Last night our local storytelling group held their monthly meeting at the Powell River public library. I missed the 1st 2 meetings this year because I was down in Vancouver teaching, so it was nice to catch up with the group once again. Our group formed a few years ago after Ivan Coyote came to town to do some readings and workshops. A group of folks realized how much they enjoyed getting together and sharing stories. For well over a year we met in various peoples homes until the group grew so large that a larger space was needed. One of the key members, a librarian, volunteered space at the library once a month for us to meet. At times there been close to 30 people in the group, but last night the group was down to about 15 or so, including a couple of new faces.
Last night’s gathering was typical: most people brought homemade or store-bought snacks for breaks: cookies, herb bread, crackers with cream cheese and chili sauce, homemade salsa, hummus, ranger cookies, chocolate squares. The library provided hot water and tea and a circle of chairs. We began with introductions, and a quick recap of the “rules of the road” — anyone who wants to can read or present a story, those who wish just to listen are welcome to, everyone gets a chance to read once before repeats, no comments or criticism should be offered unless the presenter requests them, and a reminder that this is a story exchange, not therapy. More and more storytellers seem to be preparing material in advance, and often read from written pages, but many still tell from memory or in the spot.
The 1st storyteller told us about his latest trip shopping for “weird jazz records” in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island; about how he forgot his wallet full of credit cards at the counter in the store, and how his wife later came to store looking for him. The clerk, realizing who she was, handed her the missing wallet and the pair later met up for coffee. The next story was a humorous tale about a barfing dog in the car, followed by a short tale about a Sunday school adventure.
I read a piece about the two years I spent avoiding a grocery store across the street after having been caught stealing a chocolate bar, and how one evening, after a drive with my parents, I was forced to confront the cashier who’d caught me. We then listened to stories about a group of people who sought out a ghost on a golf course in Victoria late at night, and a group of apprentice shipbuilders in Liverpool who fashioned kerosene torches from cloth and pipe and set out to explore an abandoned train tunnel near a graveyard, only to run out screaming after hearing the unmistakeable chugging of a ghostly steam train bearing down upon them.
The next storyteller told about her adventures traveling in Pakistan and having to deal with the unwanted advances of 2 male acquaintances, followed by a new member of the group of Finnish descent who sprained his ankle skiing on Grouse mountain in Vancouver on his 39th birthday, then later hiked up the mountain and discovered an old cabin, which he later spent some time renovating, and lived in.
More stories followed: a cat addicted to chlorine who wants to curl into a turban of her owner’s head every time she returns from swimming, the death of an old man on his ninety-fifth birthday, a woman who made par on the hole where her friend wants her ashes to be spread when she passes on, a man who wandered the streets of New Westminster, Surrey and Vancouver after being given a dead-man’s pants, a cab driver in Whistler named Alison who spend her 29th birthday on December 29th working, and picked up a drunk woman also named Alison who, too, was celebrating her 29th birthday that evening. One of our final stories was about a little boy who went into a closet, got frightened, and was joined first by his cat, then his mother and later his father.
The wonderful thing about our little storytelling group, is not simply the diversity of our tellers, but the recognition that nearly all of these tales are not fictions, but stories that come from real lives lived by all of us who gather once a month to share them.