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Papa Joe  ~  Travel Notes

PJ's Travel Notes

From: Judy Schmidt <FransDotir@aol.com>


Subject: Hangin' out with Papa Joe

Date: Tuesday, July 29, 1997 11:36 AM

Tuesday, July 29, 1997 11:33 a.m.

Granny Sue,

I know you're going to have a great time with Papa Joe. Here are a few of my special memories from this past two weeks.

Sunday, July 13

The vardo arrives from Flint around noon. Papa Joe and my husband, Mr. Manfred, hit it off immediately and we relax a good part of that afternoon and evening sitting under the cottonwood trees in the front looking out over Manfred's garden and the lake as we get to know each other by trading stories. People in the Lake community, some of whom remember when I was a baby, stop by, and Papa Joe spends a lot of time telling them how he got his name plus long and short versions of what happened to Tasha Tripod's missing leg.

Lois Sprengnether and daughter Jamie come by for an hour or two as well and we end up having an improbable but spirited discussion on the pros and cons of studying Latin in high school. It's very hot, so, somewhere in there we take a swim in the Lake. Jamie and I watch the sunfish keep smaller fish away from the circular"nests" they've made in the sandy bottom of the shallows.

Lois and Jamie have promises to keep and can't stay for dinner. At dinner I begin to wonder what Papa Joe lives on - I find out later that it's mostly blueberries. He's apologetic, claims his appetite picks up in cold weather. In truth, even when it's not so hot the man has to be reminded to eat.

Monday July 14

Next morning, Manfred drives back to Ann Arbor early and I go back aroundpm in the vardo with Papa Joe - hot wind blowing through the truck's windows, more heat coming up through the floor. Fortunately we have time to cool off, shower and relax before the Public Library performance.

Since the thunderstorms seem to be holding off, my biggest worry is will we get an audience. The library is filled with people and Papa Joe recruits some of them by walking through the children's room playing his recorder and inviting people down to the multi-purpose room. At ten minutes to he sooths my anxiety by relating a rule of thumb: you multiply by ten the number of people in the audience at ten minutes before the show is supposed to start. It's pretty close - we have four people at 10 minutes to 7 and about 35 when we start the show.

As part of my intro, I tell the audience how I thought Papa Joe's last name was Tiac, which is what I sent to the newspapers in the press release. I only found out in conversation on Sunday that Tiac stands for The Internet.

Access Connection. Papa Joe has an unintentionally humorous clipping from the Ann Arbor News to show his Internet provider when he goes back to New Hampshire.

The audience is lovely and my telling of the Iroko Man goes well, but I am very glad afterwards that I went first. There's no way in the world I'd ever follow Papa Joe on a program! His rapport with the entire audience, but especially with the children is at a level I've never experienced before.

In the middle of "Jack Frost", his version of an old Russian folktale, he elicits suggestions from every child in the audience for a celebratory breakfast to be cooked by the villainous old woman of the piece. Pancakes are out of the question since,in this story, he has already established that they are served for breakfast only on the day of a funeral. The fifteen or so youngsters giggle with delight as Papa Joe mirrors their postures and his mobile face reacts to their menu proposals both bizarre and mundane: "hamburger? peanut butter?" bacon and eggs with oranges?"

"Waffles," offers a 7 year old on the left side of the room to Papa Joe's nod. "Waffles with Nutella" amends a slightly older girl in the right front row. "Nutella? What's Nutella?" asks Papa Joe, squinching his forehead. Though, 3,500 children have helped polish his telling of this tale, Ann Arbor is the first place the hard-hearted old woman serves an exotic hazlenut-cocoa spread on her waffles!

During the show, children and grown-ups alike snap their fingers or click their tongues to simulate Jack Frost's approach, then howl, "Old woman's daughter frozen cold" along with the story's three-legged dog character, Tasha Tripod. After the program, the children cluster around Papa Joe until their parents cajole them away. Still later, under the shade of a mulberry tree in the Library parking lot, one family gathers beside Papa Joe's "vardo", to meet the original Tasha Tripod. Released from the rig, a small truck camper painted with ivy leaves and mounted on a 1980 Datsun truck, Tasha wriggles ecstatically under Papa Joe's restraining hand, her blue Husky eyes staring uncannily out of a black Shepherd face. She escapes restraint just long enough to bestow a lick on the face of the little boy who is clearly puzzling over her missing front leg. He will return home with two stories to tell, "Jack Frost" and Papa Joe's three legged dog, who kissed him.

My heart is filled all week long with the laughter of children delighted by a grown up who hasn't forgotten how much fun it is to be silly.

I get to spend two more weekends at the Lake cooking for company and conversing with Papa Joe - have to be careful not to chop off the ends of my fingertips along with the onions while I'm listening - During these two weeks and all the conversations we've both been following the Storytell threads and I, am thoroughly confused about whether we discussed one or another issue between us or was it something I read on the list.

Tuesday, July 22

Papa Joe takes a break from the Tot Lots in Flint to spellbind about 55 grown-ups and kids in the housing Co-op where I live in Ann Arbor. He's already described how he handles a couple of disruptive boys, but hasn't said anything about getting three quarters of this diverse audience up shuffling around the room as they are all stuck to each other and to the golden goose being carried by Silly Sam, the woodcutter's youngest son.

Folks, you have to see this man get a family audience in gear! I have learned a LOT in these two weeks both in discussion and in observation - I begin to see places for audience participation in stories where I never saw them before. But that uncanny grasp of the audience as a whole and the individuals within it - that's something else. Thanks, Papa Joe, for helping me expand the possibilities.

Working on it in Ann Arbor,

Judy Schmidt (FransDotir@aol.com)

P.S. That spot behind the cottage under the cottonwoods will sure seem empty without the vardo.

Papa Joe  ~  Travel Notes

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