Who am I?

I am a writer and storyteller. I live in a 100 year old house in Bynum, NC with 3 cats, 2 kittens and a “Jack Russell Terrorist.” I love to cook and garden. I grew up on a farm in the North Carolina mountains with 6 brothers and sisters and a big extended family.

I regaled friends with true stories about growing up on the farm all my life. Fifteen years ago I took a storytelling class from Chatham County storyteller Louise Omoto Kessel. Immediately I knew being a storyteller was my calling.

I retired from UNC Health Science Library in April of 2012 and my second life began. I perform 4-5 times a week now - at farmers markets, comedy clubs, bars, restaurants, bookstores, fairs and festivals. I take classes in improv and standup to insure my stories are vibrant and engaging. It's rather fun to be my Aunt Nell and a pig all in the same tale! 

I love collaborating with others to produce shows or special events. I host the Bynum Comedy Workshop. I am a member of the group Triangle Comedy (the largest association of comedians in the area). I belong to Eyes Up Here for women comedians in the Raleigh, Wilmington, Greensboro and Charlotte areas. I work with the top local and nationally touring comedians -- and happily coach newbies fresh out of their first standup class. I'm a member of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild. 

I love stories about dragons and wizards, but my stories and comedy celebrate real life is special. I tell only true and original stories. And I love what I do! 

The End (Of the short version.) 

The Rest of the Story

I was born in Transylvania County - in the mountains of North Carolina. I was raised in the house my mother was born in. 

When I was sitting on Moma's lap at quilting bees - or helping in the garden - I was collecting stories. I loved hearing my aunts and uncles and grandpa talk about the good old days. I always loved the music in their words: pre-cable TV there were near-Elizabethan speech patterns in the hills. Their tales came alive for me. When I spent the night at Aunt Myrtle's or Granny Raxter's, I did not want go to sleep -- I wanted to hear more stories. 

At church every Sunday (and Sunday night and Wednesday) I listened to the music in the words of the King James Bible. The best part of church was when the preacher to told us a "parable" - a story with a bit of wisdom woven in between the lines. Gospel music too - the best songs were the songs that told a story.

On Saturday night we'd be on the way home from Aunt Myrtle's, tucked in the back seat of a giant black Pontiac - winding and twisting up Sassafras mountain - WSM and the Grand Old Opry would be on the radio. We'd lose the signal as we crossed over Beasley Gap and spin the giant dials to find it again. I always waited and held my breath hoping Minnie Pearl or Jerry Clower would be on. And there too - the best songs were songs that told stories.

I came of age in the 1960's - I heard the stories in songs by Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Cash, The Smothers Brothers....

 the TV shows had skits or storytellers also. We'd watch Carol Burnette and laugh until we cried. I Love Lucy, Looney Tunes, Batman, Leave it to Beaver, Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle USMC.... I laugh now at their corniness -- and admire their genius. Later on came MASH and Saturday Night Live. Justin Wilson even told stories as he boiled up Shrimp Jambalaya....

At street dances in Brevard in the summer I'd listen to old bucks fiddling with old fat fingers and watch them out buck dance every young buck there. Ballads and square dance tunes and English country dance songs -- music and words and stories woven in the night air.... Living there was a looking glass into the past. In the hills, life had been slow to change until cars and cable TV made it to the backwoods. And with elders all around the past was just yesterday. 

I grew up on a dairy farm. On the farm we lived old timey - but we worked in the modern world too. First off, I have one brother and five sisters. We planted corn, picked berries, put-up jams, milked cows, churned butter, plowed the fields with horses when we could .... things grew better when you didn't tromp down the land with tractor tires.

When our chores were done we fished, dammed up the creek at the "Water Hole," played Monopoly or Parcheesi, climbed trees, played "War" and "Cowboys and Indians," 
sledded, and fell out of tree houses and broke bones and got stuck in wells and broke out windows and swings, and scared younger kids and our mother and our faithful German Shepard until they were just shy of crazy. On Twitter I call this: "growing up rambunctious." That is an understatement. 

In addition to the farm, my mom and dad ran a TV store and had a real estate business. At an early age I learned what it took to provide good customer service in a town where your word was everything. This is something that has effected me my whole life. You always treat people right - that is your choice. Whether they deserve it or not is their choice.  

