The Storyteller’s Trip Down Memory’s Lane
Written after Christmas a couple of years ago. I have been at my computer working hard to finish the memoirs while the Lord spared me. I HAVE NOW PUBLISHED MY MEMOIRS, AND THE TITLE IS “Under the Gooseberry Bush” Many memories of Christmas are shown in it and I believe since I did not place it in the website then, I should add it. It will mean much to my storytelling friends for it was written in the after-glow of a beautiful family Christmas with all my children and grandchildren together again by the mercies of God, the Father. I am now revising it, and still leaving all the storyteller’s thoughts to cheer the hearts of my storytelling friends and, of course, my dear family and other friends who like to remember me as a storyteller.
Tradition tells the story of the first crèche as it was created by St. Francis of Assisi, posed by live animals as well as by church lay people. That wonderful reenactment has given birth to beautiful works of art as well as the humbler ones that portray the nativity.
The first Christmas after Frank and I were married, I went to Woolworth’s Five and Dime store and bought the little figurines and placed them under our small tree… We used them every Christmas, and because they were pre-war, they have become highly collectible through the years. With each Christmas we came to treasure them more and put them away with care.
Through the years as we told the story, we used the little figurines to help the children to visualize the scene in the stable at Bethlehem. My niece traveled to Israel and brought a gift of the nativity set carved in olive wood. One Christmas when my first grandchild was visiting, his mother told him the story allowing him to hold each piece as she told about it. He was only two, but he came running to me holding the little baby figure, and in a plaintive voice crooned, “No woom, no woom!” He loved the story and held on to all those pieces long after Christmas. I gave the little olive wood set to him, and the collectible set to his mother to keep in the family.
In my Christmas story sessions with children I love to tell the story from the biblical account told in the Bible. I have the little characters of the crèche in my story apron pockets. I pull them out one at a time, to place them on a nearby table. The children are always so happy to see them as they appear and I let them help tell the story as they recognize each of them. Many times one of them will want me to show the crude stable. To that I reply, “Yes! Our dear Lord was born in a stable, where the animals were kept. I did not have pockets big enough, but we can use our special eyes and imagine that we have it here.” Then I have the autoharp at hand, and I strum it at once. This is the time to begin singing the song of theFriendly Beasts. Young children learn through concepts and these concepts are pictures that the storyteller paints on the mind. I use this song to help the children to “see” with the heart, and the mind will follow—first the corn and then the ear, as Jesus taught.
Jesus, our brother, kind and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good
I, said the donkey, all shaggy and brown,
I carried Mary up hill and down,
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town,
I, said the donkey, all shaggy and brown.
I, said the cow, all white and red,
I gave my manger to make his bed,
I gave my hay to pillow his head,
I, said the cow, all white and red.
I, said the sheep, with the curly horn,
I gave my wool to keep him warm,
He wore my blanket on Christmas morn,
I, said the sheep with the curly horn.
I, said the dove, on the rafter high,
I cooed him to sleep so he would not cry,
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I,
I, said the dove on the rafter high.
Each friendly beast did love to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
Of the gift he gave Immanuel.
As I softly sing that last verse I encourage them to sing along with me. By that time they have learned the melody and the words are repeated which makes it easy for them to sing. Many times they will beg, “Sing it again.” When that happens, I sing the words slowly and let them sing along. They learn it readily.
I have many such memories of the children’s response to the story. They are like a string of pearls as I recount each one. You see, I taught the preschool children for twenty-five years and I have all those years of going out to Christian nursery schools, churches and private homes when invited.
For at least ten years when I lived in Richmond, Virginia, I was invited to tell the Christmas story for the entire church program at St. John’s. Then for several years at various churches in Richmond I was invited to bring the Christmas program. Many departments of the Sunday schools in our churches would have their special celebration times in the evenings. This meant that my December calendar was full. Yet I must say that for many years I was able to schedule all of these Christian-community sessions without neglecting a single invitation from my own church which usually included several Sunday school class parties and the deacon’s banquet. At the same time, remember, I was in the chancel choir, with all that entails in the Christmas season.
