By JOHN KIENER
Growing up on a farm in Washington County provides the kind of material that Storyteller Rebecca Keefauver Alexander used Monday, Oct. 15, to delight an audience at the Sounds of Boones Creek Museum and Opry. Some 50 people gathered to share desserts and listen to a couple of stories that can make you laugh and cry all in the same moment.
The Museum & Opry venue — located at 525 W. Oakland Ave. in Johnson City where the audience sits on padded church pews in front of a compact stage loaded with electronic equipment — was a perfect place for nearly an hour of telling. Two stories enchanted the audience, the first about Kathleen Hall and a second titled “A Clark Story From Boones Creek.”
Alexander received her bachelor’s degree from Milligan College in English/sociology/psychology and her master’s in education with an emphasis in Storytelling from East Tennessee State University. She is a wife, mother, former high school English teacher and spent 11 years as a sales manager for a large electronics corporation. Today, you will often find her at Dillow-Taylor Funeral Home which she co-owns with her husband Howard.
A professional storyteller who has a host of Biblically inspired presentations, she has performed at the Barter Theater, Emmanuel School of Religion, ETSU, Telebration, and more.
In addition, she also has numerous performances before civic organizations, conferences, nursing homes, libraries, a number of churches and a host of schools.
Rebecca says she “shares bits of her experiences in her stories.” She has been telling stories since 1994. She is an active member of the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild, the longest running storytelling guild in the nation. The group which meets each Tuesday night for a performance beginning at 7 p.m. at the International Storytelling Center is in the process of planning for its 25th Anniversary of providing entertainment in Jonesborough.
Rather than continuing with her credits and organizational affiliations, the following short story, used with her permission, is published in the following paragraphs as it was performed on Monday before the members of the Boones Creek Historical Trust.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (THE BIBLE, 1 Peter 4: 8-10)
When I think of one of the best gardeners I know, I think of my Aunt Kathleen Hall, Aunt Kat as we called her. I loved going to her home on old Gray Station Road, where red geraniums and white petunias overflowed from concrete boxes on her front porch where rose bushes lined the corner of her house. She was always outside working in her flowers or her garden.
One of my fondest memories of her was pulling up in her driveway as she was coming out of her garden. Her skin tanned the color of cocoa from the sun and her hair in ringlets and sparkling from her perspiration. Her curvaceous figure in a yellow swimsuit top and a pair of shorts. Her arms were wrapped around a large bushel basket of cantaloupes.
She would set them down and take a handkerchief out of her bathing suit top and dry off her face. Then she would stuff it back in. That was always an amazing thing to me, how she could get anything out of that top, cause she was a fleshly woman. With a big grin on her face she would say, “Whew doggies, it sure is hot out here; let’s go inside and cut one of these cantaloupes and cool off a bit.”
She would reach down and pick out one of the ripest cantaloupe, the one that had a small crack in it. Then she would cut it in half and take a spoon and clean out the stingy seeds and hand me a half and a spoon. Juice would drip off my chin and she would grin real big and say, “It don’t get much better than that does it cutie?”
My aunt’s garden was much more than cantaloupes. She raised lettuce, cabbage, corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and zucchini and anything else she could think of. Then she would can or freeze everything else she didn’t use or give away.
Sometimes we would gather under the pear trees at the back of our house to break beans or shell peas. We all had gardens that were coming in about the same time and it was so much more fun to gather under those trees sharing the work load and a few stories. Mom would put out the lawn chairs and we would sit down, drape a towel over our legs, place a roll pan on our lap full of peas, and a large pot on the ground to throw the peas in when they came out of the shell.
I can still hear the peas hit the metal pan like it was yesterday. Then mom and Aunt Kat would begin talking and telling stories about what it was like when they grew up. Their words rolled off their tongues like warm molasses. We would just have to ask, “Aunt Kat, did you ever get in trouble?” Then the story would begin. It was always punctuated by my aunt’s contagious laughter. Sometimes she and mom would get to laughing so hard that, when Aunt Kat threw her peas, she would miss the pan all together and that was when we learned our aunt knew a foreign language.
She had a few words she drew out real slow and then she would say, “Pardon my French.” Which made my mom laugh even harder. Later that day, she and mom would divide up the peas and pack them in freezer bags. By the end of the summer you could not open my aunt’s freezer without a bag of vegetables falling out. That was a good thing cause she would need it to feed lots of people.
My aunt knew everyone in Boones Creek and I mean everyone. She had lived there all her life. She was the bank teller of Hamilton Bank and she had this vivacious personality. If you got in her drive-through line, you would expect to be there awhile. But it was always worth the wait to be greeted by that beautiful smile and maybe a zucchini or two slipped through the bank window.
On Sundays anyone who visited Boones Creek Christian Church (where I have gone all my life) was welcomed by my Aunt Kat. She would introduce herself and tell them how thrilled she was they were there and then would proceed to invite them to Sunday lunch. They might respond, “Oh, we could not impose like that.”
She always replied, “Oh, fiddlesticks! We have plenty and if I thought you were going to be an imposition, I would not have invited you.”
Then she would get in her car and start giving instructions: “Marylynn, you get out two extra place settings out of the china cabinet; Tammie, bring me an extra bag of corn out of the freezer and Robert run down stairs and bring me another jar of green beans. Bob, you just sit with them in the den and visit until I get in on the table.” When we passed her home on the Old Gray Station Road, my Dad would say, “Kat’s driveway looks like a used car lot. I wonder who she invited today?”
Long before there were writers like Erma Bombeck who wrote pieces like “If I had my life to live over,” there was my Aunt Kat who knew how to really live. I would bet 90 percent of those who came to her home ended up joining our church. She was the perfect example of southern hospitality and evangelism rolled into one. Her home might not always have been in perfect order but no one ever noticed because when you entered her home, you were greeted with such warmth and happiness you could only see Jesus.
In 1987 my aunt started getting sick. They finally figured out she had contacted hepatitis from a blood transfusion 20 years before when she gave birth to her first child. In 1988, she had a liver transplant at Emory University in Atlanta. I stuck my head in her hospital that morning. I said, “Are you ready for your new liver?”
She smiled and gave me a thumbs-up sign. Well, I guess God had more important jobs for my precious Aunt Kat cause she went to be with him that day. I am not sure if she is working in his garden or cooking for his banquet but I know for certain she is having the time of her life. Perhaps if we are quiet enough we can hear my mom and Aunt Kat laughing.