Personal Narratives: A Tale of Three Stories

Article excerpt

"Selfhood begins in imagination, through processes of identification encouraged by the stories that we tell each other" (Pagano, 1991, p.257).

Over the years I have used storytelling in multiple ways in my undergraduate and graduate courses about literacy and language development. I focused on classroom storytelling as a method for getting young children involved with folk culture (Sarris, 1990) and wordless books (Yellin, Blake, & DeVries, 2000). I wanted to encourage children's responses to stories and literature through their own storytelling and then use their stories and retellings to promote vocabulary acquisition, syntax complexity, and knowledge of good plot structure.

However, the more I used story in the classroom, the more I came to feel that its benefits were more visceral (finding one's own place in the world) than developmental (proper language/literacy skills and a love of literature). I began to agree with Bruner (1996) that storytelling was basic to humanity in developing an identity within one's own culture. I also accepted the idea that "Humans desire to know, to be known, and to find their locations as members of communities" (Pagano, 1991, p. 258).

MARY'S STORY: THE ACADEMIC PLANNING

I started talking to colleagues about how best to do this. One suggestion that began to make sense to me was to search for a storytelling troupe. Fortunately, I found two tellers who were amenable to working on the project with me. At our initial meeting they shared a revealing personal story with me:

Molly had always been a determined child, figuring ways to get exactly what she wanted. Once, when she was about ten years old, while shopping in the open air markets of Charleston, she begged to buy a small card which advertised "Grow your own Easter Eggs: Ready to Paint!" Her Mom (our teller) gave lots of reasons not to buy the trinket: a waste of money, eggs are laid by birds "not grown," etc. But Molly begged and finally mother relented and Molly purchased the packet with her own money. "She'll learn her lesson," thought Mom.

At home Molly carefully followed the directions, planted the tiny seeds in the thimble sized pot provided, watered and watched. Every day she checked the progress, watered and tended the plant, expecting to see "eggs" growing. Sure enough, after a week small seedlings emerged, and finally a small bushy plant grew, but nothing about it looked like an "egg. "

Mother thought it a total waste of time, tried to convince Molly of her foolishness, and even suggested, "Perhaps you should paint the leaves-they are a nice egg shape!" Nothing discouraged Molly, and she persisted with her routine of watering, checking, and hoping-for days, weeks, and months. From April through the summer Molly tended her plant, watched it grow from tiny seeds to larger pots and finally a medium sized green bush, defying all her mother's expectations that she would give up, forget, or just finally admit she was tricked by clever advertising.

Long after Easter, the plant finally bloomed, and in late September, weeks after the first blooms, small tiny white "eggs" appeared. Molly was not surprised, but Mom was astonished not only by the actual egg-shaped fruits (or vegetables they later learned), but also by the tenacity and depth of her own child's belief in what she was doing.

Molly never painted the eggs, as by now she had a pumpkin to carve. One day Mother did see her in the yard, carefully cutting open one of the eggs, and scooping out the seeds. Molly would surely know just what to do with them. Molly had always known if y ou take care of it, water it, give it your own warm breath, it will grow into just what you expect.

After this, Mother remembered the story of growing eggs, and never questioned her daughters ambitions again. This proved a valuable lesson when Molly called from college that she would be building a concrete canoe. Of course, Molly's team did just that and won regional and national competitions. …