Seventh Father of the House – Storytelling for Everyone

Once upon a time there was a man who was traveling about, and he came at length to a big and fine farm. There was such a fine manor house there that it might well have been a little castle.

“It would be a nice thing to get a night’s rest here,” said the man to himself, upon entering the gate.

Close by stood an old man with gray hair and beard, chopping wood.

“Good evening, father,” said the traveler. “Can I get lodgings here tonight?”

“I am not the father of the house,” said the old man. “Go into the kitchen and speak to my father!” The traveler went into the kitchen. There he met a man who was still older, and he was lying on his knees in front of the hearth, blowing into the fire.

“Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?” asked the traveler.

“I am not the father of the house,” said the old man. “But go in and speak to my father. He is sitting at the table in the parlor.”

So the traveler went into the parlor and spoke to him who was sitting at the table. He was much older than the other two, and he sat there with chattering teeth, shaking, and reading in a big book, almost like a little child.

“Good evening, father. Can you give me lodgings here tonight?” said the man.

“I am not the father of the house. But speak to my father over there. He is sitting on the bench,” said the man who was sitting at the table with chattering teeth, and shaking and shivering. So the traveler went to him who was sitting on the bench. He was getting a pipe of tobacco ready, but he was so bent with age, and his hands shook so much, that he was scarcely able to hold the pipe.

“Good evening, father,” said the traveler again. “Can I get lodgings here tonight?”

“I am not the father of the house,” said the old, bent-over man. “But speak to my father, who is in the bed over yonder.”

The traveler went to the bed, and there lay an old, old man, and the only thing about him that seemed to be alive was a pair of big eyes.

“Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?” said the traveler.

“I am not the father of the house. But speak to my father, who lies in the cradle yonder,” said the man with the big eyes. Yes, the traveler went to the cradle. There was a very old man lying, so shriveled up, that he was not larger than a baby, and one could not have told that there was life in him if it had not been for a sound in his throat now and then.

“Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?” said the man. It took some time before he got an answer, and still longer before he had finished it. He said, like the others, that he was not the father of the house. “But speak to my father. He is hanging up in the horn on the wall there.”

The traveler stared around the walls, and at last he caught sight of the horn. But when he looked for him who hung in it, there was scarcely anything to be seen but a lump of white ashes, which had the appearance of a man’s face. Then he was so frightened, that he cried aloud, “Good evening, father. Will you give me lodgings here tonight?”

There was a sound like a little tomtit’s chirping, and he was barely able to understand that it meant, “Yes, my child.”

And now a table came in which was covered with the costliest dishes, with ale and brandy. And when he had eaten and drunk, in came a good bed with reindeer skins, and the traveler was very glad indeed that he at last had found the true father of the house.

Source: Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, Round the Yule Log: Norwegian Folk and Fairy Tales, translated by H. L. Brækstad (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1881) Illustration: Erik Werenskiold, 1879

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The Iron Shoes – Storytelling for Everyone

When I was a young girl, I discovered the Andrew Lang Fairy Books at the local library, each book named and bound in a different color. Fascinated, I read and reread the Lang fairy tales. But of all the stories, one remained fixed in my memory: the story of the maid who had to rescue her prince, while wearing iron shoes.

There were a number of versions of this tale throughout the Lang books, from a variety of countries: Romania, Spain, Italy, Germany, England, as well as Slavic and Scandinavian versions. My young imagination merged many of these into one, single quest, keeping the elements I found most intriguing. In these tales, the heroine is a young woman, and her opponent is a woman. [ATU 425A]

It wasn’t until I was much older, that I discovered the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros, the grandmama and archetype of all these tales. I identified with Psyche completely, and in many ways, the myth came to define me—such is the power of archetypes.

But then there were those iron shoes! As much as I loved the Psyche myth, I could not give up my fascination with those iron shoes.

No, I was not captivated by Cinderella and her dainty, glass slippers or splendid gowns. My heroine was the woman who was cursed to wear out three pairs of iron shoes and blunt a steel staff in her search to save her husband. Her quest was fraught and difficult, as told in the Red Fairy Book, collected by Andrew Lang (1890).

Here is an excerpt from that version, “The Enchanted Pig”:

“Her husband told her she would not succeed until she had worn out three pairs of iron shoes and blunted a steel staff in her search…

“On reaching a town, the first thing she did was to order three pairs of iron sandals and a steel staff, and having made these preparations for her journey, she set out in search of her husband.

