Tuesday, 29 October 2013 16:53

Cry Wolf!

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Ancient tales warn us against 'crying wolf' too often. But what if 'crying wolf' again is truly the only way to save the sheep - no matter what has happened in the past?

“Mama, I can smell gas in the street,” I announced as I walked in the door after school.


I knew what would happen next, the subtle eye roll and click of the tongue then she’d launch into the story.


There was once a boy who was given the job of minding the sheep. He had to go up into the foothills and spend the night watching over the sheep. It was very lonely and cold. Some nights, he’d build a fire to keep warm. On other nights he’d snuggle in and sleep with the lambs. But still, it was a very lonely job. Days would pass before he saw anyone from the village or his family. So he decided to stir up some excitement so his family would come see him. He climbed carefully to the ridge above the village and in his loudest voice cried out, “The wolves have gotten into the sheep! Come save them!”


Yeah, yeah, I got that the kid was bored. If I’d heard the story once, I’d heard it a thousand times. Every time I tried to tell my parents about some crazy exciting thing, one of them would tell me the story.


When the villagers heard his outcry they all came running to his aid, only to discover there were no wolves among the sheep. Angered they turned their backs on the boy and returned to the village. Weeks passed and the boy grew lonely again. He couldn’t leave the sheep alone to visit his family, so he needed to bring his family to him. He knew he shouldn’t do it, but to him it seemed that any reason for visiting was better than no visit at all. So he climbed the ridge above the village and cried out with as much fear as he could muster, “The wolves have gotten into the sheep! Come save them!”


I knew why my parents told me the story. Once they’d told me the story often enough, they could shorten it to one line, “Don’t cry wolf.” The point: “Teresa, stop making up stories.” (Oh, the irony!) Yet, I really did smell gas in the street! This wasn’t like the time I claimed there was a bear in the woods, or the time I blamed my brothers for getting paint on the house. This was real and I was concerned.


“Mama, I really do smell gas in the street.”


I knew full well what happened next in the story, yet still my mother felt compelled to tell on.


When the villagers heard his outcry they all came running to his aid, only to discover, yet again, there were no wolves among the sheep. More angered than ever they turned their backs on the boy and returned to the village. Weeks passed and the boy grew lonely again. Yet this time, he would not call to the villagers. He had learned his lesson. Then one dark night he heard the sound that naturally makes the blood run cold. He heard the howling of wolves circling around the sheep. With each howl the sound came closer and closer. He knew he couldn’t protect the sheep from a pack of wolves by himself. He knew he had to call for help. As fast as he could he ran up the ridge, yelling all the while for the villagers to come save the sheep from the wolves. Over and over he called, yet no one came. No lights turned on in the village. No one stirred at all. It seems he’d cried “wolf” too many times and now, when it mattered most, no one believed the boy at all. Many sheep were lost that night.


My mother patted my head and walked away as she finished her story. We’d recently gotten a scratch and sniff card in the mail from the gas company. Its purpose was to introduce us to the odor added to natural gas so customers could recognize the smell when there was a leak. Obviously, she thought I was creating a tale around that experience. But she was wrong. I really did smell gas in the street. But I’d learned my lesson, I vowed to never mention the smell again. But as the week passed, each day I walked up the hill towards home I could smell the scent of gas in the air. In spite of the very real possibility I would not be believed I decided to bring it up again, but how could I make them listen or believe?


“Mama, do you remember when the wolves really did come and the boy cried out for help again? No one came to help him, because they’d gotten used to not believing him, so lot’s of the sheep died?”


“Of course I remember that, Teresa.”


“Do you think they ever regretted not coming that last time? Mama, I really do smell gas in the street.”


Silence hung in the air as my mother mulled over what I’d just said. Then, after what seemed like forever to my eight-year-old mind, she took me by the hand and we walked out to the street. Later that night she walked my father out to the same spot. The next morning the gas company came.


“Ma’am you’re entire neighborhood is very lucky your little girl has such a keen sense of smell or things could have had ended badly for all of you.”


Sometimes, you’ve just got to cry, “Wolf!” 


Has there ever been a time when you needed someone to believe you? Why was it important? How did you get them to listen? What happened as a result?




Last modified on Monday, 10 March 2014 14:14
Teresa Clark

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.

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