Monday, February 12, 2001
Hillsborough storyteller does more than simply weave yarns
By MARK HARPER | News-Journal Staff Writer
DELAND — Windell Campbell's props were in place. The clock struck 1 p.m. No children were in sight.
"No problem," he said. Then he strode into the lobby of the DeLand Public Library and convinced Monica McLaughlin and the three children in her care — their arms full of books — to stick around for a few minutes and listen to his stories.
A fourth child, a boy, later joined them.
Campbell, a professional storyteller and sixth-grade teacher in the Hillsborough County schools, shared three stories — two geared toward children — Saturday. April Swann, 10, was glad he did.
Wearing a nondescript olive shirt and green khakis, Campbell used his voice, his eyes and a couple of puppets to tell the story of "Sody Salleratus."
For the tale, involving a family of four, a squirrel and a hungry bear, he required his audience to participate in a couple of ways: to occasionally sing-song the title and to raise their hands menacingly whenever the bear made an entrance.
In the story, the old woman sends in succession her boy, girl, then husband to the store to get "Sody Salleratus," a 19th century term for baking soda, so she could bake some biscuits. And despite her warnings, each stops off for some berries, where the bear promptly devours them.
Simply telling the children the bear ate the main characters wasn't enough for Campbell, who understands the importance of showing in storytelling. He moved toward the audience, stuck a teddy bear in one person's face, then vibrated his lips loudly and shook his head violently, making the sound, A-b-b-b-u-u-u-l-l-l-a-a-a-h!"
Each time he did this, his audience cringed. "I knew he was going to come at me," said April McLaughlin, 9, who enjoyed Campbell's use of puppets. "I was like, 'Oh, no!' "
The squirrel was the hero of the story, causing the bear to jump after him and crash to the ground, allowing the people to pop out of the bear's mouth and return home.
April McLaughlin was not as enthralled with Campbell's next story, a fractured version of "Cinderella," he called "Rindacella." She said the story was "like a puzzle."
Knowing most children could tell him the story of "Cinderella," Campbell switched the first letters of words in familiar phrases. "Once upon a time," became "Twonce upon a wine." And "in a faraway land" was "in a laraway fand."
Instead of "dropping her slipper," Rindacella "slopped her dripper." When the prince spotted her it was "love at sirst fight." And when he slipped her glass shoe back on her foot, it was 'exactly the sight rize."
"It kind of sounded like a different language," April Swann said.
After the performance, Campbell said it wasn't too difficult to learn to spoonerize. What is tough sometimes, he said, is turning it off when he launches into the next story. He also is diligent about avoiding unintentional curse words. "I'm careful when I say gairy modfother," he said.
His final story was a folk tale called "The People Could Fly." He seared it into his listeners' memories with another prop, a bullwhip.
He pawed the whip as he told of Africans forced to make the passage to America. While others forgot their dreamlike African power of flying, one, named Toby, clung onto it.
Campbell told of their life in America, their "hard as a rock pile" owner and their whip-wielding driver.
He spoke of a slave, Sarah, who worked the fields while carrying a child on her back. He noted the driver's annoyance at the baby crying.
Crack! Campbell snapped the whip as he told how the blow struck Sarah down. The story transcends the brutality of slaves' experience. Toby helps Sarah and other slaves fly from the plantation, to a place the "massahs" couldn't go.
Campbell, who has taught for 22 years and been a professional storyteller for nine, said his influences include Jackie Torrance, a prolific storyteller he once heard, and storytelling songwriters of the 1970s, such as Jim Croce and Billy Joel.
His wife, Pam Lewis, attested to how frequently Campbell works at his storytelling. She said she often finds him in front of a mirror or wandering the house speaking to himself.
Campbell then related his story to a handful of audience members.
"We bought a house and we didn't know the name of the street it was on," he said. "We thought it was funny when we found out it was called Folklore Drive."
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