Monday, 03 March 2014 20:44

Mary & The White Trout

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She was quite well read and always quick with a story. Irish proverbs rolled off her tongue like rain. “Story fills the belly.” “When the storyteller speaks the sun and the clouds stop to listen.”

Back home they used to tell a story...

My great, great, Aunt Mary left a life of privilege on the Emerald Isle in 1856 to come to America. When she boarded her ship, the Samuel S. Curling, she refused to give a departing address because she’d snuck away from home and had no intent of returning. She had heard a call to join with the Mormon Saints in their Zion in the West and nothing would stand in her way, not even leaving behind many fine things to pull a handcart across the plains. Unlike many of her peers her recollections of her journey are filled with humor, singing, laughter, and joy, though she does confess she would have “liked a little more to eat.” It is said Mary had the lightest of Irish lilts that bespoke of her fine upbringing. She was quite well read and always quick with a story. Irish proverbs rolled off her tongue like rain.


“Story fills the belly.”


“When the storyteller speaks the sun and the clouds stop to listen.”


Walking thirty to thirty-five miles a day under sun and cloud with a little less in her belly than she’d like, it’s not hard to believe she’d soon fill the air with story to help pass the time. It’s quite likely strolling along the banks of the North Platte or the Sweetwater reminded her of home far away beside the river Liffey . . .


. . . Back home they used to tell a story about a lovely white trout. Ah fine and fair was she with nary a mark on her. She was the purest of white and lived in the river well beyond the years of men. So long had she lived, in fact, that no man would dare to catch her for fear dark times would befall his family. After all, there were plenty of rumors swirling about that this fish was actually some kind of Faire, a woman long parted from her mate, who’d taken to the safety of the river to await the return of her beloved sailor. No one knew if it was true, of course, but it made a fine story.

Well, one day a solider comes up the river with no respect for old tales. He hears of this beautiful pure white trout and declares he’ll have this fish for super. So off he goes, and sure enough, he catches the thing in no time! He was not a patient sort, and didn’t even bother to clean it he was in such a hurry to get a golden brown sear on that lovely pure white skin. Well he’s there cooking and waiting for plenty of time for it to get all yummy and brown in the butter, but when he flips it, why that skin doesn’t even have the smell of burn on it. He struggles to cook the thing, flipping it back and forth, stoking the flames higher and hotter ‘til his pan is nearly red hot, but still the fish is uncooked. Now, he just gets angry. After all, he made such a show of the fact he was going to cook and eat it that his reputation is at stake. So he just jabs a knife right into it to take it up to eat.


Imagine his surprise when that fish starts to hollering murder, jumps right of the frying pan and stands before him, suddenly a beautiful lass dressed all in white, demanding to know why he’s keeping her from her duty! She’s the most fair maid this solider ever laid eyes on and he’s shamed to see a trail of blood dripping down from a fresh wound in her shoulder. 


“Why couldn’t you have left me in the cool water, where I was doing my duty? Please, oh please, put me back in the river where I can wait for my beloved whose coming back for me by water,” she wails as if her heart is breaking. “If he comes for me while I’m left standing here, you’re life won’t be worth the living.”


Now the soldier is in even more of a fit. Not only has he lost his supper, failed in his boast, and embarrassed himself, but also he’s hurt the heart of this lovely creature that now wants him to drown her too. Trembling with fear, he humbles himself, and he begs for forgiveness, but he can’t possibly drown such an exquisite woman.


Well, no sooner had he said the words then she flopped back down to the ground as a snow-white trout, a flipping around as fish do when they’re out of water.  The soldier wastes no time now, he scoops up that fish and runs right back to the river to slip her in the water as gentle as he can. As she swims out of his hands he sees on her side a little red mark where his knife left a cut. And so, such a mark can be seen on white trout from that day to this.


That soldier, he learned his lesson sure, and spent a lot more time at church praying and doing good then he did bragging and making merry. And as for fishing, well he gave up fish for good and they say he prayed for the safety and happiness of the white trout forever more. . .


What countries do your ancestors come from? Do you know any of the folktales of their day? How can knowing the stories of their time help you become more well acquainted with your loved ones?

Last modified on Monday, 17 March 2014 11:42
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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