Tuesday, December 14, 2004

In memory of Dorotha Douglas

Today I did some freebie performances for a preschool, in memory of my friend Dorotha. I do a few of these each year, depending on my schedule.

Dorotha began storytelling at age 80, to prove to her family that she didn't have Alzheimer's. She told stories mostly at preschools, especially Headstart and other programs aimed at low-income families. She refused to take money for storytelling. Dorotha did several programs a week, often learning new stories for the kids. She stopped doing this about six months before she died at age 93 (I think that was when she stopped driving).

Dorotha was great fun to be around, full of life stories. She had worked for puppeteer Tony Sarg in New York in the 20s, had been a teacher, had lived in Mexico, liked to paint, went regularly to water aerobics, and had done myriad other things in her long life. When she was 89 or 90, she went to Ireland on a storytelling tour. "This might be my last trip out of the country," she told me. I wasn't completely convinced.

So today I was thinking about Dorotha as I told stories. I told her version of "Where's the baby," a quiet yet satisfying finger story about some siblings who appear to have lost the baby, and "The gunniwolf," which I first heard told by Dorotha. I didn't sing "Garbage Bill," which she taught me, only because it slipped my mind.

We played "Magic box"--I pulled small items out of a wooden file box and constructed a story around them. One of these improvised stories turned into a version of "The boy who cried wolf." Another was about a pteranodon who lost her egg to a bad dinosaur. Quick thinking by some kids in the story and sticky chewing gum saved the egg.

My puppets Trixie (an old lady), the Gunniwolf (though he looks like a sheep, he's sort of a wolf) and Prince (a frog, of course) were in attendance. One of the tinies, possibly not yet three, was scared by Trixie, who has a piercing gaze. Trixie went to have a nap for the rest of that session.

Though Dorotha died a few years ago, I keep her memory alive by telling her stories. She was a good influence on me. Who has influenced you?

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