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Storyteller Linda Gorham fills McMurran Hall with song, laughter

By Staff | Oct 19, 2018

Storyteller Linda Gorham listens to a question during the question-and-answer portion of the Speak Story Series event in McMurran Hall on Oct. 9. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — “I was looking on Facebook today, and was looking at a photo of when I first met Adam in Jonesborough, Tennessee. I photo-bombed him, when he was taking a photo with his nieces and nephews,” laughed Linda Gorham about Speak Story Series founder Adam Booth, as he grinned back at her from across the room in McMurran Hall.

As the Oct. 9 Speak Story Series storyteller, Gorham filled the evening with energy, alternating between humorous and serious personal stories, along with unique retellings of familiar fairy tales.

“I tell a variety of different types of stories, and I thought I would take two of those to share with you tonight — one is of twisting familiar tales, like Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the other is of my family life,” Gorham said.

Recounting her childhood as the eldest child in a military family, Gorham described the difficulty of following her father’s rules, which he called “the book.”

“I tried my best — I went to church and taught Sunday School — and I was good with the book, until I turned 15-and-a-half, when I fell in love with a boy,” Gorham said, as the audience laughed. Gorham’s father told her she wouldn’t be allowed to continue dating her boyfriend if her grades fell, which she said, turned out to be a good thing for her grade point average. “Now what do you think about my grades? They went up!”

“So I defied the book. My father and I remained on good terms, but boyfriends became part of the rule, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ which I thought my dad made up,” she said with a smile.

When Gorham’s now-husband of over 30 years asked her father if he could marry Gorham, her father said yes — after a thorough questioning of her now-husband.

“John must have had all of the right answers, because Daddy said to me, ‘It’s in the book,'” Gorham laughed.

But, after telling her stories of family life and her father’s PTSD following his return from the Vietnam War, Gorham revealed the underlying story behind the origin of “the book.”

“The book” originally belonged to Gorham’s grandfather, who grew up as an orphan on a sharecropping farm in the South. His African American mother died in child birth after being raped by his white father, the son of the farm’s owner. Raised as a field hand by other sharecroppers on the farm, her grandfather took every chance he could to learn. When no work was needed to be done on the farm, her grandfather would make a bee-line to learn at school. And, when he escaped on a train headed to New Jersey, he carefully studied the behavior of the successful African American men on the train, the train’s porters, who wore navy suits and brown leather shoes, which to him symbolized success. He wrote all of his observations — ranging from social etiquette rules to words of wisdom — inside a little black book, or, as it came to be called, “the book.”

“The book” paid off for her grandfather, and sometime after he reached New Jersey, Gorham’s grandfather landed a job in his dream career as a porter.

Although Gorham’s family came from a difficult past, she made the most of her grandfather’s story, explaining how his wisdom and observations in “the book” are still a part of her family’s life to this day.To emphasize this point, she recounted one quote from “the book” that she still remembers her father instilling in her growing up.

“Many times he said to me, ‘Treat everyone with respect, even if they don’t treat you that way,'” Gorham said. “‘The book’ is the first story I told about my family, and it is the closest one to my heart.”

Earlier during the day, Gorham spent 35 minutes telling stories to a class at the Shepherdstown Day Care Center.