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It Doesn't Take Much

By Sam Payne


It’s remarkable how little coaxing a memory needs before it floods your brain as a full-fledged story – bringing back to you a living, breathing part of your life that may have retreated to a foggy corner of the past.

 

Not too many days ago, Dr. Eric Eliason sent a handful of his students to the Apple Seed studios to tell personal stories for each other in front of our microphones. Dr. Eliason teaches a folklore class at Brigham Young University, and has brought classes to the studio before. It’s one of our favorite things to do, gathering, archiving, and broadcasting stories from students at the University, and we always look forward to visits from people who haven’t had that experience before. They tend to enter the studio as classmates, and leave as kin. 

 

Midway through the sharing, we heard a story from Mikaylie Hebbert about her grandfather, who, on a family picnic, brought a long, metal wrench, with which he swatted a bear on the nose as the bear got too curious (As Mikaylie told her story, I had no idea that she’s the daughter-in-law of Mary Ann Maxwell Hebbert, an old family friend. This is one small world). Like lightning, my brain went to the story of my own grandfather, who, on a mountain drive with his kids (among them my father), saw a deer out the car window. He stopped the car, rolled down the window, and said “C’mere, Deer,” upon which the deer walked obediently over to the car. This was my grandfather who used to take business trips from California to Utah, and when he returned home would hand over souvenir tortoises he’d wrangled off the desert. These things happened a generation before me, of course, but important family stories were comprised of them. I haven’t thought of these things in years. And then, whoosh. As Mikaylie told her story, back they came, with very little bidding.

 

From Left: Sam (holding the family goat, "JB"); Sam's brother, Joe (holding his cat, "Tiger"); and Sam's brother, David. Behind: Sam's grandfather, Leland Jay Payne.


Flash forward to last night. I pulled into the driveway after a long day and yanked the mail from the box as I went in the door. There was only one piece of mail; a circular from Mason Shoes, founded in 1904 by a German immigrant named August Mason and his son, Bert.  The Masons cut their teeth as shoe manufacturers by hand-making boots and shoes for Wisconsin loggers and river men. After the Forests had been logged bare, Mason Shoe salesmen peddled shoes and boots door-to-door, all over America. And if the origin of Mason Shoes sounds like an esoteric piece of knowledge to have at my fingertips, it’s only because my grandfather, (toward the end of a life that had already included a handful of years making cartoons for Walt Disney, 30 years of managing the Mormon welfare program in Southern California, and nearly eight decades in service to the Boy Scouts of America), was a Mason Shoe salesman. Mason shoes were sold by part-time sales guys who worked from their homes and sold shoes to their friends and neighbors. We Payne kids all wore Masons because we each got a pair every year around Christmastime. Grandpa’s old Honda Accord has a gold bumper sticker on it that said: “Ask me about Mason Shoes!” Devoutly religious in a suburban California neighborhood, Grandpa stuck a copy of the Book of Mormon inside the box of each pair of shoes he sold – encouraging people to find a walk to walk in their new kicks.

 

My grandfather died just as the millennium turned, in the year 2000. I haven’t thought about Mason shoes in almost twenty years. And I don’t know why the circular wound up in my mailbox.

 

But boy, did it open the lid on a bucketful of memories. Ever happen to you?

 

After all, it’s remarkable how little coaxing a memory needs before it floods your brain as a full-fledged story – bringing back to you a living, breathing part of your life that may have retreated to a foggy corner of the past. 

The Okee Dokee Brothers: Better than Laughing Gas

By Sam Payne

Some months ago, I had to have a tooth filled. Now, I don’t know how your dentist works, but mine has a TV screen on a big arm that he can position right above your face as he works on you. And his assistant comes in and asks you what you want to watch on Netflix. And that, right there – deciding what to watch on Netflix, as the dental assistant hovers with the remote, is the hardest thing about the dental appointment every time. And usually, for me, finally choosing something to watch is kind of a pencil drop. But on the day in question, there in the Netflix lineup was a trio of films from The Okee Dokee Brothers, the Grammy-winning duo made up of Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing. I knew something about these guys, and I’m interested in great music being made for kids, and so I had the dental assistant click on a film called Through The Woods, The Okee Dokee Brothers adventure on the Appalachian Trail, really sort of a video scrapbook of Joe and Justin’s hiking trip along the trail that runs 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. And there I was, dentist drilling on my teeth, trying to keep from laughing out loud as Joe and Justin, out on the trail, try to make up a secret handshake. And when they connect with The Wright Kids (a family bluegrass band in Virginia) for a soulful jam on Blue Moon of Kentucky, that was it. I was undone. I had to gesture to the dental assistant to turn it off before I made a fool out of myself or got myself hurt.

