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Friday, July 15, 2022

Creating "True" Stories with Mary Garrett

There's always been storytelling within families and now with contests like "The Moth" there are many stories told supposedly based in truth.  It's not uncommon for a storyteller to be asked "Is that true?"  Truth and "what really happened" can be two very separate things.  Last week I posted a skunk story which drew a similar story from fellow storyteller, Mary Garrett.  Of course almost any story about a skunk is going to include their special "gift" of their sprayed scent.  Mary's does, too, but look at how she shapes it as a family story.  Afterwards I plan to look at a whole different technique she uses with a traditional story.

Under the Chicken House

Sam Meets the Striped Kitty Cat     by “Daddy John” Fussner

Mary (at the time of this story) in the dog house

One day in late February the sun was shining bright, and the wind was blowing from the south.  There was a promise of spring in the air.  It was warm for late February.  Several red birds could be seen around Dough Doughy’s house, along with a dozen or so robins.  The sparrows were already thinking of building nests, though it was much too early to start.  About a hundred pigeons were sunning themselves on the south side of the barn roof.  There were dark pigeons, white pigeons, old, young, all colors and ages.

Way down in the pasture near the woods, a few deer were grazing on the green grass between the patches of snow.  Near the brier patch, old and young male and female rabbits were busy stuffing themselves with tender green grass and the young shoots of plants making an early growth.  Many little field mice were out looking for food, for they were very hungry after the last cold spell.

Chatty the squirrel lay sunning himself on the big limb of the old oak tree near the creek.  In the creek could be seen little fish looking for food, bigger fish looking for little fish, and the biggest fish looking for all of them.  Tommy Turtle was slowly swimming around, looking for just anything at all to eat.

Out in the barn, the mice that can always be found in barns were very busy scampering around, looking for stray bits of grain that many have been dropped and keeping an eye open for bits of paper, string, or anything else that would make a warm nest warmer.  Dough Doughy had left the door open so that the warm, fresh air could dry out the barn.

Under the chicken house lived a cute little animal.  She wasn’t very big, and her coat was black except for the white stripes down her back.  She had lived under the chicken house all her life, and she wasn’t afraid of anything in the barnyard.  She would walk under the six big horses much as if their legs were tree trunks.  Dogs worried her not.  They would only try to catch her once.  After that they stayed well away, leaving when she walked near.

She didn’t bother the chickens, except to take an egg once in a while to make her coat shine.  Dough Doughy didn’t mind, for he often fed eggs to his six big horses to make their coats shine.  The only things that tried to get away when she arrived, but didn’t often succeed, were the mice and the very few rats that lived in the barn.  Some of the wiser mice lived in the barn to a ripe old age.  The rats, however, never lasted over a week.   Rats and mice were Petunia’s main food, and with her around, Dough Doughy had few problems.

The warm weather brought Petunia out from her nice dry nest.  She was as hungry as all the other wild citizens of the farm.  She had already eaten everything around the chicken house.  The food Dough Doughy set out for her was filling, but she was a little tired of it; so she was off to the barn.

Petunia hadn’t been to the barn in three weeks; so the mice were playing all over the place.  Petunia entered the open door, stopped, and looked around.  Boy, oh boy!  What a sight for a hungry skunk!  Way, way over near the far end, fully forty feet away, was a big rat, chewing on a bag of feed.  In between Petunia and the rat were about a half dozen mice.

What should she do?  Should she catch a small mouse that she was sure of, or try for the rat, which was forty feet away, but only six feet from his hole in the wall and safety?  What do you think?  Well, sir, almost faster than the eye could follow, Petunia streaked across the forty feet.  Before the rat knew she was coming, it was too late.  Mr. Rat made a fine meal for Petunia.

After a big meal, most animals like to sleep, and Petunia was no different.  She slowly walked out to the chicken house and was soon fast asleep in the sun.  She had been napping for about an hour when she was awakened by a dog barking.  Opening her eyes and springing to her feet, she saw Sam.  He would lunge forward barking loudly and then back off.  He repeated this over and over.  Petunia couldn’t retreat to her den under the chicken house, because Sam was between her and the entrance.

Petunia didn’t want any trouble; so she backed off toward the barn.  Sam kept coming after her, barking every step of the way.  He didn’t know anything about skunks, but he was about to find out.  Petunia reached the barn, still slowly backing away from Sam, when she realized that Sam wasn’t going to stop making a pest of himself.  She turned and ran as fast as she could.  Sam was doing a good job of keeping up with her as they raced across the pasture.

Dough Doughy was out in the pasture rounding up the horses, and he saw Sam chasing Petunia.  “Well, well,” he thought, “Sam is about to learn another lesson the hard way.  He will be a mighty lonely dog before this is over.”

Petunia reached the fence and raced under it and on into the woods, where she holed up in a hollow tree.  The hole was near the ground, but too small for Sam.  Petunia knew she would be safe from harm.  Poor Sam reached the fence and rolled head over tail, unable to stop.  He then had to hunt for a hole under the fence large enough for him to go through.  He soon found the hollow tree where Petunia was holed up.  He barked, he scratched at the hole, and he stuck his head in; he did everything he could to get Petunia.

Soon, enough was enough, and any more was too much.  Petunia turned her tail toward Sam, up went the flag, and out shot the gas, hitting Sam in the face and front.  Sam let out a howl you could hear for a mile or more.  He rolled in the dirt and rubbed his head on the ground, trying to clear his eyes.  After a while, he could see well enough to go home.  Yelping every step of the way, he reached home in record time.

