A national award-winning storyteller, historian and author, she is best known for her original works and recollections of life's experiences blended with history. Teresa has presented and performed throughout the United States. Of her, it has been said, "Charming, witty, soulful, and wise, her performances are filled with a compelling sense of wonder and an irresistable zest for life." Her story work involves performance, education, production, and advocacy. From the main stage to individual consultations in living rooms across America, she delights in the excavation and sharing of family story. Most importantly, she is a wife, mother, and grandmother to her favorite playmates and best friends.
It's a story I heard countless times growing up:
"When I was born my mother wanted to name me Geraldine, after my father, but he didn't like the name. He refused to have his daughter called by that name. The debate went back and forth until my mother came up with a solution. She declared that they would write all the girl names they liked on slips of paper and place them in a hat. Then my father would have the privilege of drawing out a single slip of paper. Whatever name was pulled from the hat would be my name. So, that's exactly what they did. When my father pulled the slip of paper that said 'Geraldine' he knew he'd lost. He didn't even put up a fight. That's how I got my name. What my father never knew, though, was that every slip of paper in the hat had the name 'Geraldine' on it!"
My journey back in time through the frame of a single photograph won't let me walk away just yet. My memory of always being dressed in red by my mother led me to this photo and a cascade of unexpected memories.
"Okay, grandma, this is a picture of an old car, it may be a Model T Ford. It's front end is all smashed in. It's right next to a picture of a burial plot mounded with flowers."
"Oh, of course, that's the car crash my best friend Eddy died in. We were about seventeen. I think his picture is on the next page."
My grandma lost her vision in her 90's, but her memory remained sharp and clear for most of her 98 years. We used to tease her that we could tell her a date, and she could tell us what the weather was like on that day. It was after she lost her sight that I came across the photo albums. Black paper with carefully mounted black and white photographs stared up at me without a word of explanation. I thought we'd lost our chance to know about the pictures because Grandma had lost her sight. I was wrong. All I had to do was sit beside her and describe a picture to her. Invariably she'd tell me about what else was on the page and what the pictures were about. It was an amazing experience. I couldn't help but think my journey through her memories was actually enhanced due to her blindness. I had to look deeply at the photos so I could describe the details. I had to talk to her, and I had to listen as the memories flowed. As a result I've come to question the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." It's only worth a thousand words if you know the story or can ask someone about it. I'd suggest a picture is an invitation to find, excavate, and hear story!
I once attended a lecture, which promised to reveal the heartbreak and hardship of the American dustbowl era. It was early in the morning so every person in the room wanted to be there. They’d made an effort to be there. Ninety minutes later a large majority of them were asleep. The presenter had killed his own presentation. There were audible groans in the room when his final words were these, “I had pictures and stories, but we’ve run out of time.” Epic fail! He had scrubbed his presentation clean of simile and metaphor. Forgive me, but that’s like telling me you took a photograph on a certain day with a certain lens using a specific camera setting without showing me the picture. Until I see the picture, I will not care.
Visitors to my home are invited to stay in the "Legacy Room." It's a guest room filled with family heirlooms and my collection of quilts. My guests notice right off that I love heirloom quilts. If you're sleeping in my guest room, you're shrouded in the love of generations. It wasn't always that way, In fact, I'm ashamed to admit; when I was a child I completely disregarded the value of a handcrafted quilt.
The other night my husband and I went to a backyard barbeque with a bunch of couples we've known for thirty years. Needless to say, we know a lot about each other's stories! You'd think we'd be hard pressed to share anything new with one another. But then we started talking about our ancestors a whole new world opened up. In no time at all we'd identified where our histories crossed on American soil - everywhere from Plymouth, Massachusetts to the Cherokee Nation in Tennessee to the high plains of Wyoming and more. We covered the valiant and the scalawags, the hard workers and the drifters. Suddenly the night was young and we chatted on well after the sun had set and the moon had come up bright and full overhead.
I came across a photographer the other day who creates incredible portraits of senior citizens standing in front of mirrors from which their younger selves are looking out. It made me wonder. If I could talk to my younger self, what stories would I tell? If my younger self could talk back, what dreams would she remind me of?
Some of my grandkids and their parents recently participated in a summer theatrical pageant. For four weeks they went to rehearsals and performances from dusk until late at night. It totally undermined their bedtime schedules, meal times, and sleep patterns, but it was a marvelous opportunity for them to spend time as a family cut off from the multi-media chaos we've come to accept as normal. They had a lot of down time waiting on the grassy hillside for their Que. Since they didn't have anything else they could do, they started telling stories. Personal stories, make believe stories, family stories, it didn't matter what kind of stories really, just that they were telling stories. The fun part was that they all took turns. The family was a captive audience, so to speak. So even the three year old could claim their undivided attention! You know what they found out? He was really interesting and entertaining! They all were.
If you look in my jewelry box you'll find an old soda bottle cap. It's from a Jones Soda, the kind with the messages printed under the lid. I live in fear that someone will come across it and simply toss it. After all, it's just a bottle cap. But for me, it is oh, so much more.
“I’m just not feeling it.” That’s the statement that most frequently accompanies an unfinished book in my home. If the book doesn’t grab my family of readers within the first few chapters, they walk away. As readers they are looking for a passionate emotional connection. Emotion and passion are the writer’s sixth sense.