Theres been a revival in the popularity of oral storytelling over the past two decades. Patriotic stories have been particularly popular since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.
People want to express their strong feelings of patriotism during stressful, turbulent times such as we are now experiencing. They like to hear historical stories relating to the founding and development of this nation -- stories that reinforce their love of country. Stories that have a special relevancy to life in todays world are particularly popular.
I didnt fully realize how important patriotic stories had become until I (as a storyteller) received a top national award in the area of public communications from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. This was the George Washington Award for Excellence in Public Communications - presented primarily for my recent series of patriotic storytelling programs. Its the first such award ever presented to an oral storyteller. Here we have another indication of the current storytelling revival, and specifically the growing popularity of patriotic stories.
Here are a few quick examples of historic stories that todays patriots love to hear.
George Washington, after serving as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, wanted no national leadership role after the war. He just wanted to retire to his farm at Mount Vernon and be a farmer for the rest of his life.
"Im a soldier and a farmer - not a politician," he kept telling those who were urging him to become an active leader in forming the new government.
However, Washington knew that it was vitally important that a strong and respected leader take control of political life in this fledging nation. Otherwise, the country couldnt survive. Soon after the war, individual states were beginning to act like independent nations, threatening war against their neighboring states. There was no system of government -- no political control or constitution to guide the way.
He also knew there was no individual, other than himself, who had the total admiration and respect of the people. And he recognized that his first duty was to the healthy growth and development of this new nation, not satisfying his own desires. He finally agreed to serve one term as our first president. But, again putting the interests of the nation first, he served two successful terms.
There are many fascinating stories about Washingtons life when he was struggling with the decision to become a political leader, and first president.
The birth of our American flag is one of my most popular patriotic stories. This is the story of Betsy Ross, who was operating an upholstery shop in Philadelphia in 1776. In June of that year, a tall, impressive looking man walked through the door of her shop. He was wearing a uniform with many medals, and was followed by several other men.
As he walked to the counter, Betsy realized this man was General George Washington, the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. "Are you Betsy Ross,? he asked. "Yes sir General, what can I do for you?"
"Betsy, I understand youre the best seamstress in all of Philadelphia and I have a really important job Id like for you to do, if youre willing."
Washington explained that a flag was needed to give people a visual symbol of the new, free and independent nation that was being formed. He asked Betsy to sew the first flag. He then took a large paper carried under his arm and showed Betsy a rough sketch of the flag design he would like.
Betsy studied the sketch carefully, then said, "Yes, General, Im sure I can do the job for you. But if you dont mind, sir, Id like to offer a couple of suggestions."
Instead of a circled group of 13 six-pointed stars (representing the 13 colonies) in the upper left corner on a blue field, she suggested five-pointed stars. And instead of a square flag, as noted in the sketch, she recommended a rectangular shaped flag - much wider than it was deep.
Betsys suggestions were approved by Washington. She went to work immediately on the flag, realizing this was probably the most important assignment she would ever have.
A couple of days later it was completed. Washington was delighted with the flag. That same flag design, with 13 five-pointed stars on a rectangular shaped flag, was soon waving on flagpoles throughout the colonies. The following year, a special resolution was enacted by the Continental Congress, declaring this design to be the official flag of this new nation.
Many of my patriotic stories have been told at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where Ive served as resident storyteller since 1995. Lou Anne Missildine, director of education at the Reagan Library, made this comment about the value of patriotic and other historic stories in the oral storytelling form:
"History is a story, so why not experience it that way. Children and adults enjoy the encounter and ability to interact with a storyteller. As stories are told with factual accuracy and humor, students who would normally balk at an `educational visit have a great time - and dont even realize theyre learning history as well."