Tag Archives: Folklore

Serving Up Stories


I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for the past few months. Life has been full and busy with museum work, summer vacation for my children and a whole ménage of other things including some trips to see my family.

When I started writing this blog last year I wanted it to include stories about life and family.  The inspiration came in a few ways.   Southerners have a gift for telling stories.  My family is no different.  My ancestors have lived in the south for…well… FOREVER.  Especially Kentucky. So we know how to tell a good story.   These narratives have come in the form of letters from Civil War ancestors to recent emails from my brothers.  I have been raised on stories  told by my mother who was  a bank teller for many years and came home after work with the latest community gossip and by my father who shared  adventures and mishaps at Patsy Jane, our family coal mine.

I love to write and I love visual art, so I guess it is fitting that I have a passion to carry on this story telling  tradition.    Writing is a great thing to multi task in between work, doing laundry, driving kids to activities and after dinner.  But lately I have been putting my writing aside and resurrecting my love for clay.  With an exhibition coming up this fall, I am busy creating ceramic functional work.  Incised into these bowls, tumblers, serving dishes and containers are narratives in the form of visual poems.  Three things I love are coming together: stories, clay and food.

The inedible accoutrements that we use for meals plays a role in how we taste and perceive food.  I recently heard on NPR a report from the journal Flavour about researchers who studied  how spoons, knives and other utensils we put in our mouths can provide their own kind of “mental seasoning” for a meal.  We all set a common table whether we are rich or poor or from whatever region we call home.  We make and serve our food in pots, pans, serving dishes that can range from a lucky find at T.J. Maxx to our grandmother’s beloved Sunday china.

I can’t think of a better way to receive a story than having it be the vehicle that serves our meals.


The fairly mouse girl has a little bit of my Nanna in her. Bowl in progress!


Owl Eulogy


On an autumn day over six-years-ago, the path around my old neighborhood is foggy and crispy with falling leaves.  I am on a morning walk with my dog Maya.  We are joined by a large Labrador mix named Bo.  Bo is my neighbor’s dog and he loves tagging along on early morning strolls.  This walk is a part of my daily ritual and I have an hour of quiet before my hectic day begins.

I am in the “zone” of walking and inhaling the rich earthen air, relishing my stolen moment of aloneness.  I am a woman who is juggling a full life complete with an overburden husband and a displaced stepson and these walks are my solace.    I march around the corner onto Lee street and a dark figure crosses my path, circling and then descending onto the road.  Large, russet, foreboding, confused- like he doesn’t know how he landed right in front of me, an owl, a colossal figure with large yellow eyes that focus upon me.  I utter under my breath, “This can’t be good”.   A flash of memory comes rushing towards me of one of my grandmothers.  Parlee says an owl that is seen in daylight means death of a loved one.  She calls these birds hobgoblin owls.   She knows all about folklore and signs.

The owl and I stand there for a moment, motionless staring at each other.  Even the dogs are frozen, until Bo emerges from his trace and rushes towards this bird, who immediately flies away up into a tree.   The owl is sitting up on a limb and far away from me now, but still staring as if he knows something that I do not yet know.

Trees surround my house and they are home to a variety of animals, so hearing the hoot of an owl at night is common, but seeing an owl during the day is a different matter. A little superstition runs in my family and my encounter with this bad omen makes my entire body shudder and gives me goosebumps.  Of course, I am a sane person.  I know there could be more rational reasons for seeing this creature, such as he is sick, hunting, or simply that he is flying to a new nest. The dogs and I resume our walk, and I carry on with the rest of my day.   November moves swiftly along. Sometimes on my way home, I look for that owl, but I never see him again.

After my husband died that December, people eventually got around to asking me if I had any warning that something was wrong.  I said “no” but what I wanted to say was: “Well I did see an owl one morning while I was walking…” but I stop myself because I know how utterly insane that would sound.    But truly, that was my first hint that something terrible was going to happen.

It is a little disturbing to know that this courier of tragedy could come in the form of a winged creature.  However, I have decided to accept my owl messenger, and anyway, I think there is more to this bird.  Athena has a companion owl on her shoulder, which revels unseen truths to her.  Arianrhod, a Welsh goddess, shapeshifts into an owl and with her large owl eyes, sees into the darkness of the human soul.  She moves with strength and purpose through the night and her wings spread comfort, solace and healing to those who seek her.  Owls see what others cannot and I am fortunate to have had this creature look me in the eye on that autumn day and try to warn and even protect me from the dangers to come.

The other night as I lay in bed, an owl called out and another answered from a distant yard, the rhythms of their voices were like a lullaby, singing me into a deep sleep.