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Friday, May 26, 2023

Alfreda Harris plus Wheeler - Kuau (The Frog) - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

One of the things I remember my late mother-in-law saying was so hard as we get older is the number of friends we lose by their going before us.  I was shocked this past week to learn Alfreda Harris, had died.  Alfreda was my friend and fellow member of the former storytelling group, Flint Area Story Tellers.

Today's article is posted in loving memory of Alfreda Ann Harris.  Someone so special will not be forgotten.  Alfreda was a lively, knowledgeable storyteller who called her work Porch Stories.   I will miss her and know those who heard her tell will miss her, too.  She had so many stories to tell and they were often enriched by her travels, both as a Peace Corps volunteer in the South Pacific's Solomon Islands and travels beyond to a total of 16 countries which I remember definitely included Africa. 

Because many of my readers may be here only to read a story, I decided to hunt for a Public Domain story from the Solomon Islands since I am sure Alfreda would want people to discover this little known Pacific Island, especially during this Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month.  While this annotated bibliography of Solomon Islands folklore shows coverage starting in the second half of the Twentieth Century, little is available earlier and therefore free of copyright.  

Gerald Wheeler in 1926 was the exception.  Wheeler's ability to speak many languages served him well when he went on an anthropological expedition in 1908 and 9 to the Solomon Islands.  His 1926 book, Mono-Alu folklore contains 79 myths, stories, and songs.  He gives both the story in a brief English version and the original as he heard it.  In 1926 Wheeler published Mono-Alu folklore, describing 79 myths, stories and songs. For each myth he provided a transcription in the Mono-Alu language and an English translation.

His English version is so brief and seems to miss the way it was originally told.  This little tale of why the frog lives in the water seems better told with all the repetition left in as Wheeler heard it.  The book took a bit of prowling, but I finally learned a Pakusi is a stone axe


Photographer andreasgramiger ~ The laughing frog | Laughing animals ...
(Laughing Frog by photographer Andreas Gramiger)

That story just seem to call out for a laughing frog picture and when I think back on Alfreda I always picture her with a smile.  

To let Alfreda speak again to us, I went searching online.  There weren't a lot of places, but there were a few where Alfreda described herself: her professional LinkedIn write-up; when she became a Crim Mindful Fellow for Flint's Crim Finess Foundation (that brings a smile to me since the Crim annual race always seemed to coincide with the Michigan Storytellers Festival . . . may the festival someday return!); an online story from the Thirty-Three Days of Covid lockdown when her severely health damaged youngest sister hovered near death; and her 2005 article to Peace Corps Online about her gathering of Flint's "Porch Stories" for the Sloan Museum exhibit, "A View from the Front Porch"; she also led Virtual Story Circles for Sloan Museum "exploring themes of  resilience, neighborhoods, housing, and education. Community members are invited to share their own stories through guided discussions that lead to new experiences and narrative change for the Flint community" -- they said Alfreda "shares stories in hopes of transcending cultural boundaries and expanding global horizons. She believes there are lessons and wisdom to be gained in the telling and hearing of stories. Through stories she seeks to provide audiences with lasting learning, entertaining, and inspirational experiences. Her diverse background provides fertile ground for capturing the storytelling within everyone’s life journey."

If you follow those links you will see her strong connection to her family and living in the home where she grew up, along with her dedication to bringing out the stories of Flint's residents, and, as the Crim article let her say, she had a:

lifelong passion for learning, teaching, and making a difference in her community.  She has practiced mindfulness for over 30 years. She seeks opportunities to share mindfulness through storytelling.  Alfreda has a diverse background in education and the arts. 

Her love for Flint and both her volunteer and paid work will be missed.  Her love of her mother, brothers and sisters show where she has gone to be with family.  She said it best in her opening paragraph of Thirty-Three Days:

I am sheltering in place alone, but not lonely. I miss my Mama. She passed on Friday, January 24, 2020, after five weeks in the hospital. Besides being my mother, she was my housemate and best friend. The eldest of her six children (two boys and four girls), I am her next of kin. I am the one everyone looked to when it came to making decisions. I am the facilitator and advocate on behalf of our family. Now, walking through the house we shared and where I grew up, her presence is all around me. I hear her voice and see her everywhere. Mama left me with many wonderful, sunshine memories. As I grieve her, I am sheltering in place alone, but not lonely.

Talking about that family home in the Flint community of Beecher, the final sentence of the Crim article says "She resides in Beecher in the house where she grew up."  She still does. . . and in all the Porch Stories told through her encouragement.

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