Thursday, October 31, 2013

Everybody has a story

There are many things I love about working at Elements Gallery in Peninsula. One of my favorite things is meeting all the interesting people who visit there. From the artists who talk about their love of creating, and the challenges they face in that creation, to the varied and unique individuals who live in the town of Peninsula, to the visitors who come there from all over the world, I learn so much about so many things.

I have learned that it is often possible to spot a woodcarver or woodturner by their hands, which often bear the scars of the slip of a blade. I have, also, learned that many artists see the world differently, perhaps because they study it more thoughtfully, noticing infinite varieties of colors, shapes, shadows and light.

A young woman was in a few weeks ago, who was thrilled to find a leather bag that was simple, beautiful and constructed to last. She had such a huge smile as she told me how happy she was to find the perfect purse, because it would be the last purse she ever purchased. She appeared to be in early 20's, so I wondered why it would be the last one. She joyfully explained that she was leaving very soon to join a convent and she was only permitted to bring a few personal items, and one item that had been specifically mentioned was "a good purse that would last." Her excitement to begin this next phase of her life was obvious. Her sister and a good friend were with her as she shopped, and they seemed as happy as she was.

Children are always interesting visitors. Many parents are so fearful that their children will break something that they rush them through the gallery. In some cases, I think it's a wise decision, but most times, I see the sparkle in the child's eyes as they see so many beautiful things, and I wish their parents would be patient and let the child look around. Often I see a child stop and study an item so closely and carefully, as if trying to determine exactly how the artist created it, or noticing with a young artist's eyes, the hidden lights and shadows that others have missed.

A few weeks ago, more than 40 people came in to the gallery in one group. I thought they had probably just arrived on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train. They quickly told me that they were all one family. Grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren were all laughing and talking and enjoying their time together. They hadn't arrived by train, but rather they had spent the night at the Stanford Hostel just a few minutes from Peninsula. It's a large farmhouse with room for everyone. They had booked the entire place and had a family reunion. Now they were out to see the sights. They said they were having a wonderful time, but soon they would have to leave, some by car, some by plane, to travel to their respective homes. But they were hoping to repeat this experience next year.

We often hear a variety of foreign accents at the gallery. One week, I asked a man if he was German, and he quickly explained that he was from Holland. He was an engineer who was visiting the Cleveland area to assist with the installation of some type of equipment at one of the hospitals. I asked him if he was enjoying his stay, and he looked very serious as he said, "Some of it." When I asked him what he didn't like, he said that he did not like the noise in the city and the hurrying people. He said that people in Holland were not in such a rush. He also was surprised by how much money people spend in the United States for things like going out to lunch or Cavs' games or other entertainment. Peninsula appealed to him because of the slower pace of the village, and the opportunity to see trees and find some spots of quiet.

People are so interesting. I seldom watch television, but there have been programs that I have enjoyed. One of these programs, was "On the Road with Charles Kuralt."

Charles Kuralt was a newsman for CBS. Early in his career, he learned that he did not like the competitiveness of television news. He didn't want to spend his time racing around trying to be the first with a story. Like the man from Holland, he liked a slower pace. He did a few special interest pieces for CBS which focused on interesting people, who were doing unusual things. For the most part, they were everyday people that were seldom noticed by those rushing by, but in their quiet way, they were making a difference in the world. Charles Kuralt noticed. And he told their stories, in his trademark gravelly voice, and those stories touched people's hearts. Charles Kuralt made a career of telling the stories of real people, rather than celebrities and politicians.

When Mr. Kuralt retired, I was sad, because I loved his stories. Luckily, about that time, CBS found a reporter with a similar flair for finding interesting stories in off-the-beaten-path locations. His name was Steve Hartman. Mr. Hartman did something that really grabbed my attention. He created a series called, "Everybody Has a Story."

The idea for "Everybody Has a Story" came from a newspaper reporter named David Johnson. Johnson worked for the Lewiston, Idaho, Morning Tribune. For more than 2 decades he had been picking people out of his local phone book and putting their stories on the front page of the Morning Tribune. After interviewing David in 1994, Hartman tried the idea himself. "I was doing it more or less as a joke," Hartman said years later. "I never dreamed you could actually find good stories like that. Turns out I couldn't have been more wrong. Like David, I now believe the white pages are chock full of amazing, untold stories."

Steve Hartman proved the adage by tossing a dart at a map of America, and then randomly picking an interview subject from the local phone book of the area pinpointed by the dart.

Mr. Hartman said that sometimes he had to spend a long time talking to people before he found their story. There were days that he thought, "Uh oh! What if they don't have a story?" But that never happened. Eventually, as he spent time getting to know the people, they would say something that would make him say, "Wow!" and he would know he had found their story. I loved that program, because it confirmed my own belief.

Before my mother died, I spent time interviewing her. I missed the opportunity to interview my dad. He passed away suddenly in 1994. Luckily my mother knew a lot about my dad's childhood and teen years, and answered nearly every question I asked. My daughters were very young and I wanted them to know what their grandparents were like, not just their names and their genealogy, but what their lives had been like. What had they done for fun when they were children? What were their school days like? What were their parents like and their home life? What were the most difficult decisions they had made? What were their fondest memories?

I asked every question I could think of, and I spent time talking and listening to them trying to get every story that I could find. I wrote all of their memories down and created a book for my daughters and my brothers and sister and their families. We all learned so much that we hadn't known before.

What stories do you have to share with your children? What stories do your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles have? What about your neighbors?

I agree with Steve Hartman, everybody has a story. All we have to do is ask the right questions and listen. There is so much to learn from every person you meet. Someone has probably already experienced a problem you are facing now. They may have the solution ready to share with you. Another may have words of inspiration to guide you through your day, or words of hope to share when you are sad.  They may have a hidden skill that they are willing to teach. Take the time to listen.

There is a world of knowledge that is often untapped. Notice the people who pass through your life and take the time to hear their story. You will discover amazing people with wonderful stories.



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"The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines."
- Charles Kuralt

"There are a lot of people who are doing wonderful things, quietly, with no motive of greed, or hostility toward other people, or delusions of superiority."
- Charles Kuralt

"Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything."
Charles Kuralt
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Watch this video which shows Steve Hartman re-interviewing a man interviewed by Charles Kuralt 25 years earlier.

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