My dad would take us on service calls with him. We'd fetch tools, climb ladders, pull wires... We also cleaned rental houses, mowed grass, painted, trimmed hedges. On cold winter nights we helped him if a water heater or furnace went out. We worked for real and was paid for real usually the minimum wage.
My dad was a personable fellow and we visited with anyone and everyone we met. There were retired Five Star generals - there were pictures on the wall of them with every president and World leader since Herbert Hoover. There were hard-working mountain folks that had never been to Charlotte. My dad could talk to anyone with grace and ease. When it comes right down to it -- one of us are that much different. The man that had his picture made with Khrushchev and the man that raised hogs on Hogback all appreciate the same things: a good day's work, a good meal, a warm bed, and if the day holds it, a grin and a smile, but, most of all, to be treated with respect. No human deserves less. 

Every night the family dinner table was a meal and a board meeting -- with lessons in etiquette and manners. We would recount the day's stories. We could hardly all get a word in edgewise. My mom's would sing out every 5 minutes: "Let your rations stop your mouth!" We never hushed however. Ever. 

We worked hard, played hard and laughed often. My mom had three rules: Don't cut up at the table, respect your elders, and the most important - be in bed by 8:30! 

They treated us with respect also -- and expectations. "Live up to your raising!" My mom would say. My nephew went to a college where there were demerits for this and demerits for that. Growing up he had helped raise his younger sisters (and younger cousins). He would cook supper and clean the kitchen too by the time he was 14. He said at college, he would sometimes go out after 10pm and drive his car around the crescent just because someone had told him not to. My parents didn't tell us "not to" a lot. They would ask, "You sure that is good idea?"

Town was about a mile from the dairy farm. We all went to Rosman Elementary, then Rosman High School. I was second in a graduating class of 58 people. (The town's population is 410.) I developed a love of writing that is with me still. (Thank you James Looper.) 

I went to college in Chapel Hill. I majored in Business Administration with concentrations in Accounting, Marketing and Personnel. The more business school classes I took the more I realized how much business I had learned by osmosis from my mom and dad. 

I worked all through college: retail, landscaping, bookkeeping, waiting tables, newspaper writing, sports photography, stuffing inserts in the "Village Advocate," babysitting - whatever I could do.

A few months before I graduated I got a job answering the switchboard at the Carolina Inn. (For years I was the voice on the recording, "Thank you for staying at the Carolina Inn. This is your automated wake up call!") There was a job in accounts receivable/front office open up just before I graduated and I got it. Later I was the desk manager and assistant manager. 

When computers arrived I studied hard and became the Systems Administrator. The dawn of the computer age was a trial for almost everyone. I was a sharp cookie -- but mostly, I never give up. That damn optimistic enthusiasm. 

I kept writing.

In 1983 I moved to the tiny town of Bynum, NC in Chatham County. It looked like my hometown in the mountains. The only difference - instead of a saw mill, down by the river was a cotton mill. The mill was still running but they were working short shifts. It closed in December for Christmas and never ran again. Over the years, the houses have gone from being rented to being owned by young couples, single folks, nurses,librarians, and artists. I still live here. It's still looks and feels like "back home."

You know -- a person doesn't always realize what will influence a good portion of their life when it happens! Whatever it is just looks like a good thing to do at the time. Buying the house on the Haw River in Bynum, and working at the Carolina Inn were two life-altering choices.

In Bynum I lived next door to a professional storyteller, Louise Kessel. She'd have open studio tours. (She also makes woodblock prints!) I'd make Mom's Raw Apple Cake for it - and deviled eggs to die for.... Every year I cooked more and more... I ended up running a catering business for a number of years!

Louise also invented the Haw River Festival. I was recruited quickly! I  had great time doing environmental education for 9 year olds! I helped design volunteer handbooks and training, and did community outreach. I served on the Board for 3 years, one year as Vice President. It lives on! I think it's in it's 25th year. We changed a small corner of the world - one 4th grader at a time. I'm proud of that!

About a fifteen years ago Louise convinced me to take her storytelling class. To no one's surprise, I was a natural born storyteller. Since then, I've worked at festivals and schools, cafes and coffee shops all over NC. I've done Story Slams at The Monti in Durham. (I love it and I always get third place!) I have told stories to 350 adults in a church. To 4 kids and a goat in a horse trailer in a sleet storm. And twice I've told a story while I was having surgery. When I tell a story I am reliving it. I go into it. Sometimes I come to and realize I've been standing in water for hours and it's 38 degrees. Isn't there time for one more story? 

In 2011 another friend convinced me to take an improv class. Oh my!! It is so MUCH FUN! I have been hooked ever since! It is amazing. At 50-something I thought I knew myself. Ha! It is good to know that nothing is ever stagnant with us, the human species. We can change anything. We just have to allow ourselves to be the person that allows it to happen.

