I created this story for Oklahoma's centennial in 2007. I tell it with the beat of a djembe.
The little girl swept the ashes from the fireplace and went outside to get fresh wood. Her back ached and she was hungry, but she knew she had to get the chores done. There would be no fun for her that day. It was chore day. When she was bending over the woodpile, she heard a sound—it was like the beating of her heart, soft, regular, rhythmic. And she felt it in her heart but it was outside her skin. It was coming from the woods beyond the house. Though she knew she would get in trouble for not finishing her morning tasks, she put down the firewood and she walked across her backyard and into the woods.
An old man lay sick in bed, though he didn’t know what ailed him. He had been coughing and he felt feverish. He had no one to take care of him anymore. His children were all grown and gone and lived far away. His wife had died a few years before. He lived on the outskirts of town and could have asked someone in the village for help or to get a doctor or just to make him a meal, but he was too proud to ask for help. He lay in bed and tried to go back to sleep but he had slept too much. When he heard a sound, he thought it was someone knocking on his door, and he got out of bed as quickly as he could. He didn’t want whoever was there to go away. But when he opened the door no one was there. And now the sound continued though the door was open. He shuffled around to the side of the house and though he was sick and fatigued, he kept moving in the direction of the sound.
The boy was sitting on the last row in the schoolroom. He had finished his arithmetic early because he was good with numbers, and now he looked around at his classmates. Most were still working, but some had finished like he had. He wished he could talk to them, but the teacher forbid it. They had to remain quiet for the rest of the class period. It would take forever. He wanted to talk to someone. He wished he could be outside playing football with his friends. He wished he could be outside doing anything. Math was okay, but he wanted to be moving and free of the classroom. He suddenly jumped in his seat when he heard a sound like someone dropping their textbook on the floor. He looked around though and no one else seemed to notice. There it was again, louder this time. And again. What was that sound? And why didn’t anyone else notice? Before he knew it he was on his feet, and when his teacher was bent over helping another student, he slipped out the door to follow the sound.
The woman sat at her desk trying to concentrate on the papers in front of her. She was supposed to have the papers all in order and the contract ready to go by the meeting, which was in less than an hour. But she had lost interest in the papers and instead was only daydreaming. She sighed and sat up straighter and tried once more to finish her work. She was having trouble lately believing in the work she did. A sound like the thud the elevator sometimes made when the door wouldn’t close properly filled her office. She ignored it and kept working…or trying to. When the sound continued, she got up and walked out into the hall where the elevator was. The door was open but not stuck. The sound continued. Without thinking about it much, she left her important papers behind and walked to the elevator and got in.
Then little by little, the sound filtered its way into the lives of more and more people, and all of those people followed the sound, following it as it rose and fell and deepened and mellowed and grew louder and louder. They followed the sound through the streets and paths and cities and towns and down rural roads and dirt paths until they came to a forest that they walked through and into a clearing where an old woman sat on a tree stump beating a drum.
Welcome, Welcome lovely ones, she said. Please come in and get close for I am about to tell you a story.
Who are you? The little girl who had left her fireplace chore asked.
I am Old Martha. I am the Keeper of the Stories. From the first spinning place, my drum came to be, and then I came to be. The drum is the first world and the heartbeat of the world, and I am the caretaker of that world. And so are you, my children. My job is to pass these stories on to you so that you can help me keep them and you can be the caretakers of your life and the world around you.
My stories are for those who need some fun in their lives. My stories are for those who need healing. They are for those who seek connection with one another. And they are for those who seek purpose in life.
Gather close. Get comfortable. And I will be begin.
Once upon a time…..