“On and on she wandered over nine seas and across nine continents; through forests with trees whose stems were as thick as beer- barrels; stumbling and knocking herself against the fallen branches, then picking herself up and going on; the boughs of the trees hit her face, and the shrubs tore her hands, but on she went, and never looked back. At last, wearied with her long journey and worn out and overcome with sorrow, but still with hope at her heart, she reached a house.”

To me, those three pair of iron shoes meant strength, commitment, down-to-earth stamina, and resilience. That is what a woman and mother must be able to do—on her own. Did I mention that she gave brith along the way?

What do the “iron shoes” mean to you?

If you’d like to read a shortened retelling of this tale click here:

The Enchanted Pig is a Romanian fairy tale about a king’s daughter who is fated to marry a “pig from the North.”

Illustration from The Red Fairy Book, Andrew Lang and Leonora Blanche “Nora” Lang, 1890.

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Author adminPosted on February 13, 2020February 13, 2020Categories Fairy Tales, Family, Folktales, MythTags iron shoes, Psyche and Eros, Romanian

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

Kwanzaa UMOJA (Unity) – Storytelling for Everyone

African Folktale

When Anansi’s first son was born and Anansi and his wife, Aso, were ready to name the child, the baby spoke up and said, “I have brought my own name with me. It is See Trouble.” Their second son also announced his name in this way. He was Road Builder.

Each of his six sons in turn announced their names in this way. There was River Drinker, Game Skinner, Stone Thrower and Cushion.

Once, Anansi had to go on a long journey. On his trip, he found a big, bright, shiny ball. He was bringing it home, when he fell into the lake and was swallowed by a big fish.

Anansi decided right then that he would give the bright shiny object to whoever rescued him.

As time passed, and Anansi did not return home, his family became worried. See Trouble looked ahead to see Anansi inside the big fish. He told his brothers. Right away, Road Builder cleared a path through the forest for his brothers to follow.

When they got to the lake, it was the thirsty brother’s turn.

River Drinker drank up all the water in the lake. There was the big fish at the bottom. Game skinner went right to work. He cut open that fish to let Anansi out. Anansi was still holding that bright, shiny object he had found.

Suddenly a giant bird flew down and grabbed Anansi. It took him way up into the sky. Stone Thrower grabbed a rock and threw it. He hit the bird just right to make it let go of Anansi. Down, down Anansi fell, but he didn’t get hurt because Cushion put himself in the way. Anansi landed softly.

Anansi wanted to give the bright, shiny object to the son who had rescued him, but he couldn’t decide who had done the most to help him.

He gave the bright, shiny thing to Nyame, who put it up in the sky until someone could figure out which son deserves it the most. It is still there in the sky. You can see it tonight.


Sources: Ashanti People of Ghana

Author adminPosted on December 27, 2021December 27, 2021Categories Animal, Fables, Family, FolktalesTags African, Anansi, Ashanti, Kwanzaa

Aztec Women Warriors – Storytelling for Everyone

Culture, History, and Myth

Aztec Woman Warriors, The Cihuateteo

Women were thought of as warriors when women were giving birth. Writers in the 16th century tell us that the Aztecs thought the act of birth was like a battle. The newborn child was described as a ‘captive’ and the mother as a warrior. This stresses how important fighting and capturing enemies was in Aztec society.

In the Aztec empire as in the rest of world at the time, giving birth was dangerous to both the mother and newborn child. All too often, one, the other or both did not live. There was great joy and celebrations when there was a healthy newborn baby and mother. When a mother died giving birth, she was said to be a warrior who died in battle.

When a man died in battle or as a sacrificial victim, he was considered a hero. Aztecs thought he was rewarded by becoming a kind of god, that travelled with the sun on its journey across the sky from dawn to midday. After four years the dead warrior returned to earth to have an ideal life as a butterfly or hummingbird.

Women who died in childbirth, were also rewarded as dead warriors. They too accompanied the sun on its journey but this time from its position at midday down to where it set in the western sky. The Aztecs believed that after four years these dead women warriors also returned to earth, but they became frightening beings that haunted crossroads and tried to snatch babies and children.

There are stone sculptures that show what Aztecs thought these supernatural beings looked like. They are always shown with skull-like heads and clawed hands. They are called Cihuateteo.