Dough Doughy had waited out by the barn after he drove the horses in.  He listened to Sam as he made his way to the hollow tree.  Dough Doughy knew just what was going on every minute of the time.  When Petunia threw the charge of gas from the glands under her tail,  Dough Doughy heard Sam yelp, and he knew what to do.  Going into the barn, he opened the door in a little cabinet and took out a bottle of medicine for Sam’s eyes.  He then went to the brooder house, where the baby chicks are kept, and filled a big tub with warm water.

Soon Sam was home, his eyes were taken care of, and he had been given a hot bath, a good drying off, a warm bed in the brooder house, a hot meal, and plenty of time to think about chasing striped kitty cats.  For about a month, no one came near Sam except to bring him his food.

More of Dad’s stories at


You may have noticed I left Mary's name on this.  She has crafted quite a few of her father's stories, or "Daddy John" stories.  Her homepage,, mentions yet another page with her CDs and down at the bottom of that page are books of both "Daddy John" and old time tall tales of "Uncle John."  Along the way in some of her blog articles and stories she credits being mentored by a storyteller I correctly called "a National Treasure", Chuck Larkin.  I'm grateful his website,, is still up as it includes a page overflowing with traditional stories and his specialty, tall tales.  In preparing today's article I learned that Chuck's family pays the cost of maintaining it.  I thank them.  Mary thanked Chuck for helping her gather (I'd say begin to gather) her father's bedtime stories into book format.  The "Uncle John" stories are also her father's stories, but Chuck further helped her clarify the tall tales, told with dialect, were a whole 'nother thing and deserve pointing to their tall tale origin.

I found some of those tall tales when I asked "Why was your father called 'Dough Doughy'?" 

This was her answer:

Dough Doughy by “Daddy John” Fussner

Long, long ago, there lived at the edge of the Land of Make Believe an old woman and her husband, an old man.  Living there at the edge of the Land of Make Believe was very lonely.

One day the old lady, Ma as she was called, was making doughnuts, and as she rolled out the dough, she thought of how nice it would be if she had some little children running around the house.  All of her children had long ago grown up and moved away, and her grandchildren lived so far away that she never saw them.  Just for fun, she cut a little boy out of the dough and fried him with the doughnuts.  Oh, he turned out so fine, fat and golden brown.  He looked so nice that Ma and Pa, her husband, decided not to eat him.

That night, the good old witch that lived on the big hill between the Land of Make Believe and Holiday Valley came sailing by on her broom.  Seeing the little doughboy on the kitchen table, she zoomed in for a closer look.  As she was standing there, she saw the little old woman’s dream.  The little old woman was dreaming that the boy was a real live boy and that she was making him a new suit of clothes.

“Well, well,” said the old witch to Midnight, her cat, “Let’s see what the old man is dreaming about.”  Then she had a look at his dream.

What do you thinking he was dreaming about?  He was dreaming that he was going fishing and that the little dough boy was a real live boy and was going along.  The old Witch stood there awhile, thinking.  Finally, she said, “Why not!”  Waving her magic broom, she said, “Get up, you lazy loafer,” to the little doughboy.

Do you think he did? Yes, he got up fast.

“That’s better,” said the old witch.  “Now, you listen to me and pay attention, because I’m only going to say this once.

“After I leave, you will go back to sleep.  You won’t wake up until the old ones sit down to breakfast.  You will then wake up slowly so as not to startle them, and you will show them that you are alive.  If, after a while, they believe in the Land of Make believe, you can go forth and find some of your friends. If they don’t believe, they are to know nothing of this, and after a while, I will come and take you with me.  If that happens, they will think that it was all a dream and they will never know that you were here.”  With that, she waved her broom, putting the boy to sleep.  Then swiftly, swiftly away she zoomed on her broom.

Everything worked out fine, and the old man and old woman had a little boy to keep them company.  What do I mean by had?  Well, I mean that since that was a long time ago, the little boy has grown up to a man named Dough Doughy, but as we are still back at the time of Dough Doughy’s birth, let’s get back to the story.

After a few weeks, the old man and lady decided to make another little doughboy.  The little old woman rolled out the dough and cut out another little boy, hoping that he, too, would come to life.  However, as the doughboy was lying on the table waiting for his turn to be cooked, Pa got hungry. No, he didn’t eat the doughboy. Instead he made himself a rye bread and Limburger cheese sandwich.  Pa didn’t notice when he dropped some of the cheese on the doughboy and neither did Ma; so she cooked him, cheese and all.

Well, Limburger cheese is the strongest cheese of all; so this brother for Dough Doughy was really strong.  Therefore, he was named Samson.  You will be hearing a lot about them from time to time.  Now, however, it is time for bed; so say your prayers and go to sleep.


I bet you recognized that as Mary's family's version of a story that goes by many names, Gingerbread Boy or Man, Hoecake, the Runaway Pancake, and even Frank Baum, when not writing about The Wizard of Oz, wrote about John Dough!  Nothing says a story has to be factual.  Tall tales delight in starting with what seems ordinary and then s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s those facts.  In the bedtime stories  of Daddy John, like the story of Sam meeting a skunk, that doesn't keeping it from being "true."

Mary lives in St. Peters, Missouri and has long been active in my hometown of the St. Louis area.  I asked her what would be her favorite picture of herself.  She chose this from "Our Renaissance Faire is held in Wentzville, in Rotary Park. (Where we once were trapped by sudden flooding and had to be rescued by fire fighters who set up a rope to hold onto as they walked us through rushing waters . . . but that's another story)."

She added, "All those littles are now taller than I am."

Let's here it for audiences that keep on growing and for stories that pop up, grow, travel and change.


Mary Garrett said...

Thanks so much for putting this together. My father paid for my typing lessons the summer before 9th grade, and then handed me his stories to type. I'm so glad he put them on paper for us and that he told us bedtime stories, no matter how tired he might have been from work.

Lois Keel said...

Knowing you as a storyteller, Mary, I'm fairly sure you have shaped the retelling. True?