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Oral tradition begins at Storytelling Festival
In his bow tie and ill-fitting suit, Donald Davis looks like the avuncular uncle who entertains at family celebrations with stories about the relatives. Stories like how much he enjoyed being the baby, the first in the family, and how little he liked at age 3 yielding the title "baby" to his new brother. At age 5 he liked something even less — having to watch the baby while his mother did laundry or picked beans in the garden.
His momma didn't care. "What you have to watch out for with mommas is when the spaces between the words are as big as the words," Davis said, midway through a 20-minute story about how to get fired from baby-watching.
"Get — in — the — house — and — watch — the — baby."
Chilly temperatures did not discourage throngs of schoolchildren from all over Southeast Missouri and many adults from attending Friday's opening day of the first Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival. The tent at Main and Merriwether streets overflowed for the performance titled "Stories That Make Us Laugh" by Marilyn Kinsella and Priscilla Howe.
Convention and Visitors Bureau director Chuck Martin estimated the attendance at just under 1,100 for all the morning and afternoon sessions. That included about 700 students from as far away as Poplar Bluff, Mo., and Cairo, Ill., and as near as Jackson. Martin said no Cape Girardeau schools participated.
An evening performance on the River Campus by the festival's four nationally-known storytellers was expected to add significantly to the attendance total. That tent holds 500 people, and 400 passes good for all three days of the festival have been distributed so far.
The festival resumes at 10 this morning with stories by Sheila Kay Adams in the tent at Broadway and Spanish Street and Missouri Tales by storytellers Jim "Two Crows" Wallen, Joyce Slater and Doug Mishler in the tent at Main and Merriwether streets. The performances continue through 4:45 p.m. downtown, with another evening performance on the River Campus at 7 p.m.
Davis was one of seven storytellers who entertained audiences Friday. Dan Keding told stories from Africa, Croatia and England and even expertly played the spoons. His stories tended to have a lesson about greed or injustice. Marilyn Kinsella told American Indian tales about monstrous beings and used suspense so skillfully that rows of startled students turned around quickly when a gust of wind whipped against the back of the tent.
Joyce Slater told a Chinese story that explained how the Man in the Moon got there. Willy Claflin and his language-challenged puppet Maynard Moose made the students from Immaculate Conception School in Jackson laugh uproariously with a tale that explains "why mooses can't fly." It has to do with bubble gum and "an extremely uglified pig."
Barry Robinson, co-owner of Cup 'N' Cork in downtown Cape Girardeau, said the festival created lots of business Friday. "We've been swamped from 11 o'clock until now," he said at 1:30 p.m. "You could tell they were new faces."
Martin said he and the organizers are "extremely gratified" by the turnout and positive reactions to the first day. Friday's nippy temperature did make them decide that in the event of cold the tents will be outfitted with propane heaters during next year's festival, which is already being planned. "This is indeed our first rodeo," he said.
Davis and his cousin made a mess of watching the baby the day his momma needed to pick beans. They liked to play a game called Make the Baby Cry. They teased him with cookies and stuck a rattle to his forehead, creating a "big sucked up red place" they tried to camouflage with calamine lotion. Of course, Davis' momma saw through the subterfuge.
"Can't mommas get mad in a hurry?" Davis asked. "She totally lost her punctuation."