Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Talk about remembering!

Storytelling workshops I used to run had one noticeable effect on some of the people who attended. They’d suddenly acquire a new interest in their own past. No doubt this was partly prompted by the fact that I take a wide view of story: in my storytelling world, personal and family story co-exist with myth and folk-tale and legend. The new interest of people coming to workshops would doubtless arise from a fresh perception of how influential memory is in our lives and how strongly it is linked with imagination.

I remember several who attended workshops subsequently deciding to investigate their own parents’ lives and perhaps write books about them. Now I’m hoist with my own petard. Or should I put that differently and say similarly challenged?

The experience:

When I was about three years old, my parents moved to the house in Fishguard where I lived for the next ten years. Their simple reason for moving from High Street to Vergam Terrace was that, with a second child on the way, they needed more room. But where were they to find it? Asking around, my father was advised to go and consult a Miss Mali Evans, a native of Fishguard and a music teacher who’d recently come back there to live. ‘She knows everything,’ was what he was told (a perception my siblings and I would gradually come to realise, though with an ironic smile, was nothing but the truth).

Aunty Mali was not an aunt by blood. However, moving into her street, we soon became her family and, though she’s no longer alive, she remains one of the major influences in my life and my thinking. Travels with my Welsh Aunt – which was all about her – became one of the storytelling projects I’ve most enjoyed putting together and performing.  Now I’ve begun to take seriously a further challenge – the book about her that, somewhere inside myself, I’ve always felt I would write.

The challenge:

The sense of challenge has become more pressing because, in our part-time house in Wales, the loft space is dominated by the fourteen large blue boxes full of Aunty Mali’s largely unsorted papers. Alongside them are nine file boxes of papers that have been sorted. What to do with all of this stuff?

But it’s the fascination of the papers that makes the challenge so serious. For, to me, they’re not just papers. Linked to them is the strength and interest of the memories Aunty Mali recounted to me of her own life. She was born in 1900.  She went to school in Fishguard. Among the stuff in those boxes are not only little booklets from her early school life but handwritten accounts she later wrote of memorable events in her childhood. She went to University in Aberystwyth as one of its earliest students of music. A whole boxful of memorabilia remains from that period. But the memorabilia gain extra life for me from what I recall her telling me, including that, no doubt because of her fine singing voice, she was chosen to sing for Vaughan Williams when he came to Wales in pursuit of his interest in folk song.

And so it goes on. Among the hugely influential people in Welsh life whom Aunty Mali knew well were the Welsh patriot D. J. Williams and the Welsh poet Waldo Williams, each of whom lived in Fishguard or near. Because of Aunty Mali, I have personal  memories of both. As a child, I’d help serve them sandwiches and cakes when they came to tea. But it wasn’t only such well-known people that Aunty Mali knew. She knew and remembered countless numbers of people and a notable part of her connection with them was her interest in who exactly they were in terms of their family connections and where they lived. I remember asking her once how she remembered so many. “Place,” was her immediate reply. Linking people with where they grew up or afterwards lived provided the basis of an internal memory map of astonishing proportions.

Not only did Aunty Mali know people in her own locality and elsewhere in Wales. In her retirement from being a music teacher, she travelled – several times in some cases – to Australia, Canada, America and Patagonia. People she visited or met in those countries also became her correspondents. Their letters are stored in my loft.

My conviction:

I could go on. And it’s my feeling and conviction that I must go on. Somehow or other I must write that book. Perhaps my primary reason – and  as a storyteller, I feel it’s important to identify some reason for wanting to tell any story – is that, in regard to Aunty Mali’s story, I feel like a participant in it. Why did she keep so much? Why did she tell me so much? Returning to the task of sorting this last week, I noted (once again) how regularly she would annotate her papers. Whether they were letters she’d received or programmes of events where she’d taken part as soloist, conductor, lecturer or simply as one of the audience, she’d often have added little notes to them in her own meticulous hand. Who was she annotating them for? Was it for herself alone? Or could it be for some unidentified other? Now she’s no longer here and with all that stuff in my attic, the only possible answer has to be ‘For me’.

So my next question has to be this: what, really, is the Aunty Mali story I want to tell and how am I going to tell it? And when? Please come back for answers in about 10 years’ time.

PS: Photos this week are of Aunty Mali in early retirement, D.J. Williams in his later life and me at about the time when my family moved to Aunty Mali’s street.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Talk about remembering!”

  1. Jean Says:

    Dear Mary — A book about Aunt Mali — I’m looking forward to it already, and what a book that will be — I think also it will be a book about Mary —- and boxes of papers — a mystery — an adventure —-and didn’t you once mention clothes and hats that belonged to Aunt Mali — Talk soon — wonderful. X

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