Taleypo Tells Tailypo
With short history and a variant called "The Hairy Toe"
Sometimes people ask me where the name "Taleypo" came from. I tell them that it came from the folktale "Tailypo." It was the first story I ever told. I often say that the creature, "Tailypo," had a great long tail, but that I, too, have a great long tale. But, it's spelled "T-A-L-E" as in story. Of course there is more to this great long tale...
In 1981, I traveled to Jonesborough, TN, to take a workshop from Jackie Torrence. At the end of the workshop weekend, she had the group of newbie tellers tell a story and she critiqued it for us.
I chose "Tailypo" to tell because I knew it from the time I was in college. I had a professor by the name of Dr. Jack Stokes. He taught American Literature and in his off hours he mentored a group of players called the "Drama Choir." Dr. Stokes was a playwright who had an avid interest in folklore. He wrote many drama choirs and plays based on folk tales or with folk motifs. He took those stories and added his Stokesian touch with long choral passages full of humor and pathos. I was privileged to be a part of - Wiley and the Hairy Man, Mama Medea, Good Ole Bill, Tale of an Egg, Stackalee, Goober in the Closet, and ....Tailypo.
When I entered Belleville Junior College, I had just graduated from The Academy of Notre Dame. I was very self-conscious, and it just about killed me to audition for the drama choir. Most of the time I flubbed the audition, but Jack, bless his heart, always found a place for me in the choir. Somehow, just being a part of that group made my confidence grow. We were a troupe of around 10-15 players who traveled to a variety of schools and events to perform. The audiences loved us. The troupe had some extraordinarily talented actors. Most of them went on to pursue some aspect of their artistic expression. Larry Forness is a song writer in Nashville, TN; Kent Monken is a theatre manager; Al Huebner is a visual artist; Jane Mueth was a high school drama teacher, and the list goes on. We called ourselves graduates of "Stokesian Drama." We had such fun, but we learned ever so much more than the stories we performed.
I remembered almost word for word two of Jack's tales - "The Hairy Man" and "Tailypo." So, when Jackie asked us to tell a story, I told "Tailypo." Little did I know that it was one of Jackie's trademark stories! She gave me valuable feedback and over the years I have honed it into my own version.
When I got back home from my workshop with Jackie, I told my dear friend, Jane Mueth, everything that had happened. (see "On Butterfly Wings") She was so happy for me. She knew that storytelling was the perfect outlet for my artist's way that had been waylaid by family and teaching. She said that she always felt there was something special about my talent. She knew that someday, somehow that I would find my niche and make my mark.
I told Jane that I noticed that many of the storytellers had a uniqueness about them. They had that added something that made them stand apart from others. She reminded me that I was a part of the "Stokesian" tradition. I should work on that. I did as I later wrote and directed two drama choirs of my own - "Little Eight John" and "Wicked John and the Devil." I started telling two of Jack's drama choirs that I broke down into tellable stories - "Wiley and the Hairy Man" and "Stackalee." I always give Jack Stokes credit when I tell these stories.
I also told Jane that many tellers had monikers and wished I could think of one. She just laughed. "Of course, you have one...Tailypo! Just change the spelling of 'tail' to 'tale'." And that was how Taleypo was born.
Now for the story....
As Retold by Taleypo...aka Marilyn Kinsella
The story I'm gonna tell you comes from the South...the dark places...the gloom places. And out this swamp comes a creature with a great long tail behind. And, when Tailypo comes outta that swamp, he's just a hoppin' and a skippin', and a dancin'. Why, he dances to the right and the Tailypo's left and he dances to the left and the Tailpo's right. Just hoppin' and dancin' havin' himself a good ole time, when he looks up on the mountain...and sees a cabin. Tailypo hadn't never seen no cabin before. So he climbs to the top of that mountain.
When he gets to the cabin, he starts in a sniffin' (sniff, sniff, sniff) at the cracks in the walls and scratchin' at the door. (scratching). Inside there is an old man sleepin' on a cot. Old man wakes up. "Who's that?" he yells. Old man looks out of a knot hole.
Eyes, eyes, eyes! Well, if you can call them things eyes!
Old man calls out, "How come? How come you most curious critter. You a standin' outside my door a hoppin' and a sniffin' and a scratchin'! Why I show you!"
