Excerpts from the Rocky Mount N.C. Telegram
Edited by Beverly B. Patterson
[Louise Anderson was the subject of a long feature story by Marybeth Sutton Wallace on the front page of the Telegram’s “Life” section on Sunday, September 9, 1990. The following quotations from Wallace’s interview offer additional glimpses of Louise as a storyteller.]
“Everything reminds me of a story. In order to tell a good story you must have a feeling of wanting to share. You have to want to tell it, and you have to care. I tell all kinds of stories--African stories, African American tales, funny ones, Biblical ones, old Indian tales. But the kind of story I love the most is the kind I am telling right now—a true story. I love true stories that happen to real people. When I go to the grocery store or the filling station on the corner someone will stop me and tell me a story. I love those kinds of stories. And after I hear them, I remember them and I tell them again. Sometimes I read a story too, but it takes longer to digest that way.”
About hearing ghost stories at home: “We’d listen to him [unidentified], and we’d listen to our mother and daddy, who also told [ghost] stories, then we’d go to school the next day and tell ’em. The stories would change a little each time they were told; that was the beauty of it. I’ve told my “Telly Po” story hundreds and hundreds of times, and it’s never exactly the same.” [Wallace writes: This story is about an old man “living alone in the deep dark forest” who cuts off the tail of a wild critter and roasts it for dinner. Late that evening when the old man is snug in his bed, the critter comes looking for its tail and “skeeeraaatch-ratch-ratch ratches” on the door, demanding in a wail of sheer anguish: “Telly Po--TELLYPO . . .Give me back my TELLY-PO!” ]
“I know some of you [children] may have a problem with ghosts of scary things in your closet, and when you call your mama in, she looks in the closet and there’s nothin’ there. I’ll tell you something right now. Ain’t no ghost in the world gonna hang around when your mama comes in. You can spray Mama’s perfume in the four corners of the room and that will help--or if she doesn’t want you to use her perfume, try spray deodorant—or garlic salt. Now it it’s witches worrying you, sprinkle a couple of pieces of rice in your doorway. A witch can’t climb over rice.”
“I met a woman whose son lives in New York. The family is divorced. The child does not know his mother’s stories, and this is very sad to me. If you do not tell your stories, then you do not have a sense of family. I told this woman to go out and buy some tapes, then tape the things that happened. Tell about the first time you went to school, or the day that child was born. ‘Give the tapes for birthday presents and Christmas,’ I told her, ‘because when you do you are giving a part of yourself.’”
“No one in the world can tell a better story than a grandmother or grandfather. When you miss these stories you don’t have the closeness of family anymore. I had some great uncles I cared a great deal about. I didn’t see them that often, maybe once a year, but I knew their stories. I knew about the time they sneaked the shotgun out and went hunting. I knew about the time they played hooky from school. Consequently, I knew them.
Today people go into a nursing home when they get old. And what does a grandchild see when he sees the grandmother lying there on the bed? Is it just a gaunt old woman, or is it the woman who when she was 8 years old, killed a snake on the way to school, or the young bride, scared to death because she doesn’t know how to cook? If the child doesn’t know these stories, then he doesn’t know his grandmother.
“I remember when we got a new library in High Point and how excited my mama was. She sent all of us children down and told us to see the new books. Well, when we got there we found out we couldn’t get books. I remember how terrible I felt because I didn’t understand why. But I remember too, a Christmas in Atlanta, Georgia. We were going down by train to see aunts and uncles and our family got off on the Peachtree stop instead of the other one. Mama had the baby and all of us were carrying big heavy bags. There was a white man there who took the baby from Mama’s arms, picked up those heavy bags and helped us to get back where we needed to be and I want you to know we blessed that man in our prayers for years to come. Because you see, when something ugly happens to you, something good usually happens too.”
“When I went to the mountains for the very first time, around Sylva [North Carolina], there were very few black people. I was there as a visiting artist attending a luncheon when a little boy came in. He was in awe of the bright colors I was wearing. He came right up to me and felt my hands. I could tell that I was the first black person he’d ever seen. When he went across the room to sit I could tell he was thinking it over. Then he came back to me and said, “What color is your car?” I told him purple, green, yellow. “Oh that’s so pretty,” he exclaimed, smiling at me and touching my hands, and I couldn’t help thinking that I was the first black person he had ever come into contact with and that he thought of that black person as pretty.”