I can truthfully say that I never approached any task for the Lord in my own strength! I called on Him in every phase of preparation and performance. Therefore, my Christmas memories of storytelling are all beautiful, for nothing marred the happy times we had at home! In all of those activities, there was always Christmas at home, with all the trimmings! Frank and I were always filled with the Christmas Spirit and nothing was omitted in carrying out all of the traditional Christmas celebration at home! Any parent reading this can easily enumerate all that goes into making that statement. I tell this to boast about Jesus, to sing his praises, for without Him it would have been impossible, but with Him, I prayed and asked for wisdom in scheduling so that no one would be disappointed, and everyone who wanted my special version of the story would receive it. When I was invited to have the Christmas program I told a beautiful Christmas story, such as The Little Juggler of Notre Dame, or The Christmas Apple. I might tell one of my own stories such as when I visited my sister’s school in the mountains, Christmas at Adair. Maybe then I would play and sing the very old English carol, “Cherry Tree Carol,” or something else that I felt suitable. I always included poetry or music in my programs.
Sometimes I concluded the Christmas program with the story as we have learned it, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” I actually prefer the Philip’s version for telling and I practice diligently until my voice gives the words a “telling tone,” and I might insert a word or two to give it that sound.
It is a joy to tell the story then, for he supplies new zest. In this way, I can be assured that I give my audiences the Christmas story as I experience it. I am allowed through Christ to go boldly before the throne of Grace and ask the Lord for assistance. I want to proclaim God’s own words with humility, and I hope every inflection that my voice carries, will impress the spirit of the listener to sing with me, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
I know this will “be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
I sincerely praise and thank the Lord for every memory, of all my storytelling times at museums, schools, parks, churches, and innumerable private sessions at homes for various occasions. I especially love to remember my years of work with preschool children in Sunday school. And the church nursery school in the church library. It is, however, always the Christmas memories that I treasure most. These carry me all the way back to infancy and go with me all the way from 1922, age three, to the present.
This time of remembering is very special to me because as I write it I am thinking of my children, my grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, their children; all my “Greats” I call them. I see in front of me all the ones who have taken my classes. There are those who have chosen to devote themselves to Jesus in this particular mode of service and worship. I have it in my mind and heart to hope for one of my own family to decide to follow the gleam. In my experience it is a way that lends itself to close fellowship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit—it is a definite way.
A favorite saying of the Jewish teachers is, “God loves a storyteller, that is why he made man!” I love to remind persons in my classes that God is the greatest storyteller of all, since he couched his entire word to us in narrative form, and then when he appeared in role of “Rabbi,” or “Teacher,” he used storytelling exclusively. We should need no other reasons to want to develop this skill which is a “people trait.” Just as we learn the language, to speak it, to write it, we can use these words to touch the heart. Through the emotions portrayed by the voice and body language the storyteller “stirs the slumbering chords,” and the deaf can hear, or the blind can see! There is more to the Christmas tree than just the needles and the fragrance of pine! Hallelujah!
Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree!
How green your leaves! How faithful!
Not only in the summer time,
But in the winter’s snowy rime.
Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree!
How green your leaves, how faithful.
(I added my own verse to this tune and sing it out with joy!)
Oh Christmas time, Oh, Christmas time,
How I love your story!
It tells me of my Savior’s love,
And angels sang it from above,
Oh Christmas time, Oh, Christmas time,
How I love your story!
Maxine Johnson Bersch-Lovern.
January 5, 2011
P.S. Yes, the Lord did spare me to go to Ridgecrest in March. I performed “Queen Esther” in costume on the stage for the opening assembly, and those famous words of the story were made the theme of the entire session of librarians. “Who knows but that you were placed here for such a time as this”. That was March, 2011. (Now, Dec. 2013, I am doing this revision, but I am leaving these lines in for it shows how the Ephesians 3:20 is true in my life! Absolutely! I forget if I mailed this out to all of you, and if I did, at least those who read the website and are not on the mailing list can see the wonders of God and give Him praise!)