Since then, my eleven-year-old son and I have devoured everything we can get our hands on from The Okee Dokee Brothers catalog, including three albums (Through the Woods, Saddle Up, and Can You Canoe), accompanying films about adventures on the Continental Divide, the Mississippi river, and the Appalachian Trail (the films are all available on Netflix), and also their most recent book, a take on the folktale “The Fisherman and his Wife” called “The Thousand Star Hotel” (it comes with an audiobook version on CD, and an album’s worth of songs). It was a delight to have Joe Mailander, one-half of the group, join me in conversation on the show. You can find more from The Okee Dokee Brothers at www.okeedokee.org, and watch for the episode featuring my conversation with Joe at www.byuradio.org.

Burritos and Stories

The Weber Storytelling Festival has been an institution in Ogden, Utah, for more than two decades. Held over three days, just as February becomes March each year, the festival features tellers of all kinds, including 60-70 youth storytellers each year, chosen by their schools and sent to venues like the beautiful Peery’s Egyptian Theater to perform on stages with some of the world’s great storytellers.

 

This year, a couple of us were looking for a great place to have a little lunch during a busy day of storytelling, and Yelp led us to a tiny little restaurant called “Rosa’s Café.” The place smelled terrific, and we said so to the girl behind the register. “That’s all because of my mama’s recipes,” she said, pointing to Mama, who stood at the far end of the counter talking to a customer.

 

At Rosa’s, we were treated to the best burritos we can ever remember eating. They were delicious, colorful, and enormous. And because it took awhile to eat them, we had plenty of time to strike up a conversation with the girl behind the register. Her name was Ida. Ida told us that the family had lived in Ogden for a dozen years or so, and that they had always wanted to have a restaurant together. It was a fantasy they talked about often, the children reminiscing about the wonderful food their mama had always been able to make, even during hard times, from nearly nothing. Now, as adults, they all had jobs in one place or another. But even with their adult lives moving forward, sometimes they allowed themselves to talk about their delicious fantasy (as we talked with Ida, she says to her mama, “Mira, Mami, me estan entrevistando!” “Look, Mom, I’m being interviewed!”).

 

 After all that fantasizing, no one ever thought they’d actually have a restaurant together. But one day, Ida’s father came home and slapped a stack of papers on the kitchen counter. The papers were a contract. Signed. Papa, as a surprise, had gone and made it happen – signed a contract on a little space downtown. They were in. Rosa’s Café was going to be a reality.

 

As you can imagine, Papa was in trouble at first. But it wasn’t long before everyone quit their jobs and took their place at the café (at this moment in our conversation, Ida’s son, maybe nine years old, comes into the restaurant. School is over, and it’s time for a hug and a kiss from mama. He walks behind the counter and gets them both – and then one of each from Grandma).

 

Now, a year and a half after Rosa’s opened its doors, Papa wants to get a bigger place. But he doesn’t want to get in trouble.

 As we talked with Ida and her family, we felt the thrill of apprehension and excitement that must have accompanied the moment Papa put the signed contract on the table. We felt both the weight and the joy of the work that has Ida’s family all together, shoulders to the wheel in the tiny café. And, of course, the family’s story came to us in a wonderful dance that included not only the spoken words of Ida and her family to us in English and Spanish, but also the hugs and kisses and jokes they exchanged with each other, and the smells and tastes of a meal delicious enough to get emotional about (Suzanne Christensen, across the table from me, took her first bite and sighed. “Good?” I asked. “Yes,” she sighed. “And that was just the rice”).

 

We had spent a day-and-a-half telling stories from stage, and would spend another day-an-a-half doing the same thing after lunch at Rosa’s. Our stories were carefully crafted and rehearsed, most of them partly true and partly made up. But a visit to Rosa’s was a reminder of the incredible story that exists behind each shop window, behind each door in each neighborhood, in the home of each family. We felt reverent before that notion. We feel so now.

 

What a delicious lesson to learn at a storytelling festival.

 

Find out more about the Weber Storytelling festival right here: http://www.weber.edu/storytelling


Find out more about Rosa's Café by visiting them on Facebook. Look for "Rosa's Cafe'."