Arthur Watts’ Barbecue – Storytelling for Everyone

Black History

Pictured: Arthur Watts at age 106

One could literally say a full century’s worth of effort—and then some—has gone into the refinement of his sauce, Old Arthur’s Barbecue.

Arthur Watts was born a slave in 1837, and his primary task from the age of six was tending the cooking fires on the estate that bonded him. From this early age, Arthur continuously experimented with the freshest natural ingredients available to him to perfect his sauce to complement the meats he prepared over an open pit.

When freed at the age of twenty-seven by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation executive order (January 1, 1863), his recipes were the only possessions of value that he took with him out of bondage.

Arthur very likely continued working for his former owner as a freeman until he could strike out on his own. Arthur married his wife, Laura, in the mid-1870s; they continued to live in Missouri near where they had been enslaved, and had five children there. Arthur left the South and settled in Kewanee, Illinois.

Once Arthur and his family moved to Kewanee around 1901, there is an abundant history of their vibrant life in the growing city and economic engine of Henry County, known as the “Hog Capital of the World.” 

Living in Wethersfield, Arthur farmed on his land just south of Division Street and Chautauqua Park in the Blish Addition. He also periodically worked in Kewanee’s factories. He, Laura, and the children were active in the Second Baptist Church.

But Arthur was best-known for his skills in cooking meat over an open fire barbecuing. He learned to barbecue in slavery and continued honing his skills for the rest of his life. And those skills were unsurpassed.

Relying on the popularity and demand for his renowned sauce, Arthur took great pride in earning his keep with it until the time of his death at 108 years of age in 1945.

Arthur cooked for picnics, church events, celebrations of all varieties large or small. Whenever there was an outdoor gathering of people where food would be served, there was a good chance that Arthur would be leading the cooking.

By 1916, it was estimated that Arthur had been in charge of over 200 barbecues. His reputation continued to grow and was not confined to just Kewanee.

For instance, in 1919, Arthur led the preparation of a barbecue for a massive Fourth of July celebration in Neponset, serving an estimated 11,000 people. The Daily Star Courier called the day the greatest event in Neponset history, and proclaimed that “the greatest particular feature of the day was the barbecue, . . . one of the largest and most successful . . . ever held in this vicinity. Arthur Watts Sr. was in charge of the cooking pits … who has for years been in charge of large barbecues . . . .”

Arthur passed on his barbecue skills and secret recipes to his children. In 1954 during the five-day Centennial celebration of Kewanee’s birth, Arthur’s son, Eudell, led a crew of more than 300 volunteers all night and into the next day, endlessly turning the five tons of pork over and over on the two 150-foot-long grills to make sure it cooked evenly.

My Family History in Kewanee

My father’s people immigrated to Kewanee in 1870, after the Civil War to escape the Franco-Prussian War of 1970-71, that was fought in their German borderland. My ancestors worked in the Kewanee coal mines, as merchants, in real estate, and enjoyed some success.

When I was a child, we often visited my grandparents in Kewanee and stayed for months at a time when we had no other home.

My fondest memory of Kewanee is of a small town community sharing its delicious food, the simple pleasures of farming and gardening, of corn fields and hog farms. My grandmother’s pride in her kitchen garden, of her skill in canning, cooking, and baking is part of my legacy that continues to nourish me.

It’s a thrill to know that Arthur Watts and his family lived in our farming town in Illinois and contributed to its festivals and celebrations with open pit barbecues at the same time my immigrant family lived and worked there.

Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life that bind us and keep us close.
~Kate Fischer Farrell


With special thanks to my cousin, Dean Karau, who researched and wrote this featured article in the Kewanee Star Courier in honor of Black History Month.

Old Arthur’s BBQ Sauce recipes are preserved over six generations and for sale across the country:


Old Arthur’s Barbecue Sauce – 160-Year-Old Family Recipe

The Little Shoe – Storytelling for Everyone

Irish Folktale

“Now tell me, Molly,” said Mr. Coote to Molly Cogan, as he met her on the road one day, close to one of the old gateways of Kilmallock. “Did you ever hear of the Cluricaune?”

“Is it the Cluricaune? Why, then, sure I did, often and often; many’s the time I heard my father, rest his soul! tell about, ’em over and over again.”

“But did you ever see one, Molly—did you ever see one yourself?”

“Och! no, I never see one in my life; but my grandfather, that’s my father’s father, you know, he see one, one time, and caught him too.”

“Caught him! Oh! Molly, tell me how was that?”

“Why, then, I’ll tell you:”

My grandfather, you see, was out there above in the bog, drawing home turf, and the poor old mare was tired after her day’s work, and the old man went out to the stable to look after her, and to see if she was eating her hay.

When he came to the stable door there, my dear, he heard something hammering, hammering, hammering, just for all the world like a shoemaker making a shoe, and whistling all the time the prettiest tune he ever heard in his whole life before.

Well, my grandfather, he thought it was the Cluricaune, and he said to himself, says he, “I’ll catch you, if I can, and then I’ll have money enough always.”

So he opened the door very quietly, and didn’t make a bit of noise in the world that ever was heard; and he looked all about, but the never a bit of the little man he could see anywhere, but he heard him hammering and whistling, and so he looked and looked, till at last he see the little fellow.

And where was he, do you think, but in the girth under the mare; and there he was with his little bit of an apron on him, and his hammer in his hand, and a little red nightcap on his head, and he making a shoe.

He was so busy with his work, and he was hammering and whistling so loud, that he never minded my grandfather till he caught him fast in his hand.

“Faith, I have you now,” says he, “and I’ll never let you go till I get your purse—that’s what I won’t; so give it here to me at once, now.”

“Stop, stop,” says the Cluricaune, “stop, stop, says he, till I get it for you.”

So my grandfather, like a fool, you see, opened his hand a little, and the little fellow jumped away laughing, and he never saw him any more, and the never a bit of the purse did he get, only the Cluricaune left his little shoe that he was making.

My grandfather was mad enough, angry with himself for letting him go; but he had the shoe all his life, and my own mother told me she often see it, and had it in her hand, and ’twas the prettiest little shoe she ever saw.

“And did you see it yourself, Molly?”

“Oh! no, my dear, it was lost long afore I was born; but my mother told me about it often and often enough.”


And if you don’t believe the tale….

There is nothing very strange in the circumstance of Molly’s grandfather becoming the possessor of a Cluricaune’s shoe, for even in the present century, when these little people are supposed to have grown more shy and cautious of letting themselves be seen or heard, persons have been fortunate enough to get their shoes, though the purse still eludes them.

In a Kilkenny paper, published not more than three years ago, there was a paragraph (which paragraph was copied into most of the Irish papers) stating that a peasant returning home in the dusk of the evening, discovered one of these little folk at work, and as the workman, as usual, contrived to make his escape, the peasant secured the shoe to bear witness of the fact, which shoe, to satisfy public curiosity, lay for inspection at the office of the said paper. It is therefore not impossible that this specimen of Cluricaune cordwainry may still exist.


Source: Thomas Crofton Croker, Researches in the South of Ireland, Illustrative of the Scenery, Architectural Remains, and the Manners and Superstitions of the Peasantry (London: John Murray, 1824).

Note: Cluricaune or Leprehaune is the name given to the Irish Puck. The character of this goblin is a compound of that of the Scotch Brownie and the English Robin Goodfellow. He is depicted (for engraved portraits of the Irish Leprehaune are in existence) as a small and withered old man, completely equipped in the costume of a cobler, and employed in repairing a shoe.

A paragraph recently appeared in a Kilkenny paper stating, that a labourer, returning home in the dusk of the evening, discovered a Leprehaune at work, from whom he bore away the shoe which he was mending; as a proof of the veracity of his story it was further stated, that the shoe lay for the inspection of the curious at the newspaper office.

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Cap o’ Rushes – Storytelling for Everyone

British Cinderella

There was once a very rich gentleman, and he had three daughters, and he thought he’d see how fond they were of him. So he says to the first, ‘How much do you love me, my dear?’

‘Why,’ says she, ‘as I love my life.’

‘That’s good,’ says he.

So he says to the second, ‘How much do you love me, my dear?’

‘Why,’ says she, ‘better nor all the world.’

‘That’s good,’ says he.

So he says to the third, ‘How much do you love me, my dear?’

‘Why, I love you as fresh meat loves salt,’ says she.

Well, but he was angry. ‘You don’t love me at all,’ says he, ‘and in my house you stay no more.’ So he drove her out there and then, and shut the door in her face.

She went away on and on till she came to a fen, and there she gathered a lot of rushes and made them into a kind of a sort of a cloak with a hood, to cover her from head to foot, and to hide her fine clothes. And then she went on and on till she came to a great house.

‘Do you want a maid?’ says she.

‘No, we don’t,’ said they.

‘I haven’t nowhere to go,’ says she; ‘and I ask no wages, and do any sort of work,’ says she.

‘If you like to wash the pots and scrape the saucepans you may stay,’ said they.

So she stayed there and washed the pots and scraped the saucepans and did all the dirty work. And because she gave no name they called her ‘Cap o’ Rushes’.

One day there was to be a great dance a little way off, and the servants were allowed to go and look on at the grand people. Cap o’ Rushes said she was too tired to go, so she stayed at home.

But when they were gone, she offed with her cap o’ rushes and cleaned herself, and went to the dance. And no one there was so finely dressed as she.

Who should be there but her master’s son, and what should he do but fall in love with her the minute he set eyes on her. He wouldn’t dance with anyone else.

But before the dance was done, Cap o’ Rushes slipt off, and away she went home. And when the other maids came back, she was pretending to be asleep with her cap o’ rushes on.

Well, next morning they said to her, ‘You did miss a sight, Cap o’ Rushes!’

‘What was’ that?’ says she.

‘Why, the beautifullest lady you ever see, dressed right gay and ga’. The young master, he never took his eyes off her.’

‘I should have liked to have seen her,’ says Cap o’ Rushes.

‘There’s to be another dance this evening, and perhaps she’ll be there.’

But, come the evening, Cap o’ Rushes said she was too tired to go with them. Howsoever, when they were gone, she offed with her cap o’ rushes and cleaned herself, and away she went to the dance.

The master’s son had been reckoning on seeing her, and he danced with no one else, and never took his eyes off her. But, before the dance was over, she slipt off, and home she went, and when the maids came back she pretended to be asleep with her cap o’ rushes on.

Next day they said to her again, ‘Well, Cap o’ Rushes, you should ha’ been there to see the lady. There she was again, gay and ga’, and the young master he never took his eyes off her.’

‘Well, there,’ says she, ‘I should ha’ liked to ha’ seen her.’

‘There’s a dance again this evening, and you must go with us, for she’s sure to be there.’

Come this evening, Cap o’ Rushes said she was too tired to go, and do what they would she stayed at home. But when they were gone, she offed her cap o’ rushes and cleaned herself, and away she went to the dance.

The master’s son was rarely glad when he saw her. He danced with none but her and never took his eyes off her. When she wouldn’t tell him her name, nor where she came from, he gave her a ring and told her if he didn’t see her again he should die.

Before the dance was over, off she slipped, and home she went, and when the maids came home she was pretending to be asleep with her cap o’ rushes on.

Next day they says to her, ‘There, Cap o’ Rushes, you didn’t come last night, and now you won’t see the lady, for there’s no more dances.’

‘I should have rarely liked to have seen her,’ says she.

The master’s son tried every way to find out where the lady was gone, but go where he might, and ask whom he might he never heard anything about her. And he got worse and worse for the love of her till ‘he had to keep his bed.

‘Make some gruel for the young master,’ they said to the cook. ‘He’s dying for the love of the lady.’ The cook set about making it when Cap o’ Rushes came in.

‘What are you a-doing of?’ says she.

‘I’m going to make some gruel for the young master,’ says the cook, ‘for he’s dying for love of the lady.’

‘Let me make it,’ says Cap o’ Rushes.

Well, the cook wouldn’t at first, but at last she said yes, and Cap o’ Rushes made the gruel. And when she had made it, she slipped the ring into it on the sly before the cook took it upstairs.

The young man he drank it and then he saw the ring at the bottom.

‘Send for the cook,’ says he. So up she comes.

‘Who made this gruel here?’ says he.

‘I did,’ says the cook, for she was frightened.

And he looked at her.

‘No, you didn’t,’ says he. ‘Say who did it, and you shan’t be harmed.’

‘Well, then, ’twas Cap o’ Rushes,’ says she.

‘Send Cap o’ Rushes here,’ says he.

So Cap o’ Rushes came.

‘Did you make my gruel?’ says he.

‘Yes, I did,’ says she.

‘Where did you get this ring?’ says he.

‘From him that gave it me,’ says she.

‘Who are you, then?’ says the young man.

‘I’ll show you,’ says she. And she offed with her cap o’ rushes, and there she was in her beautiful clothes.

The master’s son he got well very soon, and they were to be married in a little time. It was to be a very grand wedding, and everyone was asked far and near. And Cap o’ Rushes’s father was asked. But she never told anybody who she was.

But before the wedding, she went to the cook, and says she:

‘I want you to dress every dish without a mite o’ salt.’

‘That’ ll be rare nasty,’ says the cook.

‘That doesn’t signify,’ says she.

‘Very well,’ says the cook.

Well, the wedding day came, and they were married. And after they were married, all the company sat down to the dinner. When they began to eat the meat, it was so tasteless they couldn’t eat it.

But Cap o’ Rushes’s father tried first one dish and then another, and then he burst out crying.

‘What is the matter?’ said the master’s son to him.

‘Oh!’ says he, ‘I had a daughter. And I asked her how much she loved me. And she said. “As much as fresh meat loves salt.” And I turned her from my door, for I thought she didn’t love me. And now I see she loved me best of all. And she may be dead for aught I know.’

‘No, father, here she is!’ said Cap o’ Rushes. And she goes up to him and puts her arms round him.

And so they were all happy ever after.


Source: English Fairy Tales collected by Joseph Jacobs. London: David Nutt, 1890.

Note: Scholars of both folklore and Shakespeare have commented on analogies in the play, King Lear, to common folktale motifs found in “Cap ‘O Rushes” among other tales. Most notable is the motif of the plot and the subplot of Shakespeare’s King Lear that correspond to the female and male versions of a folktale type called The Outcast Child, which is itself a variant of a Cinderella tale. “Love like salt” is another common motif and is similar to the plain talk of Cordelia who does not flatter her father. The oral tradition thus forms a basis for King Lear in these motifs and others, such as Edgar, the Earl of Kent’s disguise as a ragged servant in the King’s service.