While I was doing all of that, I had facial surgery pending, for they allowed me to go and have this great experience before undergoing treatment for skin cancer. The Lord saw me through that ordeal, and I healed sufficiently to be able to go to Phoenix in May for my granddaughter Lynwood’s graduation, and then I stayed for my grandson’s wedding in June and for the family celebration of the Glorious Fourth! While there, I attended her church and was invited to tell stories for the third grade and the preschool children during VacationBibleSchool. What a joy! I borrowed an autoharp from North Phoenix Baptist and tuned it. It had not been used in at least five years, the music secretary told me, so I said,” Never fear! If it has all of its strings, I can tune it!” So I did, but that took several hours Thank goodness for Lynwood’s guitar tuner. That’s what did the trick. Wow! It was totally off, and when they get to that point it is a tedious, time consuming task to finally get it sounding right, but I ran my chords over and over and finally, FINALLY, it sounded beautiful. The teachers at Pat’s church really loved it.
I returned to my home in Garland, Texas, on July 6th and resumed my work on my memoirs. In August my daughter Pat and her husband, Brad, came for a visit! How great! At that time, my friends in Timpson, Texas, Judy and Shannon, began renewing their invitation to visit them. Our plans were interrupted by my bout with gall bladder surgery! This required two weeks of hospitalization and then rehab on outside. The good Lord again gave me his protection and healing! We finally found a suitable date and I visited them for two weeks. While I was there I visited their church and performed the monologue,Queen Esther, for the congregation of FirstBaptistChurch of Timpson. They took me on several memorable side trips. One such place was the marker that is still standing; on one side it shows U.S. and the other side says, R.T. , meaning, Republic ofTexas!
Thank the good Lord for Frank, who loves to take me anywhere I need or wish to go! He attends the ArlingtonStorytellers League with me, and the storytelling trip that I took in August . I forgot to mention that up there, but I was invited to do storytelling for my friend who is librarian at First Baptist, Euless, TX. She was winding up her summer reading program. She had invited me to share in celebrating her new library, but I had too many things on my plate, so we took that special time and it was great. I had a mixed age group which included the parents! Frank enjoys these activities right along with me, for you see, his undergraduate degree is in Theatre, which allows him double appreciation for my ministry. We have great rapport in that way.
I will be leaving on the 13th of December for Phoenix where I will stay for a couple of months as I do every year. Frank will come over for ten days or so but I go early and stay late!
This is the news for the year of 2011, just lacking one month! Then on the 23rd of January, I will have my 93rdbirthday, and will celebrate it at Pat’s home. Since Lynwood goes to college at Tucson, it is two hours away, so she may be able to arrange her time to come over for that celebration! If not, we’ll talk on the phone! The Lord is good! His mercy is everlasting! Because of his wonderful grace to us, all the contents of this letter are testimonies to spread abroad the story of how He shows his great love and to offer praise to Him for all of His blessings!
Now I see that the year of 2012 has passed and the year 2013 is winding down Again, in August, I traveled to N.C. and taught at Ridgecrest, introduced my book, as one of the authors being honored, we were each given a room and four 20 minute periods to meet with those who were interested in my soon to be released book, Under the Gooseberry Bush. In that way I had time to tell them several of the stories in the book, and embellish them as only the telling can do. Then I traveled back and visited family and friends in Maryland and Virginia before returning to Texas.
The book is now released and has gone out to many of the family and friends. I do hope this revision of my storyteller’s Christmas memories will not be a disappointment, for to tell you the truth, I believe that the book should be your Christmas letter for this year and if the Lord allows me another year, I hope in April to go to Eagle Eyrie and teach storytelling and tell for the 55th anniversary of the Virginia Church Librarian’s Association. Then I hope to spend Easter with my family inVirginia and then return home to get ready for my two granddaughter’s graduation celebrations for their respective colleges. I am looking forward to that!
Now I have to go and make some figgy pudding and get ready for Christmas, 2013. My daughter, Pat and her husband, Brad, will be arriving this evening. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!
 If you do not know the melody of this ancient song, you can type in on Google, “hear the song, Friendly Beasts.” And a number of links will be shown that will have the words with the actual singing of the tune. Some people have added words to the verses, such as “camels” etc. but the words that I have shown above are the ones I learned many years ago..