Stories of my mother

I know it's a cliche but it's true: people live on through the stories we tell about them. I'm writing this two days before my mother's funeral.

My mother, Carol Edgelow Howe, grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. She and her three sisters often visited their grandparents in Westmount, Quebec. One Christmas, when she was about three, she was put to bed while her parents and grandparents ate supper. Little Carol was certain that Santa Claus was down the street by the corner.  She got out of bed and left the house alone on that snowy night. The family dog, a Newfoundland named Caesar, followed, then got in front of her. He pushed her back up the steps of the house. She was furious with him! How dare he keep her from Santa Claus!

Maybe that visit? Mom was headstrong, even at that age.

Maybe that visit? Mom was headstrong, even at that age.

Mom had a powerful imagination, a lively mind and a wicked sense of humor. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1945, though the story is that the Dean had to call her father to discuss my mother's errant ways--reading novels rather than her assignments and dating boys. She was a looker!

I suspect she was a big daydreamer. In her later years, after my father died, we discovered that it was also Mom who was the dawdler. When I was in school, she was insistent that we not be late. I found some of her grammar school report cards and discovered that in fourth grade, she was late dozens of times!

After working at a florist shop and a nursery, as well as a lifetime of gardening and raising houseplants (her Cattleya orchids were always in bloom), Mom wrote garden columns for newspapers for forty years. Her last column was in September 2016 at age 93. Whenever I asked her for gardening advice, she always gave the same answer: "Why don't you call your Extension Agent?"

Mom was deeply invested in her church, St. Columba's in Boothbay Harbor, Maine and involved in the church's mission in Belém, Brazil. Not surprising, as my father was an Episcopal priest.

My parents, early in their marriage.

My parents, early in their marriage.

Mom was concerned with issues of hunger and poverty. When she went to church, she always brought at least one can of food for the pantry. In her gardening articles, she suggested people "plant a row for the hungry," an initiative of the Garden Writers of America. Mom loved to spend time outdoors, to sing, to read--she belonged to two book clubs in Maine, where she spent the last thirty years of her life, until last October when we moved her to Kansas to be near three of her seven children.

Mom in 2016

Mom in 2016

All seven of her children in one place for the first time in ten years, 2017

All seven of her children in one place for the first time in ten years, 2017

We moved Mom to Lawrence, Kansas because none of us was close enough to Maine to help in an emergency. This proved to be prescient. In late February, she had a stroke. She'd been in assisted living, but moved into long-term care with hospice. All of her children were able to come to Kansas to say goodbye. We had the luxury of nine weeks with her after her stroke. My in-town siblings, Mary and Thomas, their spouses, and I spent time with her every day. She loved visits from my siblings' dogs, too.

The stroke took a bit of her short-term memory and her ability to process writing, but Mom did not have dementia. She was aware and coherent for the few hours each day she was awake. She loved hearing e-mails and cards from family and friends. We read to her, brought her flowers from our gardens, fed her and advocated for her. We even had cocktail hour with her a few times. After the first one she told the nurse that she'd had almost a whole beer. Well, actually, she had three small sips and a couple of goldfish crackers.

In March, I wrote a blog post about storytelling as a respite. Now you know why. 

Mom died with a slight smile on her lips on Sunday, April 30, 2017 at 11:50 a.m. My sister Mary and I were at her side. 

RIP Carol Edgelow Howe, 1923-2017. 

If you feel so inclined, plant a row for the hungry or take some nonperishables to your local food pantry in her honor.





Stories for grownups and older kids

The first time I told stories to adults in a performance in 1989, I was wearing silk parachute pants. I was nervous. My knees shook and my trousers shimmied. My palms were sweaty. Still, I kept the story strong in my mind and in my voice. The story I told then is one I still tell.

I grew to love performing for grownups. I mix it up, telling personal stories (often personal fiction), folktales and stories from books. My puppets stay home. I seek to connect emotionally, of course, but also to surprise the listeners, open a door to other points of view, offer shelter. I hope to delight. Often, listeners are surprised at how much they enjoy stories.