One night in February 2012 (three months before I retired from UNC),
after an improv performance, a neighbor prodded me to tell a story! My improv teacher, Anoo Tree Brod heard me and said, "Storytelling is your calling. You must do this -- FOR A LIVING. And you need to be doing stand-up." Some things are such a good idea you just get out of the way so they can happen. 

In March i was contacted by Amanda Scherle - and started telling stories every other week at Eno River Farmers' Market in Hillsborough. Soon others got word that I was going into storytelling full-time. And they started calling too.

I had four storytelling gigs on Saturday 
and two on Sunday, April the 30th. I retired from the library on Monday, May 1st. I thought it was just a little flurry -- people were excited I was retiring! Little did I know, I had stumbled into Ali Baba's cave.... (Well, I'm rich with work at least! LOL!) 

So... I was telling stories in Hillsborough. By
 December I had a repertoire of 60 or so stories - original true-life stories - and had met many new friends: farmers, foodies, buy-local fans and a slew of four-year-olds I will love forever. Forever. When the right muscle in your brain engages - when you forget where you are and just become what you are doing - even in a horse trailer in a sleet storm - you're doing the right thing.

But I skipped a little part: fall of 2012 (I hadn't forgotten Anoo's words!) I took 2 standup classes at DSI Comedy Theater in Chapel Hill. As 2013 broke, I started doing open mics ... Raleigh,  Durham, Pittsboro, Saxapahaw... Greensboro, High Point, Tarboro, Clayton.... Me and the audiences kinda fell in love with each other. I'm still working the craft. The goal is to be the same person on stage as you are off stage. I am seeing glimmers. I am having lots of fun. 20,000 miles on the truck and counting. I keep "Letting it happen." 

So that is my first odd 50 years.

Oh!! But I can't close without telling you how much I love to travel. (And fish too 
but we'll save that for another day!) I've been to Canada and Vermont and Terlinqua, Texas, traveled to Alaska a few times, and visited Nashville and DC. I went to L.A. and saw the Price is Right -- and totally by accident ended up behind the Entertainment Tonight camera at the Pirates of the Caribbean premiere. I've stood at the bulkhead at Key West and looked towards Cuba. I have swatted mosquitos at the Arctic circle and once upon a time, just about froze to death in the Mexican Desert. (Yes there is a story in there!)

I've told stories every where I've went. (I can't not tell stories.) And I always end up with more stories to tell. This is one:

We were in D.C. for 25 hours and 25 minutes. When we got there it was late. Supper had done worn off so we went to a Seven-Eleven. A principal (permanent wave and polyester dress and reading glasses) was working the night shift and was hollering at the evening shift - "Don't leave me here with no hot dogs!" They stopped trying to sneak out and started pulling out packs of red hots and slapping them on the rollers. The principal was also busting guys from the 'hood that were trying to cut in line. 
We got our Fritos and got out of there! We were half expected her to shoot someone soon! Rule of life: Don't mess with a woman with permed hair in a polyester dress running a Seven-Eleven in DC at 1 AM! And for sure don't leave her without no hot dogs! 

The next day we got to the Mall and 50,000 Boy Scouts were there for Jamboree. There was an ocean of green and khaki. A sea of green socks... red kerchiefs.... Boys. Scouts. Fifty. Thousand. Of. Them. And the preteenagers were slamming into us and knocking us silly. Groups would get separated -- the stragglers would realize it and take off running to catch up. Bam. The Longest Yard 2? The Other Side of the Blind Side? Friday Night Lights Out? Whatever the title of the parody! I felt like a rodeo clown practicing to be a bowling pin! 

We saw the Hope Diamond and the Wright brothers' plane. I think the Lincoln Memorial is very cool - in more ways than one. It was August and hotter than Hades. 

We visited 6 museums and 14 monuments in 1 day and one hour. When it was time to leave town, the hotel's shuttle bus pulled up in front of Union Station. Jesus was driving. He had the AC on #10 and Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" was on the stereo. I danced my way on to that ride. When I die, I hope Jesus comes to pick me up in a shuttle bus just like that one. With the AC on #10 and Marvin on the the stereo. 

And with that I will say good night. 
Leave me comment and tell me where you're from! Did you grow up in a big family too? What were your mom's 3 rules? Thanks for being my friend, and thanks for reading my biography. Know I always mean it when I say: