A!

I told that story on the Flash Fiction stage, and it was a huge hit. The audience howled, and I felt great getting laughter for a change. Now I have numerous former jokes turned story in my storytelling arsenal. It’s a good trick to have up your sleeve. By the way - it's in the delivery.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Kind Coward at a Bigot’s Party

By Linda Goodman

©Linda Goodman 1988

The small black child looked up at me, eyes wide with fear.
“I’ve lost my mommy,” she said with quivering voice.
“Can you help me find her?”

My face burned as I felt around me the hostility of those who awaited my reaction.
“No, child, find her for yourself.”
My voice was cold.
(“Please go away, I begged silently”)

“Is she the cook’s child?” someone whispered.
“Can we send her to the kitchen?”

“Aw, go play in the street ‘til you Mama comes,” said a suave man in a three piece suit.
“The little uns just grow up to be big uns,” he said in an aside.

The room exploded with laughter.

I laughed, too.

For though my conscience tore my heart in two,
I could not summon the courage needed to banish the shame I felt.

Man’s inhumanity to man runs rampant               
Because cowards

Like me

Perpetuate it.

God help us.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Of Men and Horses

In honor of Father's Day, I have invited my good friend Bob Wilson to be a guest blogger. I know his beautiful story about his father will move you as much as it did me.

By Robert Wilson
©Robert Wilson, 6/2015

My father was a man of principle.  He didn’t smoke, or drink alcohol (although he could swear with the best). He also was unwavering in his belief that a man should be honest in all his dealings and keep his word, no matter what.  My dad loved farming, and he was an excellent farmer.  He also had a deep love for draft horses, keeping a matched team of Belgian geldings and a Percheron mare long after the area farmers had started using tractors exclusively.  At my mother’s urging, dad bought a grocery store and a house in town, but he kept the farm and spent as much time there as possible.  One day, when we were cleaning out a fence row next to the road, a realtor drove up.  He told dad that he had a client looking for a farm to buy.  Although he didn’t know dad, his prospect knew of the farm and he was interested in making an offer.  The realtor asked dad how much he wanted for the farm.  Dad told him that he wasn’t interested in selling.

The realtor was persistent.  At least once a week he would catch dad at the grocery store or at the farm and badger him to set a price on the farm.  One day, out of frustration, dad set a price that he thought was higher than anyone would pay for the farm.  The realtor’s client accepted the price dad set.  Dad felt that he had no choice but to sell him the farm.  Mother was thrilled, but dad’s spirit never recovered.

Several years later, dad visited me in Indianapolis to go to the Indiana State Fair.  In Indiana, we had county fairs that were bigger than the state fairs in many eastern states.  We were going to the state fair to see the horses and dairy cattle and go to the Grand Circuit Harness Races.  Dad didn’t bet on races, but he loved to see the trotters and pacers compete.  That day, as a bonus, the Budweiser Clydesdales were going to appear in an eight-horse hitch.

Before we took our seats in the grandstand, we walked through the horse barns, and we noticed that the 10 Clydesdales (8 for the hitch plus 2 alternates) were housed under a separate tent.  There was a sign with the horse’s name over each stall.  Dad would read the name of a horse, say it out loud, then carefully examine the horse from every angle, say the name again, and then move on to the next horse and go through the same routine.

Before the first race, the eight-horse hitch came trotting down the main stretch in front of the stands.  Dad named every horse and it’s position in the hitch, and then turned to me, beaming, and named the two horses that weren’t in the hitch.  Dad was animated and happy the rest of the day.  That was the first time I had seen my dad happy in years, and it was the last.  Every time I read  Name of Horses, by Donald Hall, I think of my father. 

Note from Linda Goodman: To read Name of Horses, by Donald Hall, go to I have never ridden a horse, but the poem made me love them. It brought tears to my eyes.

Robert (Bob) Wilson was an Indiana farm boy with an adventurious spirit. After high school, he sought travel and experiences.  Bob toured the U.S. as a professional actor, he was an instructor and the first writer/director for the  Army Air Defense School’s Educational TV Network.  After the Army, he became a specialist in designing and implementing large scale IT systems, eventually retiring as the Principle Systems Analyst for Advanced Technology Systems.  Now retired, Bob has returned to his first love, the theatre, working with community theatres in the Northern Neck of Virginia.
Contact Robert at

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I wrote the poem Aaron after reading  Edwin Arlington Robinson's Richard Cory, when I was a senior in high school. It was selected to be read as part of the Norfolk, Virginia "Turn On" in 1970, and it received a very nice review in the Virginian Pilot/Ledger Star newspaper. I have included it as one of Boojie's poems in my book Boojie's People, which will be released this summer. 


                                          (c) Linda Goodman 1970

Aaron was a cruel man. His mother told me so.
He was quiet, but his ways were rough (This, for fact, I know).

He had a brother, Timmy, who was full of charm and looks.
Tim was his mother’s pride and joy, and was always reading books.

But Aaron was mean and Aaron was crude and he never stopped to think.
He did as he pleased, and he said what he meant, and he drank what he wanted to drink.

And even today, I remember so well the night that his poor mother died.
Her lips formed the words, “I love Timmy,” but Aaron was the one who cried.

