When you live on St. Simons Island, it becomes difficult to leave. Of course, we leave for work, funerals and evacuations but with sighs and much foot dragging. One recent day, however, The Moth, a New York-based organization dedicated to the art of oral storytelling, was scheduled for an event at the Telfair Museum in Savannah.
Anticipation of that event knocked the sand right out of our shoes. Eight of us left to hear two of our friends from the island tell stories: poet and novelist George Dawes Green, who had conceived the idea of The Moth in 1997 to “recreate in New York the feeling of sultry summer evenings in his native St. Simons Island, Georgia, when moths would attract to the light on the porch where he and his small circle of friends would gather to spin spell binding tales,” and Wanda Bullard, who owned that very porch at St. Simons. It was to be a night of stories set in Savannah, a city filled with memory, desire, scandal and beauty. What could be more compelling?
The Moth did not disappoint. There were five story tellers, an eclectic, enthusiastic group of listeners — and a bar.
We heard stories that reflected the different backgrounds and styles of the tellers but that resonated with all of us.
The first story teller, Jonathan Ames, who is the creator of the HBO comedy, “Bored to Death,” began with his memory of being an angst-filled third grader stressed by his parents’ talk of Ivy League schools and their desire for him to be an athlete and an Eagle Scout. Somehow he ended up wearing a girdle, being chased by his classmates in a mini-pogrom, having a testicle ascend and almost getting the girl in the end.
Sheri Holman, an author of four novels and a founding member of The Moth, went back in time to a visit with her two great aunts in Virginia in an old house sticky with grease, secrets and memories.
A retired New York City cop for 22 years, Steve Osbourne, blew vowels out of his nose as he told us of a stakeout (99% bawdom) when a perp walked right in front of his patrol car. He and his partner tore ass down the street, got the perp in an alley and charged him shouting, “Don’t move mother f—-r and then no shit the guy crumbles up into a ball and starts f—-n’ cryin’. F—-n’ bawlin’ and says, get this, ‘Please don’t kill me; I’m only a dentist.’ ”
After being drawn into these different worlds where testicles could ascend and perps could be weeping dentists, we were ready for our friends. I looked around at our group from St. Simons. Everyone was leaning forward knowing what was coming. An oft-told tale picks up nuances, the delivery sharpens, the listeners grow more alert in anticipation.
Wanda began a story of her daddy as fire commissioner in the small town of Boonville, Mississippi. Yes, we remembered her daddy’s fires — when the phone would ring at her home late at night and she would ride in his pick- up to go subdue the blazes. He later became a volunteer policeman, an easy job, until the day he went to the jail and there, waiting for him, was something he never would have imagined — his very first prisoner.
George Green finished the evening with his story of working at a fish processing plant in Brunswick, Georgia, while living ar St. Simons. He recalled feeling unhappy, stinking of fish, being dumped by his girl friend and rooming with Sean Kitchen, who had fighting dogs and a habit of cracking palmetto bugs dead in his hands. George hated him so much that he went along with a friend’s suggestion to have a shotgun party for Sean; a party which went horribly wrong.
You can find these and other stories by going to The Moth website. The site offers podcasts, sets of cds and, even better, a schedule of the organization’s upcoming events. Should you be lucky enough that The Moth attracts to the light close to you, my strong suggestion after our wonderful evening in Savannah is this: Leave your island and go.