Stories: They Teach and Entertain
As a child, when I misbehaved I was told not to do the deed again, and I was usually asked to sit and listen to a story. And what wonderful stories they were—interesting, creative yet most of all educational. By the end I realized I had been “chastised” by example and certainly didn’t want to end up like that raccoon, ant, or other poor creature for doing the same thing I had.
A male friend, also Abenaki, had a similar childhood. He told me if a child did not learn proper behavior after a certain number of times, the ultimate punishment was “shunning” or “the silent treatment,” which usually got the job done. Sad, because withholding love is just terrible. Luckily, punishment in my home never went that far. I heard about Granny Squannit, the wife of the giant Mooshup on Cape Cod and the islands. Some think she may also have been the wife of the Abenaki hero giant, Gluscabi, but that is another story. Being the coldest part of winter now, fireside stories may be told in abundance. Person or animal, the story always had a lesson to pass along.
When not cooking or thinking about food, I work on craft projects. Stories help the work go faster, I even like to listen to them more than music sometimes. One of my favorite storytellers on tape is Tsonakwa (Gerard Rancourt Tsonakwa), an Abenaki from Quebec, Canada. We met in the early l980s at the then called American Indian Archeological Institute in northwest Connecticut. He has such an unforgettable voice that I nearly fell off my chair when he called my home a couple of years later. He was calling to ask me and other Abenaki artists to contribute a piece of work to a traveling art show he was organizing. It went to many fine galleries all over the United States, starting at the Quintana Galleries in Oregon, ending up at the Chimney Point Historic Site Museum in Vergennes, Vermont. I was very proud to have a gourd and antler piece featured in that show. But, I digress. The stories told by Tsonakwa, Joseph Bruchac, N. Scott Momaday, and many others I have been blessed and honored to meet have stayed in my heart and my head.
Now, mid-winter, these stories can be told by the fireside. To this day I believe that “little people dancing” around the trunk of a tree caused the grass not to grow there, and that eating too many wild strawberries can make a person a redhead. And, that there are little frogs with only one leg hopping about on wood branch crutches. I also believe there is some truth to the story Tsonakwa tells about how the design on the back of a snake came to be Shashegua. He got this from a bead design left unattended. I tell that one a lot because I was given permission to share.
Stories are exciting, educational, and entertaining. They can teach important lessons and explain mysteries of the natural world in ways both young and old can understand and all the while continue on the oral history carried by the teller. Do remember to treat the storyteller well with a warm drink of tea or cocoa with chocolate shavings on top.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.
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