Aztec Women Warriors in History and Myth

We know about ancient Aztec history from archaeology, very rare books written before the Spanish arrived and histories written from memory after the Spanish conquest. Experts can use this information to find out a great deal about early Aztec life and events, but lots of information has been lost forever.

From what we do know, it does not seem that early Aztec women were warriors. But the histories do talk about women leaders.

One of the most important names in early Aztec history, is Huitzilopochtli. He is described both as a great leader and as a god connected to the sun and war. The Great Temple (Templo Mayor) was dedicated to him and the rain god.

When the Aztecs were still on their long journeys in search of a permanent home, Aztec histories tell us that Huitzilopochtli’s sister, Malinalxochitl, and a group of people loyal to her, split from the main Aztec group and eventually founded their own city. We don’t really know who this woman was or how or when this split took place. The story may be a simple version of a much more complicated event. But the story shows that Aztecs believed that women, at least in earlier times, could be powerful leaders.

There is an Aztec myth about a warrior goddess named Coyolxauhqui. She is described as being another sister of Huitzilopochtli. The story goes that Coyolxauhqui was furious with her mother, an earth goddess named Coatlicue, when she became pregnant with Huizilopochtli.

Coyolxauhqui joined with her 400 brothers, the Centzon Huitznahua, to attack Coatlicue with the aim of killing her. Before this could happen, Huizilopochtli, was warned of the attack. The story relates that he sprang fully grown from his mother’s womb, armed with a club called a Fire Serpent (Xiuhcoatl).

In the battle that followed, he defeated the Centzon Huitznahua and killed Coyolxauhqui, throwing her body down the hill where they fought. This story may symbolize some historical event in the ancient past. It also symbolizes certain Aztec beliefs.

Some researchers think that Coyolxauhqui represents the moon while the Centzon Huitznahua are the stars, defeated by the sun each morning. Others think Coyolxauqhui may be the milky way.



Author adminPosted on October 7, 2022Categories Family, Folktales, Ghost Story, History, Legends, MythTags Aztec, goddess energy, Hispanic Heritage Month, Indigenous people, Latinx Heritage Month, matriarchy, Mexico, Women Warriors

The History of the Three Bears – Storytelling for Everyone

British Folklore

The story of the Three Bears is a familiar one. A troublesome interloper breaks into the home of three bears. She samples food and breaks furniture before being sent on her way. But, did you know that the housebreaker was originally an old woman, not a little girl named Goldilocks? Or, that the first Three Bears were friends instead of Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear?

The Three Bears started as an oral tale and was first written down almost 200 years ago. Over the decades, the story has changed and grown into the tale we know today. The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books has materials which reveal the history of The Three Bears story.

Eleanor Mure’s Manuscript

Eleanor Mure wrote the first recorded version of The Three Bears story in 1831. Osborne Collection has Mure’s original manuscript, a handmade book created as a gift for her nephew Horace Broke. The story is set at Cecil Lodge, the Mure family estate in Hertfordshire, England. Mure’s The Story of Three Bears (1831) is told in verse and illustrated with original watercolours.

Described as “the celebrated nursery tale,” the story was shared orally by Mure’s family long before she set it to paper. In Mure’s telling, the Bears are not a family. They are three friends who “fancy a home amongst the dwellings of men.” 

Instead of a little girl, the Bears’ house is invaded by an old woman. Mure’s old woman meets a bad end. As punishment for housebreaking, the Bears try to burn and drown the old woman. When nothing works, they “chuck her aloft on St. Paul’s church-yard steeple.”  

Robert Southey’s Published Story

In 1837, English poet Robert Southey released the first printed version of The Three Bears. The story appeared in Southey’s prose anthology The Doctor (1834-47). As with Mure’s family, The Three Bears was a popular story among Southey’s family. Southey likely heard The Three Bears from his uncle, William Tyler. Tyler was illiterate, but had a great memory for folktales. 

Southey’s story is the first version to discuss the Bears’ size. He introduces the Three Bears as Little, Small, Wee Bear; Middle Bear; and Great, Huge Bear. The story has no illustrations, but the Bears’ size is represented by typography. Great, Huge Bear speaks in large gothic letters. Little, Small, Wee Bear speaks in tiny italics.

Unlike Mure’s telling, the Southey’s bears do not punish the intruding old woman. Instead she makes an escape through an open window. Southey speculates that she might be “sent to the House of Correction” for vagrancy, or perhaps “she broke her neck in the fall.”