And he went back into the kitchen and got himself a...butcher knife! He come out and snip-snap; slip-slap! He cut Tailypo's tail clean off.
Then, the old man he went back to the kitchen and got himself a fry pan and he took that tail and flip-flop/ flippity-flop! He ate that tale blood and bone.
Now I haven't met any swamp critters myself mind you...but I don't think I could have eaten that tale. And, poor ole Tailypo, he just run off into the wood on those little bitty legs of his. (boogidy-boogidy-boogidy) Well, if you can call them things...legs!
Then, that old man went back to bed...and he slept.
It was long though before a moon rose up over that mountain. And. just as it did, it hid behind a tall oak tree...and there was darkness everywhere. And if you listened real careful you could hear..."Tailypo, Tailypo, I want my Tailypo" And that sound...that sound...it hurt!
Why it wasn't long before that sound was standin' right outside that old man's door. (louder) "I want my Tailypo!"
Old man woke up. "What is that sound I hear. Why that sound is a gray sound...that sound don't have no bottom to it." So, he reached under his bed where he kept his three fine hound dogs. "Here, Dogs!"
Those hound dogs jumped up and they started chasing Tailypo. Tailypo ran and ran until kersplash-a! He jumped right into that swamp. Right over his head...well, if you can call that thing a head!
The old man rounded up his dogs and went back to bed...and he slept. But it wasn't long before that moon that I was tellin' you about? Well, this was this cloud, like a hand that come over it and everything was in darkness. And if you listened you could hear a sound, a sound comin' in on little cat's feet..."Tailypo, Tailypo, I want my Tailypo! I'm a comin' closer...comin' closer!" It wasn't long before that sound was standin' at the foot of that old man's bed, (louder) "I want my Tailypo!"
Old man looked up. "How come? How come you most curious critter? How come you a standin' at the foot of my bed. Why your shape is a gray shape...why that shape don't have no bottom to it." And, with that he called for his three fine hound dogs. Those hound dogs come out like greased lightin'. They grabbed hold of that Tailypo's rear end and off all four of them went (brow-wow-woww!) All the way down to the swamp...where that most curious critter...lives. Well, dogs don't know...they just be...The old man waited for dog to come back...but they never came back. So he went back to bed...and he slept...and he slept.
Now, you remember that moon that I've been tellin' you about - well, it was there. It was! But there wasn't any light, 'cause all light had been gobbled up in the darkness. And, if you listened, listened real hard you hear, "Tailypo, Tailypo...I want my Tailypo. I'm comin' closer, comin closer. With the moon, with the moon, with the moon...darked out!"
It wasn't long before that sound was sittin' on that ole man. Ole man wakes up. "Who is that? Who is that starin' at me with them curious eyeballs?" Then, that ole man reached under his bed for his three fine hound dogs. "Here Dogs!" But, dogs don't know...they just be. "Where's my dogs?" Everything stopped. "Where's my dogs?" Everything listened. "Where's my daaaaaawgs?"
"Where's my Tailypo!"
Now, the people that lived down in the valley. They never saw that ole man again. But they do say that on a night when the moon is full, and there is cloud, like a hand, that comes over the moon. Well if you listen real hard you can hear, "Tailypo, Tailypo...I...got...my...Tailypo."
The following story is a variant of Tailypo that I tell called "The Hairy Toe."
The Hairy Toe
as told by Marilyn Kinsella
One day, Ol' Joe was working out in his garden. It was hot! Why it was so hot, he had to eat some chili peppers off the vine just to cool himself off. He took off his straw hat and with his red bandana handkerchief he wiped his shiny, bald head. Ol' Joe didn't live with anyone but himself. So he often talked to himself. Only one he to listen to was himself.
As he hoed the dried parched earth, he complained, "Dang blasted heat, burned my tomatoes, scorched my corn, boiled the potatoes right in the ground. Sakes and bother! Why, the cutter worms can't even find anything to eat. And, Joe, he was hungry, right hungry.
Well, there he was with his head bowed to the ground, just a hoein' and complainin', hoein' and complainin,' When all of a sudden, his hoe lit down on something hard.
"Dad-blamed roots! Fellow can't get a break around this place." So, he took his hoe and whacked it down real hard. Now, Joe thought he heard somethin' give a little yelp, but when he looked up, all he could see was that sun blarin' down at him.