Reference: The Written and Oral Sources of King Lear and the Problem of Justice in the Play. Alan R. Young.

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mullah nasruddin – Storytelling for Everyone

Three Sufi Tales

The Smell of Soup and the Sound of Money

A beggar was given a piece of bread, but nothing to put on it. Hoping to get something to go with his bread, he went to a nearby inn and asked for a handout. The innkeeper turned him away with nothing, but the beggar sneaked into the kitchen where he saw a large pot of soup cooking over the fire.

He held his piece of bread over the steaming pot, hoping to thus capture a bit of flavor from the good-smelling vapor.

Suddenly the innkeeper seized him by the arm and accused him of stealing soup.

“I took no soup,” said the beggar. “I was only smelling the vapor.”

“Then you must pay for the smell,” answered the innkeeper.

The poor beggar had no money, so the angry innkeeper dragged him before the qadi.

Now Nasreddin Hodja was at that time serving as qadi, and he heard the innkeeper’s complaint and the beggar’s explanation.

“So you demand payment for the smell of your soup?” summarized the Hodja after the hearing.

“Yes!” insisted the innkeeper.

“Then I myself will pay you,” said the Hodja, “and I will pay for the smell of your soup with the sound of money.”

Thus saying, the Hodja drew two coins from his pocket, rang them together loudly in his hands, put them back into his pocket, and sent the beggar and the innkeeper each on his own way.

The Slap

Nasreddin Hodja was standing in the marketplace when a stranger stepped up to him and slapped him in the face, but then said, “I beg your pardon. I thought that you were someone else.”

This explanation did not satisfy the Hodja, so he brought the stranger before the qadi and demanded compensation.

The Hodja soon perceived that the qadi and the defendant were friends. The latter admitted his guilt, and the judge pronounced the sentence: “The settlement for this offense is one piaster, to be paid to the plaintiff. If you do not have a piaster with you, then you may bring it here to the plaintiff at your convenience.”

Hearing this sentence, the defendant went on his way. The Hodja waited for him to return with the piaster. And he waited. And he waited.

Sometime later the Hodja said to the qadi, “Do I understand correctly that one piaster is sufficient payment for a slap?”

“Yes,” answered the qadi.

Hearing this answer, the Hodja slapped the judge in the face and said, “You may keep my piaster when the defendant returns with it,” then walked away.

A Close Call

One night Nasreddin awoke, thinking he had heard a strange noise outside his window. Looking out, he saw a suspicious white figure.

“Who goes there?” shouted the Hodja.

Hearing no reply, Nasreddin reached for his bow, set an arrow to the string, took aim, and shot in the direction of the mysterious figure. Satisfied that the intruder now would do him no harm, Nasreddin returned to bed and slept until dawn.

By morning’s light he examined the scene outside his window, only to discover his own white shirt hanging on the clothesline and pierced by the arrow that he had shot during the night.

“That was a close call,” murmured the Hodja. “My own shirt, shot through by an arrow! What if I had been wearing it at the time!”


Source: Once the Hodja, Nasr-ed-Din: Turkish Jokes, Volume 9 of Asian folklore and social life monographs: Supplement by Alice Geer Kelsey, Orient Cultural Service, 1983.

Author adminPosted on August 17, 2022Categories Fables, Folktales, Fool, TricksterTags Hodja, jokes, mullah nasruddin, Muslim, Sufi, Turkey, wise foolLeave a comment on Once the Hodja, Nasr-ed-Din

A Sufi Tale

One day Nasreddin Hodja rode his donkey to the nearby town of Ak Shehir. The Imam there was away for three weeks and asked the Hodja to preach the Friday sermon at the mosque while he was gone.

For the first few days of his visit, the Hodja was as free as a butterfly. He could talk with friends in the market place. He could go hunting in the hills. He could lounge in the coffee house.

But it was one thing to swap stories with the men in the coffee house and quite another to stand alone in the high pulpit and talk to a mosque full of people. The men, each sitting on his own prayer rug would look up at him with solemn faces. Then there was the fluttering in the balcony behind the lattices:  the women would be waiting too.

The first Friday he walked slowly through the cobblestone streets of Ak Shehir. He saw the veiled women slipping silently past him on their way to the latticed balcony. He saw the men hurrying by to hear his sermon.

But what sermon? He stopped at the mosque door to leave his shoes. He walked with the other men across the soft thick rugs. His head was as empty as his donkey’s as he climbed the steps to the pulpit.

He gazed at the blues and reds of the tracery on the ceiling, but not a thought came. He looked at the mosaics on the walls, but there was no message there. He saw the men’s faces staring up at him. He heard tittering in the balcony.

He must say something.

“Oh, people of Ak Shehir!” He leaned on the pulpit and eyed them squarely. “Do you know what I am about to say to you?”

