Sunday, August 30, 2009

Storytelling and Sawdust: my grandparents' influences on me

My mother's parents lived about a quarter of a mile away from us—our house was on their homestead. It was close enough that by the time I was four or so, I could walk to Grandmother and Granddad's house by myself, especially since I walked by the shop where my father was working, and I suspect that my mother watched until I got to the bend in the road by the shop and then called my grandmother to let her know I was coming. Either that or Grandmother was psychic, because she was usually standing in the doorway waiting for me. She was plump and good to hug and always had a treat ready.

Granddad was lanky and scratchy--or at least the stubble of his beard was scratchy, and he was not so huggable, but I adored him. He was, among other things, a very accomplished storyteller. My love of stories comes from him, and the hours he spent telling me stories. He told me stories of his early days in Oklahoma as a settler, he retold the comic strip Alley Oop, he told me all sorts of stories. We went on walks together to the orchard where we would smell the lilacs, pick a bouquet of tulips in season, examine the state of the cherries, gooseberries, mulberries, white peaches and big apricots. He would look at the fruit and it would remind him of a story.

His death in April, near Easter time, when I was eight, prompted a crisis of faith about resurrection and prayer that subconsciously lasted until part-way through seminary when it at least became a conscious question: when I got down on my knees and prayed why didn't God raise my granddad from the grave like Jesus?

As my daughter was growing up I told her a nightly bedtime story that I made up on the spot. Often there was a moral to the story; usually it was a way to recap or address the issues of the day. I think I might have a children's book or ten buried in the treasures of those bedtime stories, if only I would take the time to write them down. My daughter now loves stories too, and loves to write. My grandfather would be delighted.

One of the essential pieces of worship for me, and part of the Baptist tradition, is the Word, not just the sermon, but the reading of scripture. I was honored at my graduation by the faculty's award of the Massachusetts Bible Society award for Excellence in the Public Reading of the Scripture. I guess that award reflected my belief that telling the story really matters. I believe if we can't engage people in the story that the Bible tells then we can't really engage them in worship, living the faithful life, etc. So our scripture reading needs to be as engaging as storytelling, or perhaps it just needs to be storytelling. This summer while I was doing supply preaching all of the scriptures were practiced and read as reader's theatre, following the impetus provided initially in Ralph Milton's blog Rumors. So that's one powerful way to engage the bible as story. Also check out his collection of lectionary children's stories!

My watchcare mentoring pastor just got back from the summer conference of the Network of Biblical Storytellers. It sounded like a lot of fun—maybe next summer I will go to. We caught up at dinner last week at Speak Up in Lynn, MA. SPEAK UP! Spoken Word Open Mike is hosted by Tony Toledo, for Comedians, Storytellers, Poets, Community Organizers, and ordinary folks who want to rant—anyone can get 5 minutes. Several of the open mike people were people in search of an audience and in need of practice and others, including my friend, clearly have been practicing this art. The featured speaker, Judith Black, was really a premier storyteller.

It's not just Christians who are claiming the urgency and efficacy of storytelling. This week I got a link to Reimagining a Very Good Book, The Comic Torah. I recommend this to you Bible geeks who are not afraid to look at the scriptures in a new light. A further link led me to Storahtelling, and some great video clips of telling the Torah lesson.

For those of you who are more technologically inclined, the power of story telling even makes a difference in learning to program and in breaking gender barriers in computer programming: one more example of using stories as a way in that shows that people are more engaged and motivated to learn when there's a story.

And in a different part of my own story, this past weekend we stopped at a Super 88 Market—a local chain that specializes in Asian foods. We bought several more exotic things, but we also bought a coconut. Perhaps it was an unconscious remembrance of the anniversary of my grandmother's birthday last Friday. When I knew her, she had had all of her teeth pulled and never wore her dentures because they hurt. So she gummed all of her food. But she often bought a fresh coconut and made what we called sawdust, as a way that she could enjoy coconut and nuts, so I share the recipe with you.

1 coconut
1-1-1/2 cups shelled raw nuts, mixed varieties: almonds, pecans, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts--not peanuts.
four-six large graham crackers
1 T – 3 T, to taste, of sugar
Tools required:
hammer, nail, knife, grinder or food processor, bowls

Hammer the nail into one eye of the coconut, and remove. Hammer the nail into a second eye of the coconut. Turn upside down and let the coconut milk drain into a small bowl. Reserve the liquid—good for curries, soup. I don't know what my grandmother used it for, but she would never have thrown it out.

On a sturdy counter or board, begin tapping the coconut around its middle (where it would be wearing a belt) turning it as you tap. The idea is to make the coconut break in half so that you can scoop out the coconut meat. The tapping also loosens the coconut from the shell wall. This might take 3-5 minutes, but just regard it as therapy, and let loose a good whack every few taps. Once it starts to crack, keep tapping until it breaks in two.

Use a knife to score the coconut meat into wedges—that makes it easier to pry out. Trim any of the brown shell from the coconut. Put pieces into a separate bowl.

Set up your food processor. Put in about an eighth of the coconut, one square of graham cracker and 3 Tablespoons of nuts and process. The graham cracker is necessary to provide the sawdust consistency, so add more if the nuts and coconut start to get sticky. If necessary you can just process some graham cracker crumbs and mix it in afterwards. You can process in small batches until as fine a sawdust like as you want and then either stir together or put all of it back in your food processor (depending on capacity) and blend together. Take out into a bowl with a cover and add sugar to taste. Refrigerate. Good snack, or perhaps ice cream topping?

I made some this afternoon in my new food processor, mostly to test my memory of proportions, and it occurs to me now that you could form sawdust "balls" and roll them in melted dark chocolate. I may try that and let you know.

What ways did your grandparents influence you? I give thanks today for these memories.

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