I was born in Fairview Heights - called just plain ole "Fairview" back then. I was born into a house built by my Grandpa Joe. I lived in that house with my family and Grandpa Joe until I got married. So I have a lot of stories to tell about my grandpa. But, my grandma died several years before I was born. I never got to meet her.
However, that doesn't mean that I didn't get to know her. You see, she was quite an artist at the turn of the century. Our home was decorated with the oils, fine china and tapestries that she painted. Besides being an artist, she was also a musician. In the front parlor was a baby grand piano. My mother kept her memory alive by telling me stories about my grandmother. She said that for two hours everyday she sat at the piano and played. Oh, she could play all the classics - Beethoven to Mozart, but she enjoyed playing the modern tunes of the day as well. My mother said that her brothers, the Laumans, used to stand behind her and harmonize as she played. I felt that since her name was Adele and my middle name was Adele that it would be my legacy to take her place at the piano bench. Sometimes, when Mom was out of the house I'd raise the lid on the piano and plunk down on one of the ivory keys and let the sound reverberate around. I knew I was to take my grandmother's place.Finally, when I was ten years old, my mother decided that I could take piano lessons. And for two years I struggled through piano lessons! My little fingers would have to stretch in order to reach the chords; up and down they marched practicing the scales; but worst of all was the metronome ticking and tocking as if to say, "you got ten more minutes, you've got ten more minutes." Then if there was a lull in my playing I could hear my mother out in the kitchen... "You've got ten more minutes." After two years of begging, pleading, downright bribery at times, my piano lessons stopped. I felt sorry about that for I knew there was something musical inside me...it was just that I hated the practicing so.Then, later on in my life, I discovered that storytelling is my music. I look at every story I tell as a piece of music and sometimes I tell pianissimo and sometimes I tell forte. Sometimes my story kind of tripples along and other times they build up to a wild crescendo. Every word I say is like a note with its own intrinsic sound and value. When I tell a story just so, I'm able to reach out and touch a chord in my audience. And, there's one more thing...I don't mind practicing one bitThis whole idea of storytelling wasn't quite my own. One day I was asked to tell stories in East St. Louis. It was a hot, humid summer afternoon, when I was met at the camp gate and escorted to where a hundred listeners were waiting. It was one of those days when the muse was on my shoulder. The more I was giving; the more I was getting back. As I was telling I remembered the words of my first storytelling teacher, Jackie Torrence. She told me early on to "use my talents." Now, I had seen lots of storytellers - tellers who could play guitar and tell stories; tellers who could sing their stories; even tellers who could do magic tricks and juggle as they told. I couldn't do any of those things so I didn't quite understand what she meant.Then I started to tell "Brer Possum and Brer Snake." For the first time when I said "brer possum," my tongue flipped around like a snake. Whoa, was that what Jackie meant?Next, I told "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendack...they roared their terrible roars, gnashed their terrible teeth and...rolled their terrible eyes. I suddenly rolled my eyes around in circles. It was a trick I learned in first grade. My teacher would call on me. Humph! I'd never know any answers, so I'd just roll my eyes around in the back of my head. She left me alone for the rest of the day. Truly, I think she thought I was possessed.I was on a roll now. So, I told a story by Mercer Mayer called "Liza Lou and the Yellow Belly Swamp." When I got to the part where Liza Lou has to trick the witch into thinking a bundle of dirty laundry is really a baby, I picked up a t-shirt and made a sound just like a baby cry. It was something I discovered I could do in the seventh grade. I belonged to the Girl Scouts and we always had to put on silly skits. Often I practiced weird gurning faces or strange sounds. One day I was sitting on the couch and picked up a throw pillow...out came the baby cry and in came my mother wondering where the baby came from. And, I found a place to use it in my story.As I was leaving, a ten-year-old camper came running up to me and asked me how I did that. Most kids want to know how I do the baby cry or wiggle my eyes, but instead of answering her I said, "How did I do what?" She looked and me and said..."You know, how do you make music with your words?"How do I make music with my words? It was one of those wonderful moments that I wished I had a camera or a tape recorder, but all I'll ever have is that memory. To this day, I learned something from that little camper. I learned I don't have to make music on a baby grand piano like my grandmother did, and I don't have to make music on a violin like my mother did. But, I can make music...I can make music with my words