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Tidbits from the Talk Story Festival

Howling monkeys, crazy grandmothers, wild pit bulls: Some of the stories told at this autumn’s 23rd Talk Story Festival may have been hard to swallow, but they were all true. Well, “98% false and 2% true,” according to Jo Radner, who shared a story about her uncle in Maine who rode a drunken pig into town. But that’s not really the point. The talented seven storytellers on Saturday, Oct. 8th, had the audience laughing and crying throughout the entire night.

Some stories were spot-on real. Kathy Collins, actor and writer from Maui, talked about how her mother’s leg got caught in the stirrup of a galloping horse on a riding tour. I think I saw every daughter in the McCoy Pavillion cringe with understanding and shared shame. But when Collins summed up the story by declaring her pride at telling My Mother’s Daughter’s Tale all the mothers at McCoy Pavillion were beaming triumphantly.

Ruth Halpern from Oakland, California talked about how her spunky Grandma Elsie Loves Lists. As she listed each little anecdote, Halpern moved across the stage, literally portraying each stage of life until Grandma Elsie passed away. These kinds of stories, the ones about family and human relationships, rang true, and I was sad to part with the real-life characters so vividly described.

I was fairly weepy during Alton Chung’s Himeyuri, a story about high-school Okinawan nurses caught in the horrors of WWII. Accompanied with the sounds of the Japanese shamisen, Chung was captivating with his facial expressions and acting skills, as he switched alter-egos of a folksy Okinawan storyteller to a devastated corporal during the Battle of Okinawa. His story was the longest out of the bunch, but no one missed a word. People jumped when he broke the silence with a vocal gunshot, and you could hear the gasps in the audience as he graphically described death and the dying.

From toddlers in diapers to cane-wielding elderly folk, the night brought in a diverse crowd. The storytellers were just as varied. One of the youngest storytellers was Shain Miller, who is actively involved in the Ong King Art Center. She came in on crutches because of a leg injury and had to sit down at a stool, but that did little to detract her storytelling style. She had a rawer, less polished style, tossing in more slang than most of the veterans. Her story about bringing in her pet dog over from Pittsburg to Hawai’i felt like an easy, dinner conversation around friends, just with a lot more laughs. (Apparently, dog travelling is nearly not worth the trouble. Nearly.)

You’d be surprised at how fast the three hours flew by in verbatim. With these storytellers leading the way, the art of oral tradition will never be completely replaced. Some of the stories we have to verbally tell are too precious to lose.