Southey’s The Three Bears was an instant hit. Within months publisher George Nicol released his own version of The Story of the Three Bears (1837). Nicol’s story was in verse, but otherwise was a direct retelling of Southey’s version.

A Girl with Metallic Hair

In early tellings of The Three Bears, the protagonist was an old woman. But in 1850, Joseph Cundall wrote the first retelling featuring a little girl. Cundall called his character Silver-Hair and justified the switch by saying “there are so many other stories of old women.” Published in A Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children (1850), Cundall’s retelling otherwise closely followed Southey’s version of The Three Bears.

Following Cundall’s publication, little girl protagonists named Silver-Hair became a common feature of The Three Bears retellings. The character was sometimes called Silver-Locks, Golden Hair and other variant names. 

Goldilocks Popularized

The name Goldilocks was first used for the Bears’ nemesis in two 1904 fairy tale anthologies. Old Nursery Rhymes and Stories (1904) and Old Fairy Tales for Children (1904) both feature “Little Goldilocks” as The Three Bears’ intruder. It is possible that the name Goldilocks was inspired by an entirely different fairy tale. French fairy tale writer Madame d’Aulnoy‘s story, The Beauty with Golden Hair, is sometimes translated as The Story of Pretty Goldilocks. 

In the 20th century, Goldilocks became the character’s standard name. Popular fairy tale collections like Flora Annie Steel’s English Fairy Tales (1918) used the Goldilocks name. Now the story is sometimes simply titled Goldilocks without any mention of The Three Bears. 



The Pagan Christmas Tree – Storytelling for Everyone

Legend and Lore

Victorian Christmas Tree

The “first decorated indoor tree” was recorded in 1605, in Strasbourg, Germany, decorated with roses, apples, wafers and other sweets. Demand for Christmas trees was so high in the 15th century that laws were passed in Strasbourg cracking down on people cutting pine trees.

For many, it’s unthinkable to celebrate Christmas without a beautiful evergreen fir in the living room decorated with sparkling ornaments and wrapped presents. Like most Christmas traditions, including the celebration of Christmas itself, the origin of the Christmas tree can be traced to pagan traditions. 

In fact, were it not for Queen Victoria, the most powerful monarch of her time, decorated fir trees might have remained an obscure custom that only a couple of Germanic and Slavic countries practiced. Here’s a brief rundown of the Christmas tree’s intriguing history.

Long before Christianity appeared, people in the Northern Hemisphere used evergreen plants to decorate their homes, particularly the doors, to celebrate the Winter Solstice. On December 21 or December 22, the day is the shortest and the night the longest.

Traditionally, this time of the year is seen as the return in strength of the sun goddess (Sól/Sunna/Sunne, the common Sun goddess among the Germanic tribes, from Proto-Germanic Sōwilō, and was chased across the sky in her horse-drawn chariot by a wolf) had been weakened during winter.

The evergreen served as a reminder that the goddess would glow again and summer was to be expected.

The clergy banned these practices from the public life, considering them acts of heathenry. So, some collected evergreen branches or trees and brought them to their homes, in secret.

During these early days of the Christmas tree, many statesmen and members of the clergy condemned their use as a celebration of Christ. Lutheran minister Johann von Dannhauer, for instance, complained that the symbol distracted people from the true evergreen tree, Jesus Christ. 

The English Puritans condemned a number of customs associated with Christmas, such as the use of the Yule log, holly and mistletoe. Oliver Cromwell, the influential 17th-century British politician, preached against the “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.”


In mild climates, the Christmas rose flowers in winter, which accounts for its common name. This association with the Yuletide season was emphasized by medieval Nativity plays which presented a story similar to one associated with the poinsettia in later years.

The story tells of a young shepherd girl who was tending her family’s flock on Christmas eve. After witnessing the events of that night, she eagerly accompanied the other shepherds to visit the Holy Child. Distraught that she had no gift to offer, the girl began to cry.

An angel had pity on her led the girl outside where the cherub touched the cold ground. Immediately, a Christmas rose appeared and provided the girl with a gift to offer.

Because of this legend, it was long believed that the Christmas rose was a holy flower with mystical powers. It was often planted close to the entrance of a home in the belief that it would prevent evil spirits that might be passing by from entering the house.