Groans, sighs, and "here we go again" echoes in many minds as July 24th arrives--at least when another pioneer story is told to Latter-day Saints. This day is a state holiday in Utah and yet is often celebrated worldwide, not as a religious holiday but one to honor the pioneers who trekked west and entered the Salt Lake Valley. The tables upon tables of food at least bring back some smiles. Plus, many enjoy the ultimate firework displays that rival what is done for the 4th of July. Perhaps many LDS people would agree with what Schank said of ". . .another dull story. Culturally common stories almost always are, especially to members of the culture" (p. 206).
Schank later noticed, "The stories of our culture are those stories that we hear so often that they cease to seem like stories to us. They are the stories that we take for granted" (p. 218).
When I travel outside of Utah, several people request to hear pioneer stories. Though I have heard these stories all my life--or at least heavily during the month of July--I really couldn't think of any pioneer stories off the top of my head to share. Sometimes hearing the stories so much puts my brain on freeze. My ears tend to turn off after hearing the same story read the same way through the view of the same person.
In order to grab the attention of a predominantly LDS audience, I would have to shake up the story. Perhaps the story needs to be told from another point-of-view. Who else witnessed the event? What would happen if an inanimate object--like a covered wagon or a cast iron pot--could tell the story? Is there an imaginary person who could tell it that could still share the facts in an interesting way? What if that imaginary person was not LDS? In the case of the pioneers, this could mean a Ute Indian or a frontiersman like Jim Bridger. I could see this already perking up people in church.
The gists of pioneer stories that I do know focus on the mundane and the ordinary. Schank reminded us that "daily life is filled with the untold stories of the culture" (p. 205). Yet, these tales, told in the proper way, could transform the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Perhaps there is more interest in "growing up Mormon" or pioneer stories outside of Utah because of what Schank said, "Outsiders tell more interesting stories because they tell stories that are not known to their audience. Insiders tell stories that everyone accepts and that everyone has heard before. It takes a great storyteller to make such insider stories interesting" (p. 218).
Regardless of how much knowledge someone has of the LDS people, it is still an "important point [to] to personalize it, to particularize it, to draw as many references as possible to real world events that hearers may have themselves experienced so that they can identify with the story" (p. 214). Alluding to the Oregon Trail could be helpful or maybe something more modern such as military families who are constantly on the move.
In the end, "the ultimate in storytelling is to have the stories become the stories of the listeners, to have them think that these are actually their stories" (p. 217).
Maybe by next July 24th, I will finally have some pioneer stories in my repertoire that all people regardless of creed would be anxious to hear.
Until we tell again,