Monday, September 15, 2014

Bread and Roses Festival, Lawrence, MA – Community Comes Together

Monday, September 1 – Labor Day. My car was loaded with tent, chairs, and banners, but with hazy expectations for the workshop. Months ago I had a vision that gave Stories in the Streets the nod to present Your Story, Our Story: If you lived it, you can tell it at Lawrence’s Bread &Roses Heritage Festival, the biggest Labor Day celebration of its kind in the region. Now I had three volunteer storytellers on board but still no clear directions on when and where to set up. I worried that both my vision and volunteers could disappear into the melee.

Some tellers used our story prompts.
This one: Pets
Two weeks later, I am still smiling.  As I had hoped, story predominated. Just a little prodding was needed to get our first storyteller to give her account of the attention she and her husband lavish on their “grand-dog,” “Can you believe it? I’m eighty-three and don’t have a single grandchild.  Now, that’s what I would really like.”
The sound of story spread from the tent and more people trickled in.  An eager-faced 15 year old skipped in. She recognized me from a fairytale residency I had done at her school.  She declined any coaching – “No, you already told me what to do.” – then gave an account of social ostracism from her elementary years. (“Worst four years of my life.”) However, her timing, verbal asides and facial expressions made us laugh; her lifted shoulders and head showed us her present-day confidence.  We all felt she just needed us to listen.
Here were our oldest and youngest “street tellers”, both born and residing in Lawrence.
The aim of the Bread & Roses Heritage Festival is to celebrate the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence. It serves as a current day reflection on the Lawrence Strikes of 1912, termed the Bread and Roses strike. The strike succeeded in raising wages and conditions because of the unification of more than a dozen ethnic groups.
The spirit of solidarity was in the Stories in the Streets tent. Terese made real this summer’s prevalent image of Market Basket protestors holding signs and chanting in front of empty store parking lots. We reveled with a father who managed to bond with his teenage son on a European trip gone wrong. We lamented with a young, single mother who suffered from epilepsy. She was arrested at her daughter’s preschool because the local police could think of a number of incriminating reasons for her banging on the wall that did not include a medical condition.
Auntie Kim's gravy store went
along with the Holidays theme.
People traveled to the festival and some came specifically to tell at our tent. We met Auntie Kim from New Hampshire and Ruth Canonico from Chelmsford, both storytellers who shared.  Others meandered over from the neighboring tent of the Lawrence History Center delighted that they could listen AND tell.

Story sharing helps community come together. We hear what makes people passionate and frustrated and delighted, and so find the common threads that unite us all.

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