“No!” boomed the men.

“No!” floated down in soft whispers from the balcony.

“You do not know?” said Nasreddin Hodja, shaking his head and looking from one face to another. “You are sure you do not know? Then what use would it be to talk to people who know nothing at all about this important subject. My words would be wasted on such ignorance.”

With that, the Hodja turned and climbed slowly down the pulpit steps. He slipped on his shoes at the mosque door, and was out in the sunshine—free until next Friday.

That day came all too soon. The Hodja mingled with the crowds going to the mosque. He climbed the steps to the high pulpit. He looked down at the sea of solemn faces. He heard the rustling behind the lattices of the balcony. He had hoped that this week he would think of a sermon, but nothing had come to mind.

Still, he must say something.

“Oh, people of Ak Shehir!” intoned the Hodja, gesturing with both hands. “Do you know what I am about to say to you?”

“Yes,” boomed the men who remembered what had happened when they said “No” last week.

“Yes,” echoed in soft whispers from the balcony.

“You know what I am going to say?” said the Hodja. “You are certain you know what I am going to say? Then I need not say it. It would he a useless waste of my golden words if I told you something that you already knew.”

The Hodja turned and again climbed down the pulpit steps. He scuffed into his shoes and escaped into the sunshine. Another free week was ahead of him.

But the best of weeks end. The third Friday found him once more climbing the pulpit steps, with not a word worth saying. Even the Koran’s pages in front of him might have been blank instead of its Arabic script and illuminated borders. Men’s faces looked up at him expectantly. Bright eyes peered through the lattices of the women’s balcony.

The time had come again when he must speak.

“Oh, people of Ak Shehir!” demanded the Hodja. “Do you know what I am about to say to you?”

“No, no” came from those who were thinking of the last Friday.

“Yes, yes” came from those who were thinking of the Friday before that.

“Some of you know and some of you do not know!” The Hodja rubbed his hands together. “Wonderful! Now let those who know tell those who do not!”

The Hodja gathered his robes about him, humming to himself as he came down from the pulpit, two steps at a time. He nodded and smiled as he left the mosque.


Source: Retold by Kate Farrell, based on the version in Once A Hodja by Alice Kelsey, David McKay Co, 1943.

Note: Nasreddin Hodja, also called Mullah Nasreddin, is the archetypal wise fool, a legend—several Muslim countries claim to be his birthplace.

Nasreddin (/næsˈrɛdɪn/ or Nasreddin Hodja (other variants include: Mullah Nasreddin Hooja, Mullah Nasruddin, Mullah Nasriddin, Khoja Nasriddin) is a fictional character in the folklore of the Muslim world from the Balkans to China, and a hero of humorous short stories and satirical anecdotes.

Author adminPosted on August 15, 2022Categories Fables, Folktales, LegendsTags Hodja, mosque, mullah, mullah nasruddin, Muslim, wise foolLeave a comment on Once the Hodja…

OH, how hot my poor head is!” Nasred-Din Hodja sat alone under a walnut tree. He fanned himself with a pumpkin leaf that he had picked from the vine sprawling at his feet.

“I wonder if I dare take off this hot turban.” The Hodja looked to the right, to the left, behind him, before him. “There’s not a soul in sight. And for once, I can take off my turban without anyone laughing at my baldness!”

He unwound his turban and wiped his dripping hot head with it. He threw the turban down on the ground beside him, and he sighed contentedly as the breeze from the pumpkin-leaf fan blew on his smooth glistening head.

“There, I feel like myself,” said the Hodja, comfortable and contented again. “That was a good day’s work I did in the vineyard today. I have earned a good supper. Fatima said she was going to cook goat’s-milk soup for supper. I’ll just rest here a minute to cool off, then go home to a good big bowl to fill me up.”

With the sense of well-being, the Hodja always felt the urge to talk to someone – to tell of his exploits or to give advice. But he had already made sure that not a soul was in sight. He could hear the tinkle of sheep bells and the reedy whine of a shepherd’s flute on the distant hillside, but not a person could he see.

The pumpkin-leaf fan waved more slowly, as Nasr-ed-Din Hodja sat erect. The fan dropped to the ground. The Hodja was wide awake again. He had discovered something that really should be changed.

“You silly old tree!” Nasr-ed-Din Hodja shook an accusing finger at the walnut tree that was shielding him. “Is that the best you can do? And that? And that?” The Hodja pointed scornfully at the walnuts growing on the tree.”Look at the size of you!” The Hodja shook his fist at the tree.

He was working up a pleasant excitement. “You rise up so proud and high, but what do you have to brag about – just some little walnuts no bigger than my two thumbs. Take a lesson from your neighbor, the pumpkin vine. It lies along the ground, feeling so humble and unimportant but see what good reason it has to brag.” The Hodja pointed at the huge golden pumpkins, snuggled among the dark green leaves of the pumpkin vine.