And why he did that peculiar thing, I suppose I’ll never know.
Aaron was a cruel man. His mother told me so.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Empty Tomb

This is part 2 of my story The Empty Tomb. Part 1 is too long to publish as a blog. Part 2 picks up just as the darkness that followed Jesus' crucifixion has lifted. The speaker is Mary Magdalene.
The Empty Tomb - Part 2

copyright Linda Goodman 1995
            After what seemed like hours, the light returned.   I turned to leave, when I saw Joseph of Arimathea approaching.  Because Joseph was a secret follower of Jesus, I pretended not to recognize him.  He approached the cross and carefully began to take Jesus down, prying the nails slowly so as not to further tear His flesh.  Mary, the mother of Joseph, came up to me and whispered in my ear, “He got permission from Pilate to take the body.  He is going to bury our Lord in his own tomb.”
            Joseph wrapped Jesus body in a linen sheet and carried it away.  Mary and I followed him from a distance until we came to a garden, out of the sight of the soldiers.  There Joseph stopped and waited for us to walk alongside him.   His face was soaked with tears as he tried to make sense of all that had happened.   “I cannot believe that Jehovah let him die like this.  Why did he have to suffer the death of a common criminal?”  he asked us.  We had no answers.
            Mary and I watched as Joseph placed Jesus body in a tomb carved out of solid rock.  He rolled a huge stone in front of the opening, and then the three of us knelt in prayer, asking God for understanding.....asking Him to heal our broken hearts.  Then we left to prepare for the Sabbath.
            The Sabbath did not bring me any comfort.  Like Joseph of Arimathea, I could not believe that God had let our savior die.  Why?  I asked myself over and over.  This is cruel.  Who will we follow now?  We will disband.  There will be chaos!  How can this be?
            Then a small voice, so soft that at first I thought I had imagined it, spoke to me from my heart.  “All will be well," it said.  “Trust in the Lord.”  And suddenly I felt the peace that passes understanding come over me.  For the first time in days, I slept.
            The next morning, the first day of the week, before sunrise, Joanna, Martha, and I went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried.   Though He had died a criminal’s death, we wanted Him to have a proper burial, and so we had brought spices and perfumes with which to bathe His body. 
            To our horror, we saw that the stone had been rolled away during the night.  Joanna looked inside and screamed, “He’s gone!  His body has been stolen!”
            All that I could think to do was run.  I ran so fast I felt as though my heart would pound its way outside my chest, but I did not stop until I had reached the upper room.  Peter and John were inside, looking lost and weary from lack of sleep. 
            “They have taken Him!”  I cried.  “They have taken Jesus from the tomb, and we do not know where they have put him!”  Then I fell to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.  All I had wanted to do was to see that He had a proper burial.  Now Jehovah was denying Him even that.
            Peter and John did not tarry to comfort me.  They cried out in anger before running from the room.  I knew they were going to the tomb to see if I told the truth.  Even though they knew me to be an honest woman, they could not believe that God would allow their Lord’s body to be defiled so.  Perhaps they thought my grief was playing tricks upon my mind.  Slowly I picked myself up off the floor and, forcing one foot in front of the other, I trudged back to the garden. 
            By the time I reached the tomb, the others had gone.  Still sobbing, I forced myself to look inside.  Suddenly, a blinding light enveloped me.  I felt a power surging through my body, a tingling sensation from my head down to my toes.  Confused and frightened, I struggled to see from what source this strangeness emanated.  “Who is there!”  I demanded. 
            In what seemed like a dream, I saw two figures dressed in robes as white as snow.  They were sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet.  “Why are you crying?” they asked in one voice that sounded like the beautiful, pure strains of a heavenly harp. 
            “They have taken my Lord away,” I replied, shuddering.  “I do not know where they have put him.”
            They sat there staring at me as if I were insane.  Unable to bear gazing upon their brilliant essence any longer, I turned to leave, thinking all was lost.  That is when I saw the man who had been standing behind me.  He spoke to me in a calm, unemotional voice, asking, “Woman, why are you crying?  Who is it that you are looking for.”
            At first, I thought that he must be the gardener.  I pulled myself up to my full height and held myself proud.  Who was he to question me?  I would show him who he was dealing with.
            “If you have taken Him away, tell me where you have put him,” I demanded.  “I will go and get him and bring him back where he belongs.”
            And then the man smiled at me....a soft smile that told of kindness and compassion, knowledge and understanding.  Who is this man? I wondered.  I know that smile.  Why is it so strangely comforting?  I looked into His pale blue eyes and saw that they were filled with tears.  “Mary,” He whispered.
            “My Lord!”  I cried, as I realized that this was indeed Jesus himself.  But how could this be?  I had seen him die!  I had seen his stiff and lifeless body placed inside the tomb.  But then, in the twinkling of an eye, I realized that none of this mattered.  My savior was alive!
            I threw myself at his feet and wrapped my arms around his legs.  “Do not hold on to me, Mary,” He said gently.  “I have not yet ascended to my Father.”
            I released him, and he smiled at me...the most beautiful smile I have ever seen.  “Go and tell the others,” He said.  I did not hesitate to do as He bid.
            You know the rest.  Jesus appeared to many in His resurrected body before going up into heaven.  Many have said that it was all a hoax -- that His followers had stolen His body to make it appear that He had been resurrected.  I feel sorry for those who believe that.  The do not know what it means to have a hope that cannot be destroyed.  They do not know the peace that comes from sweet surrender.  They do not know the joyous victory of love that was accomplished that day.
            I never tire of telling my story.  I share it with all who will listen.  And when my journey on earth has ended, I know that I will once again sit at His feet and kiss His wounded hands, rejoicing in His presence for life everlasting.   I testify before you now that that my Savior lives, just as surely as you and I have breath in our bodies.  You know that what I speak is true because I, Mary Magdalene, once among the worst of sinners, was the EMPTY TOMB.