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They came from Minnesota and Illinois. But mostly they came from Wisconsin, from Suring and Evansville, from Mosinee and Pulaski, from Wittenberg and Spring Green and places in between. They came to a place called The Clearing Folk School, an adult learning center just north of Ellison Bay in Door County, which was founded in 1935. I was their workshop leader.

Thirty-four of them, all with one purpose in mind—to learn a bit more about stories and how to write them. Personal stories, stories about childhoods, about people who made a difference in their lives, about first memories when they were impressionable toddlers and more. They wrote their stories and shared them aloud for comments of praise and suggestions for improvement.

Some participants were younger—in their thirties, many were older, in their seventies and eighties. But one woman held the record. She looked to be in her late seventies, maybe early eighties. Her little critique group selected her story for one to be read to the entire group. Smiling, she stood up and began reading her story in a loud clear voice. When she finished, I asked, “Would you share your age with us?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’m 79.” She hesitated for a moment. Then she said. “I have dyslexia, I’m really 97.” Silence in the room for the moment. Then everyone stood up and clapped, and the 97-year-old storyteller smiled broadly and sat down.

It was a day of uncovering memories long forgotten, a day for laughter and for tears. A day when the “story” made all the difference.

THE OLD-TIMER SAYS: When we forgot our histories, we forgot who we are.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to www.jerryapps.com. 

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