The more he thought about it, the more disgusted the Hodja became with a scheme of things which made little walnuts grow on a noble tree and huge pumpkins grow on a groveling vine.

“Now, if I had been planning it,” cried the Hodja to his audience of walnuts and pumpkins, “it would have been very different! The big important pumpkins would be waving proudly on the strong branches of this big important tree. The little unimportant walnuts could cling without any trouble to the spineless pumpkin vine. The vine might even hold up its head a little, if it had something the right size growing on it.”

Unnoticed by him, a gentle breeze had sprung up and was swaying the branches above his bald bare head.

“Yes, yes,” he went on, “if I had been planning the trees and the vines, you -“

The Hodja never finished his sentence. There was a little snap on the branch above his head. There was a little crackle as something rushed through the leaves. There was a resounding smack as something hit the Hodja’s bald bare head.

For a minute the Hodja swayed. He saw little bright lights where none had been before. With his left hand he picked up a walnut, small, to be sure, but hard, oh, very hard. With his right hand he rubbed his poor head where a lump the size of a walnut was quickly rising.

The Hodja bowed apologetically toward the sacred city of Mecca in the east.

“Oh, Allah!” It was a meek and humble Hodja who spoke. “Forgive me for saying you were wrong to have pumpkins grow on vines and walnuts grow on trees. You were wiser than I. Suppose it had been a pumpkin that fell from that tree onto my poor head!”

Rubbing his bruised and aching head, the Hodja sat under the walnut tree. He was thinking how beautiful the golden pumpkins looked on their graceful twining vine. They were so close to the good brown earth that they could not possibly fall anywhere. Allah was wise. Allah be praised.

Source: Once the Hodja by Alice Geer Kelsey, illustrated by Frank Dobias, published by David McKay Company Inc, New York (first edition 1943).

Author adminPosted on September 10, 2019Categories Fables, FolktalesTags Hodja, Middle East, mullah nasruddin, Muslim, Persian, Turkey, wise fool

Bird Woman and Crocodile – Storytelling for Everyone

An Aboriginal Legend

Artist, Patricia Blee

A very long time ago, there was Crocodile. He was not so nice and not so courteous. He had the control of fire. Fire was very important for living. It was giving you light during the night and keeping you warm when you were cold. What can you do when you deal with a mean, ill-mannered crocodile? Many animals pleaded with Crocodile, but the more they begged, the meaner Crocodile would get.

One day even a little kangaroo pleaded with Crocodile, “Please give us some fire.”

You know what was Crocodile’s response? He exhaled some fire from his throat, scaring little kangaroo.

High up on a tree, there was a very nice Bird, who was observing everything. The Bird Woman also suffered from the lack of fire. She didn’t like eating her food raw. So, Bird Woman also pleaded with Crocodile to give some light not only to the animals, but also to the people.

“Please share some light with others,” begged Bird Woman on many occasions.

Once, Crocodile blew some fire at Bird Woman, almost burning her feathers. Another time, it snapped, “What do you need the fire for?”

“Well, for example, to cook our food,” she was nicely explaining to Crocodile.

“Eat it raw,” retorted Crocodile.

“Well, it tastes so much better, when it’s cooked,” continued Bird Woman.

“I will cook you with my fire, if you don’t disappear right now,” Crocodile replied angrily.

So she flew away not to anger Crocodile even more.

However, Bird Woman continued to observe Crocodile from her house in the tree. She was patiently watching and waiting. Then, one early morning, Crocodile was still half asleep, stretching and yawning. At his last yawn, he opened his jaw so wide that it took him quite some time to close it.

During that time, Bird Woman quickly flew down, snatching the fire-stick.

Before Crocodile realized what had just happened, Bird Woman was already flying up with the fire-stick. She flew around each tree putting fire into tree’s core. This way a tree could be used as wood to create fire. So people could cook their food, stay warm, and light their way through darkness.

This creation was very magical. It looked as Bird Woman was creating a rainbow with the yellow fire, flying around green trees and with the blue sky shining on her.

“Now, the people can have fire,” said Bird Woman proudly.

Bird Woman flew back to Crocodile and warned him, “From now on, you need to stay in the swamps. Don’t you dare to come out on land or I will light you up.”

The scared Crocodile now stays deep in the swamp. From time to time, he only ventures with his eyes above the water, curious what is going on with the other animals on the land.

So now you know why crocodiles live in the swamps and why the heroine bird is called Rainbow Bird.


Source: Rainbow Bird: An Aboriginal Folktale from Northern Australia by Eric Maddern.
An Aboriginal fire legend of the Dalabon people of Beswick Reserve, telling how Bird Woman stole fire from Crocodile Man, and at the same time, turned herself into the beautiful Rainbow Bird, a dreamtime myth.

