Reflections

Story Telling Could Become Lost Art

By Charles Cooper


Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  You may have noticed that we had a new picture in last week’s column.  I was on a business trip to the Valley last week and as usual I dropped by to visit the Herald staff. I casually mentioned to Jack that we had been using the same picture for 10 years and unfortunately none of us look the same as we did.  
He took several poses and said, “Chuck, I picked one that looks just like you.”  To which I replied, “that’s why I don’t get pictures taken any more.”  
As I promised myself, I wasn’t going to get into politics any more but I only want to say I know none of us are happy with the way the country is going – so being intelligent people we all know what we must do in November.  
Changing direction as I usually do, I got to thinking about how the south is filled with such prolific story tellers and I hope we’re not losing that ability with the changing times.  True, some of the tales strained credibility, but they were entertaining to us when we didn’t have radio or TV for entertainment.  Mississippi’s famous Country and Blues singer, Jimmy Rodgers had only been dead a few years when I became aware of him.
 People would say with a straight face, “he sang his way out of the penitentiary.”
Not true, and another, “he had TB of the throat.”  
Also untrue as it was in his lungs.      
Another was Robert Johnson, who made a pact with the devil who came to claim his own. Researchers today believe that Robert made up that story to jump start his career which did take off after that. They also believed he drank moonshine poisoned by a jealous rival for a girl friend’s attention.  
Another was about the deadly “stinging snake” that I heard more than one person talk about with a straight face. The existence of such a creature has never been proved and in retrospect I wonder if the people really believed those stories  or just craved the  attention they got in the telling.  
A.P. Carter’s famous song  the “Wabash Cannonball”  had the train traveling from Minnesota to Birmingham, Alabama and whether true or not it made a lot of money for Carter and Roy Acuff.  
One of Papa Badley’s neighbors, John Wright, had a house built on the edge of the old Oxford Road and his children played constantly in the road.  Jim Gore asked him, John, why didn’t you go on and build your house in the road?”  
Mr. Wright with a perfectly straight face replied, “then the kids wouldn’t have had a place to play.”
John Ashford’s dad, Mr. Young Ashford, told the story that he was passing Palestine Cemetery one night when “something” came out of the woods and got on his wagon, scared his mules, never said a word and got off a few minutes later.  I asked John and Tom in later years if they heard that story but both said they didn’t remember it.  
Mr. Young was a fine old gentleman and I believe he did see “something,” but possibly someone playing a trick on him as some country people were prone to do back then.  
Jim Gore, who was a champion watermelon grower, got tired of people stealing his melons so one night he went to his patch and yelled out. “I’ve caught you now and I’m going to shoot you. He fired his shotgun into the air and changed his voice and yelled, “you’ve killed me, please don’t shoot me again.” He changed back to his natural voice and yelled, “I’m going to make sure you won‘t ever  steal another watermelon,” and fired the shotgun into the air again. He said the next day John Wright was telling people, “Jim Gore shot that poor boy in his watermelon patch and rolled his body over in the weeds.”
This makes me wonder if there isn’t an element of truth in most of these stories. If any of you care to comment, let me hear from you.  My email address is cncooper1@hotmail,com or write me at P.O. box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.

Leave a Comment