I gave a house concert not long after 9/11. One of the audience members said, "Thank you. For two hours, I wasn't thinking about world events." Often adults take stories in without showing emotion. For many performances, I thought one of my regular listeners was bored because of the way she sat, face static and arms crossed. At the end, she would come up to say, "That was great!" I now watch for this listening stillness. If the listeners are fidgeting, I consider why I'm not connecting. Maybe my story needs tightening, maybe I have left out a crucial piece of information that seemed obvious to me, maybe there's a problem with the venue.

With the advent of storytelling events such as the Moth, the general public is getting used to hearing stories for adults, specifically personal stories. Some of these are excellent, some are deadly therapy on stage. The best take a personal event and make it universal. To those who have just discovered personal storytelling, it's new. To the rest of us, it's as old as the hills.

On Tuesday, Valentine's Day 2/14/17), I'll tell true, slightly true and absolutely false stories to grownups, in a performance called "And they lived happily ever after...Or did they?" here in Lawrence, Kansas at the Union Pacific Depot at 8:00 p.m. Admission is a love offering,of course (passing the hat). Come see what I mean by stories for grownups.

You do WHAT?!

My friend Granny Sue is organizing a storytelling blog hop (the internet answer to a pub crawl?) and she asked for blog posts about who we are and what we do. If you're a family member or old friend, you probably know this stuff, but it occurs to me that many readers don't know my background or the range of what I do. So here goes...

On a plane, at a party, in a networking gathering or in many other places, the question comes up. "And what do you do?"

"I'm a storyteller." 

"What? What does that mean?"

"Well, I tell stories." I launch in, "I tell folktales, my own stories and stories from books. I don't read the stories, I tell them. When I work with young children, I use puppets, but I also tell stories to adults and older kids." 

The next question is often, "Can you make a living at that?" Yes, I have done so since 1993. 

"How do you get your work?" I jump into the list of things I use to market my work: this website and blog, directories and rosters, postcards, e-mails and my favorite, word of mouth. 

"How did you start?" I have a couple of answers. One is that I babysat when I was a teenager and would make up stories to tell to the kids. Another is that I was a children's librarian and learned to tell stories in my job. I always tell people how lucky I am to do work I love. 

Still, these answers don't ever tell close to the whole story.

You can find me telling stories in schools, libraries and at festivals. I tell for kids who are learning English, you can find me hanging out with the stroller crowd with puppets, I might be at a school telling character ed stories, I love telling stories in Juvenile Detention, I've told stories to high school communications classes and forensics students, I teach a workshop (or series) called "Storytelling, Storywriting." Before performances for kids, I often play "Name that tune" with the listeners, playing on my harmonica. Afterwards, the puppets might greet the audience.

Is that all? Nah. I tell Medieval stories to older kids and adults, including The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, my longest story, which clocks in at 95 minutes, and Queen Berta and King Pippin, which I translated from Old French and Modern French. I was one of three co-founders of Going Deep, the Long Traditional Story Retreat. Last week I did a one-woman show for adults called Blood, Guts, Spies and Fat Naked Ladies, a wild piece of personal fiction based on truth about the year I lived in Bulgaria in the early 1980s (yup, during Communism). I've got a large collection of stories of the Turkish trickster Nasruddin Hodja, most of which I translated from various languages.

What else? I coach storytellers, I teach workshops on using puppets with young children, story stretches and songs, storytelling, writing. More? Oh, right, I give house concerts, conference presentations and keynote speeches, too. Weddings and anniversaries? Yessiree.

When not performing, I search for stories in English, French, Bulgarian and Russian or do (or avoid) office work. I travel around the world (all over the US, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Argentina to date, with an upcoming trip to Chile) telling stories. 

Some of the personal stuff: I'm a reader, a talker, an adventurer. Though I live in Kansas, I'm a New Englander at heart, the youngest of seven kids. I love to cook, eat, play around in the garden, hang out with friends, listen to music, swim, walk. I have a four-legged office assistant who is meowing at me now to feed him. 

I also like pie. I'm still looking for the best restaurant pie on earth. Fruit, not cream.