The Tailor and His Coat – Storytelling for Everyone

Max Haneman (1882-1941)  Polish artist of Jewish origin

Long ago in Russia, there was a poor tailor who spent his life making fine garments for others. He seldom had the time or money to make new clothes for himself. One day, he noticed his old coat had to be replaced because it was all worn out. He took a bolt of good, woolen fabric and made himself a brand new coat. It was a soft tweed in brown with flecks of gold and green.

He wore that coat, and wore that coat, and wore that coat until – like the coat before it – it was as all worn out. He liked the coat, so instead of throwing it away, he took it apart to make a jacket. He was able to wear that jacket even more than he had worn the coat. He wore it, and wore it and wore it until it was all worn out.

The tailor looked at the jacket and decided he could make something else with what was left. So, he took the jacket apart and made a fine vest. He wore that vest every day. He wore it, and wore it and wore it until it was all worn out.

When he examined the worn out vest, he saw that he could still make something from what was left. He took the vest apart and made a cap to keep his head warm. He liked the way he looked in that cap, so he wore it often. He wore it and wore it and wore it until, like everything he had made before, it was all worn out.

When he took the cap apart, he discovered he had just enough to make a bow tie. He never had a bow tie before. But when he put on that tie, he thought he looked handsome in it, so he wore it and wore it and wore it until it was all worn out.

He was about to throw the worn out tie when he took a look at what was left. He saw he had enough to make a nice cloth button. He sewed that button on his trousers to hold his suspenders. The tailor wore that button, and wore it and wore it until it was all worn out.

As he turned the worn out button over in his hand, he was surprised to see he had enough left…to make a story. And that’s the one I just told you!


Source: Yiddish Folktale & Song, various retellings in song and text

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Author adminPosted on April 1, 2019April 1, 2019Categories Folktales, Worthy MenTags Eastern Europe, Russia, tailor, yiddish

Storytelling Creates Common Ground – Storytelling for Everyone

In our fractured world today, broken not only along political lines, but cultural identity as well, stories can bring us back together. We’re not like “Humpty Dumpty,” even though we might think so at times. We are actually made of the same stuff, a common humanity that can connect through our personal stories. When we tell one another our experiences with a good story, our listeners walk with us.  

Storytelling has been around as long as humans have. The ancients of every culture told stories to make meaning of life, to remember their history, and to entertain. A lot has changed since then, but stories haven’t. Some of the oldest stories ever told are still with us—because it’s in our nature to both tell and listen to them. 

In today’s noisy, techie, automated world, storytelling is not only relevant, it’s vital. Without stories we cannot connect to each other. We lose something important; our humanity gets lost in technology. Storytelling fills a crucial need in society by providing a direct, personal connection through its art and engaging oral tradition.

Our stories don’t exist on a printed page, but in the images we’ve stored in our minds. These pictures are fluid, holographic, the instant replay loops of our experiences and dreams. They are powerful: Stories define us and create the narratives that construct our lives.

Personal stories are universal: They illuminate our common ground and connect us in compelling ways when we share them. The art of storytelling helps us communicate with others, discover ourselves, inspire and embolden us. By telling the pivotal stories of our lives, we invite transformation.

One way to share stories that resonate with a wider audience is to pair like stories with someone of a difference culture. For example, I workshopped with a fellow author, Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte, to write similar stories of childhood memories growing up in the South during Jim Crow, from a Black and White perspective. We are excited to be able to tell them in a LiveStream this Sunday, July 19th.

Please join us with a Six Feet Apart Sunday Night Stories production, Stories in Black and White.

Click here to view live or replay this FREE event:

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Author adminPosted on July 15, 2020July 15, 2020Categories Personal Story, TechniquesTags Black Stories Matter, blacklivesmatter, cross-cultural

The Purse of Gold – Storytelling for Everyone

A Jewish Folktale

A beggar found a leather purse that someone had dropped in the marketplace. Opening it, he discovered that it contained 100 pieces of gold. Then he heard a merchant shout, “A reward! A reward to the one who finds my leather purse!”

Being an honest man, the beggar came forward and handed the purse to the merchant saying, “Here is your purse. May I have the reward now?”

“Reward?” scoffed the merchant, greedily counting his gold. “Why the purse I dropped had 200 pieces of gold in it. You’ve already stolen more than the reward! Go away or I’ll tell the magistrate.”

“I’m an honest man,” said the beggar defiantly. “Let us take this matter to the court.”

In court the judge patiently listened to both sides of the story and said, “I believe you both. Justice is possible! Merchant, you stated that the purse you lost contained 200 pieces of gold. Well, that’s a considerable cost. But, the purse this beggar found had only 100 pieces of gold. Therefore, it couldn’t be the one you lost.”

And, with that, the judge gave the purse and all the gold to the beggar.



Video retelling:

Author adminPosted on November 29, 2021Categories Fables, FolktalesTags greed, humor, Jewish, judgment, wisdom

Flowers in Fairy Tales – Storytelling for Everyone

By Jenny

Daisies close up at night-time and wake up with the sun; anemones bud up when they sense a storm; sunflowers follow the sun’s path all day with their big, bright faces.

