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Eastern Cabarrus

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Storytelling is an art that preserves history

Next Sunday, Sylvia Payne of the Roads Scholars program will spin some yarns and discuss what they say about our families and towns.

Marcia Morris

Walk into a room full of people you don't know. Most of us will see only unfamiliar faces. But some will see a collection of stories waiting to be told.

Thanks to the Roads Scholars program, funded by the N.C. Humanities Council, we will all have the opportunity next weekend to hear some of those stories and to learn how to find the stories of people all around us.

Professional storyteller Sylvia Payne, a Roads Scholars speaker, will be at the Eastern Cabarrus Historical Museum next Sunday. The free program begins at 3 p.m.

Payne is from the Hickory area and loves rural life. As a retired librarian, itinerant storyteller and current editor of The Journal of Tar Heel Tellers, the N.C. Story Telling Guild's journal, she lives surrounded by stories.

In her program she'll share multicultural folktales, stories from history and N.C. legends.

But Sylvia Payne is going to do more than just spin yarns. She's going to talk about why storytelling is important, especially as a way of preserving history.

After I heard about Payne's upcoming lecture, I got to thinking about a story passed around in my family.

According to family lore, when my grandmother was born (the youngest of 11 children), her parents never bothered to name her, just calling her “the baby.”

It wasn't until her first birthday that her grandfather decided he needed to call her something and named her Ethel. I never knew my great-grandparents – they had died long before I was born – but from that one story, I can deduce a lot about them.

Stories help us understand each other, ourselves and the world. Not only is storytelling an art form and a means of entertainment, it's also an important tool to help us remember.

On her Web site, Payne writes, “Stories can bring us closer to the truth about ourselves, about life and about living, as well as help us define our own purpose here on earth.”

Sylvia Payne emphasizes that storytelling is for everyone and that everyone can – and should – do it.

As part of her presentation next Sunday, Payne will talk about ways to find and preserve our own family stories, in writing or by word of mouth. She encourages her audiences to talk to the older generation, and to discover the wealth of history, knowledge and learning they can share.

She'll remind us not to take the people and stories around us for granted. We need to preserve those stories now, before they are lost forever.

History is about the ordinary, everyday lives that form the patchwork of our families and communities. Next Sunday we all have a chance to hear and share stories, and to learn how to preserve the stories that matter to us.

Freelance columnist Marcia Morris: mmorris@charlotteobserver.com.

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