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The power of story

I attended a story circle workshop many years ago, where each participant was given a brief amount of time to tell his/her story. A topic was chosen and approximately 35 people, strangers until this moment, gave their stories to each other.

Within the Appalachian culture, story is key to connecting with others. If I share my story — even just a simple part of it, I am giving a piece of myself to you.

We share stories around the kitchen table of what happened that day. We sit on the porch and share memories of how we have been impressed or moved by an experience. We tell stories of humor, or fear, or perils or triumphs.

We especially use story to keep the memories alive of loved ones who have passed away. Story is a way we share moments of trial and heartache with family members that contain emotions we cannot communicate to others.

The topic chosen that day at the story circle workshop spurred an intimate memory of mine as a child.

I grew up in a hollow in an old log house, snuggled within the Lawrence County hills. Granny’s house was located on the other side of the hill, past an abandoned strip mine.

We loved and depended on Granny like no other person in our world. We often walked the mile and a half to her house two or three times a day.

In the country, on cloudy nights, it is so dark that walking with your eyes open or closed makes no difference. At night, my siblings and I would walk to Granny’s house by holding hands and feeling with our feet to make sure we did not fall into the ditch.

Our journey meant walking down a dirt road, across the creek and out of the hollow to the main county road. Then we walked the twisty, pothole-filled main road in complete darkness, holding tight to each other.

We talked, laughed and often sang hymns as we traveled. I remember thinking how scary the darkness of the world around me seemed.

At the same time, there was a strong sense of warmth in holding my sister’s hand, so that the darkness did not render us nerveless.

Eventually, we would walk around a turn in the road and see the outside light at Granny’s house. I remember the sense of satisfaction I felt upon seeing Granny’s light. It meant the journey was almost completed and what awaited me was the love of someone who always had room for me.

Upon remembering this story, I realized the lessons I learned from those experiences.

To this day, I am very close to my sisters and, when the dark days of life come, I welcome the opportunity to hold on to those I love.

I also learned that when I cannot always ‘see’ my way, there is a Greater Source that helps guide me through the dark, twisty roads. And I long for the celebration that keeps me motivated to my destination.

Life is an adventure — sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying — but always life is an adventure. I am grateful for the richness of lessons in the stories of my Appalachian country heritage.


Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.