When he looked back down, he didn't see a root. What he did see was the biggest, the nastiest looking hairy toe, you ever laid your eyes on. I mean this toe was nasty! It was crusted with years of dried skin and dirt, it had sharp, black wiry hairs that stuck out in every direction, and it had this yellow/purple toenail that was as long and sharp as a dagger.
Now, I don't know about you. But if I'd seen that nasty toe in my garden, I'd given it a proper burial right then and there, and been done with it. But, not Ol' Joe! Oh no. Do you know what he said when he picked up that disgusting bloody stump? "Supper!"
So, Ol' Joe took that toe inside, ran it under some cold water and scrubbed it up a bit with his toothbrush. He got some beans left over from a coupla nights ago and put them on the stove. When they started steamin', Joe plopped that toe right down amongst those beans and set it to boil. Every so, now and again, Joe would come over and stir up those beans. He'd lick his pink sloppery lips every time he see that toe a bobbin' up and down. After awhile, he added a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of Tabasco sauce. Finally, he was ready for his feast, and he poured his toe ala beans into a bowl.
He tucked his red handkerchief under his chin and with a big wooden spoon began ladling the beans into his mouth. When he got to the bottom of the bowl, there was his prize hairy toe all cooked to perfection. He fished it out between his forefinger and this thumb. He stuck the whole toe in his mouth and began suckin' off all the bean juice. Next, he nibbled away at the fleshy parts. Every so, now and again, he'd spit out a hair or two. When he got down to the bones, he cracked them open like a lobster tail and sucked out the marrow. Not to leave anything to waste, he munched down on the remaining bones and toenail until there was nothing left to lick off but the pattern on the china.
Feeling pretty good, he put his dish in the sink and settled down to watch his favorite TV show: "Fear Factor. (now why doesn't that surprise me?) Yessiree, life doesn't get much better than when your belly is full and you settle down to some good, wholesome family entertainment. But Ol' Joe had put in a day's work what with all that garden work and cookin' and all... he was just plumb tuckered. So, it wasn't long before he was sawin' logs big time.
Joe wasn't sure what it was that woke him up. Was it something he heard on the TV or was it-- something else? He turned the TV down and listened. Sure enough, he heard it again. It was long, low, soulful, cry, "I want my hairy toe." He waited, he listened, and then, a little louder, "I want my hairy toe!" Joe, he looked all around - nothing there. So, he looked out the back door. And there he saw-- footprints! And the big toe on the left foot -- was missing! He ran back inside and slammed the door. He didn't see anything, but he could hear, oh yeah, he could hear, even louder than before, "I WANT MY HAIRY TOE!
Joe ran upstairs and hid under his bed, but it was no use, the "thing" was in his house. He heard it clumping up the steps (thump-clump; thump-clump). Then, the door opened to his bedroom (creak). He heard the footsteps shuffling closer, closer to the bed. Then the "thing" reached down and pulled Ol' Joe out by his feet. He loomed over Joe. "I WANT MY HAIRY TOE!
Joe began to tremble and shake, "I, I don't have your hairy toe. I, I ate it!
"What! You ate my hairy toe! Then, I will have to eat-- YOU!"
Some people wonder how I know the story about the hairy toe. After all, Ol' Joe did live by himself and all. And, no one ever saw him again after that fateful night. So, how do I know about the story: Well, you see, it was my hairy toe, and I did get it back.
For more books, tapes and versions of Tailypo check out the following:
Taleypo Tales tape available -
The following information was taken from AppLit Home at
Galdone, Joanna. The Tailypo: A Ghost Story. Illus. Paul Galdone. New York: Clarion, 1977Wahl, Jan. Tailypo! Illus. Wil Clay. New York: Henry Holt, 1991. "Tailipoe." In Old Greasybeard: Tales from the Cumberland Gap. Collected and annotated by Leonard Roberts. Illus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 34-36. Tailypo: The Folktale Austin, TX: Bill Wadsworth Productions, 1990. "Tailypo." Told by Mary Hamilton. Haunting Tales.
"Tailypo." Told by Jackie Torrence, a very popular African American NC storyteller. Video recording can be viewed and downloaded at BookHive web site, Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, NC. Tailypo: A Newfangled Tall Tale by Angela Shelf Medearis. Illus. Sterling Brown.New York: Holiday House, 1996.