Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My storytelling heritage

I like to say that I am a fifth generation Irish storyteller and a fourth generation Texas Teller of Tall Tales. I have the family history back much further, of course, I just don’t know for sure that they were storytellers. I do know my great grandfather Martin A Green (of the Antelope Al story) could spin a yarn and am told that he got it from his father. The line of succession comes down through to me through my grandmother Lizzie (Green) Tunnell and through my mother Ruth (Tunnell) Burns. That was O’ Green until they got to America. They dropped the ‘O’ on the boat over. So it may be more than five generations, but who’s counting?

My daughter Teresa (goes by Teri) may be generation six, I don't know. She worked a number of years in various roles at the newspaper and has been an editor and freelance journalist. She works as one of my editorial assistants, but hasn't shown an inclination to spread her wings into fiction.

Grandma Tunnell used her storytelling skills on a regular basis. The whole family agrees that she was a scaredy cat. They went to the cellar every time it came a cloud, and when her husband worked ‘towers’ which is what they called the graveyard shift, she would keep the kids up to keep her company by telling them stories. Mom said she could take the simplest story and build the tension in it to where it would scare them to death.

I come by it naturally. It was hearing these stories and capturing and transcribing them that got me started writing. Then came the piece de’ resistance. I found an old spool of recording wire in my grandmother’s wash house. I had an uncle who kept everything and could fix everything and he had an old wire recorder. We managed to get it working well enough to play the spool and I recorded it on a tape recorder.

It turned out to be my great Grandfather’s son Ira telling the tales he had grown up hearing from his dad. It was a tremendous find. From there I spent hours and hours transcribing it because of the quality of the recording until I finally had it all down except for one word. There was one phrase in there I just didn’t understand. A history teacher friend read the transcript and knew exactly what it was. She said “that’s a league and a labor,” those who fought in the battle for Texas Independence were paid with a “League and a labor of land.” My transcription was complete.

A lot of my western writing friends have wanted me to make some of this material available but I haven’t been able to. Port Yonder Press has helped me with that as they are publishing a set of my “collected short works” giving me the opportunity to pass some of them on.. I am very excited about that opportunity. The first book “On The Road Home” is out now and these stories will be part of the second book in the series tentatively titled “Just Cowboys.”

Growing up with a heritage like this nothing would do but for me to try my hand at writing, particularly with this collection of work to build on. I did a family book with many of these stories, one that was never published, but much of it found its way into my other writing, and much of it makes its way into the next book. I spent many years writing other things connected with my work as a chamber of commerce executive, but always there were the former storytellers from my family tree looking over my shoulder saying “when are you going to write what you really want to write?” and “when are you going to do something with our stories?”

Well, I suppose . . . finally . . . that time is now.

On The Road Home is out now, (you can get an autographed copy through my bookstore)and Just Cowboys will be out soon.

1 comment:

Linda Glaz said...

It is funny the way the last generation influences the next. My mother all kinds of stories, one about Woogies that would have thrilled any child had she had the belief in herself to try for publication. My brother, a brilliant writer, didn't have thick enough skin to submit again after the first rejection. My grandfather wrote and so on. I have collections of works which came down the chute and are more valuable than gold to me. What a find you made. And what stories your grandchildren will tell!