Not to mention that flowers can literally grow anywhere, and everywhere, wherever they please. Have you seen the classic photo of a flower emerging through concrete? I once heard a fantastic saying ‘There is no such thing as a weed, just a misplaced flower.’

Let’s face it, flowers are magical!

So it’s no wonder that they feature avidly throughout fairytales. Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, as well as many others, have countless stories where flowers are used for their beauty, their fragility and their strength, their enticing scent and of course their meaning.

Over the years, many fairytales have been adapted, however in The Grimm’s version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ whilst ‘Aurora’ is growing up in disguise she is known as ‘Little Briar Rose’. Once she pricks her finger on the spindle and falls into a deep sleep, thorny briar roses grow all around her for protection. It is only the one handsome prince brave enough to tackle all these thorns that eventually makes it to her side to kiss her awake and break the enchantment.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina, a beggar woman exchanges barleycorn with a peasant’s wife for some food. The wife plants the barleycorn and a flower grows from it. Now the wife had been desperate for a child and as the petals of the yellow and red tulip unfurl, a tiny, little girl is revealed. The woman calls her Thumbelina.

The Tulip has been a strong symbolism of love and the Victorians also linked its meaning to acts of kind charity. The Turkish people who originally planted the bulbs believe the Tulip symbolised paradise on earth – all rather apt meanings considering the fairytale revolves around charity, love and being granted a precious gift you’ve always wished for.

Of course, I can’t forget ‘Beauty and the Beast’— a childhood favourite. An enchantress disguised as a beggar woman knocks on a spoilt Prince’s castle door for some shelter offering but a single rose in payment. The Prince scoffs at such a fragile, ephemeral offering and turns the beggar woman away.

Little did he know that she was a witch and in punishment she turned him into a hideous beast, the furthest thing from the beauty of the rose. The rose she gifted became his curse. All fleeting beauty of a cut flower vanished and was replaced with a decade of life. She gave him until the final petal fell to find true love and break the enchantment.

Flowers are certainly powerful, magical things. Their language, their appearance, their ability to evoke emotions is truly that of fairytales.


Flowers in Fairytales

Author adminPosted on April 27, 2022Categories Fairy Tales, Folktales, NatureTags flowers, grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, magic

Easter Stories and Myths – Storytelling for Everyone

Have you ever wondered why colored eggs, rabbits, and baby chicks, are symbolic of Easter? And why we give Easter baskets filled with candy to children? Most historians, including Biblical scholars, agree that Easter was originally a pagan festival.

Ancient Celebration of the Spring goddess

Easter was originally a celebration of Eostre, goddess of Spring, otherwise known as Ostara, Austra, and Eastre. One of the most revered aspects of Ostara for both ancient peoples was a spirit of renewal. The Sumerian goddess Inanna was known outside of Mesopotamia by her Babylonian name, “Ishtar.” In ancient Canaan, Ishtar was known as Astarte, and her counterparts in the Greek and Roman pantheons were known as Aphrodite and Venus.

Celebrated at Spring Equinox on March 21, Ostara marks the day when light is equal to darkness, and will continue to grow. As the bringer of light after a long dark winter, the goddess was often depicted with the hare, an animal that represents the arrival of spring as well as the fertility of the season.

According to Jacob Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie, the idea of resurrection was ingrained within the celebration of Ostara: “Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing.”

The Origins of Easter Customs

The most widely-practiced customs on Easter Sunday relate to the symbol of the rabbit (‘Easter bunny’) and the egg.  As stated, the rabbit was a symbol associated with Eostre, representing the beginning of Springtime. Likewise, the egg has come to represent spring, fertility and renewal. 

In Germanic mythology, it was said that Ostara healed a wounded bird she found in the woods by changing it into a hare. Still partially a bird, the hare showed its gratitude to the goddess by laying eggs as gifts.

The Encyclopedia Britannica explains the pagan traditions associated with the egg: “The egg as a symbol of fertility and of renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who had also the custom of coloring and eating eggs during their spring festival.” In ancient Egypt, an egg symbolized the sun, while for the Babylonians, the egg represents the hatching of the Venus/Ishtar, who fell from heaven to the Euphrates.

And so, the Easter basket is symbolic of a nest, and eggs are symbolic of birth, and a new beginning. There was a time when families would put their Easter meal in a basket and bring it to their local church to have it blessed. By the late 19th century chocolate eggs began to replace the real kind, and today we think of an Easter basket as something to give a child.  

Whether it is observed as a religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Christ, or a time for families in the northern hemisphere to enjoy the coming of Spring and celebrate with egg decorating and Easter bunnies, the celebration of Easter still retains the same spirit of rebirth and renewal, as it has for thousands of years.


Image: Spring Goddess (Nejron Photo / Adobe Stock)

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Author adminPosted on April 8, 2020Categories Legends, Myth, SeasonsTags Eostre, german, goddess, Ishtar, Persian