ROCKINGHAM — Tyris Jones was born and grew up in Laurinburg. He graduated from Scotland High School in 1987 and enrolled at N.C. Central University. Although drama was his major, Jones said he didn’t get serious about it until about a year into college.
“Once I got to college, it was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this,’” he said. “But I took that leap of faith and tried it.”
At N.C. Central, Jones acted in plays such as “Dreamgirls.” He graduated in 1992 with a degree in theater arts.
During Monday’s storytelling performance at Leath Memorial Library, the 43-year-old Jones displayed his storytelling skills for an audience of kids and adults during National Storytelling Night. He was joined on stage by Richmond County residents J.A. and Azalea Bolton as the three spun stories about different topics.
The sign of a successful storyteller is to weave one tale into another seamlessly. A story can start at one place and time and end up in a completely different one.
Summers with Pop-Pop
Jones talked about spending summers with his grandparents in the country. His grandpa, who he called Pop Pop, climbed a hill with Jones on his back.
“I think my Pop Pop invented rock-climbing,” he said. “I ain’t lying.”
His story continued with him taking out a pair of binoculars and seeing a large, green field of grass with a huge pine stump and a huge pond.
“I started seeing all the animals in the world,” he said, and then went on to name some of the animals — Einstein the elephant, Sammy the seal, Jasper the jaguar, Wally the whale and Oprah the octopus.
Once his story had ended, Jones gave the young people in the audience a piece of advice.
“Children,” he said, “an education will take you a long way. Ducky ducky, quack quack.”
Azalea Bolton showed everyone a picture of a possum and told the legend of the animal.
“Here I am all by myself with my beautiful tail,” she sang, playing the possum in the story.
The possum went on to interact with a deer and a bear, each time persuading them to help him get persimmons out of a persimmon tree, a task he was too lazy to accomplish himself.
The deer asked, “How did you get the persimmons out of the tree?”
“I got a running start and butted the tree and all the persimmons fell down like rain,” the possum replied.
This didn’t work for the deer and he left the scene with a bruised head, said Azalea.
The bear asked the same question, and the possum’s response this time was, “I climbed the tree and shook the limb and persimmons fell down like rain.”
This, of course, didn’t work for the bear. He fell out of the tree and left with a bruised bottom.
The wolf, Azalea said, had other ideas: His pack would eat the possum instead of persimmons.
They chased the possum all the way to the river where the possum teased them from tree to tree. The chief wolf was able to grab hold of the possum’s tail, but was left with a mouthful of hair.
“Because of this,” Azalea Bolton said, “possums only come out at night. If you see one in the trees looking for persimmons, don’t believe anything that possum tells you.”
To the zoo
J.A. Bolton, not to be outdone, told a shorter possum story of his own.
A man was riding around with a possum in his car when he was spotted by a highway patrolman.
“You need to take that possum to the zoo in Asheboro,” J.A. Bolton recalled the trooper saying.
A week later, the patrolman saw the same man riding around with the same possum in his car.
“I thought I told you to take that possum to the zoo in Asheboro,” the trooper said.
“I did,” the man replied. “We had so much fun, we’re going to the state fair in Raleigh.”
Again, moving one story into another, J.A. Bolton went on to tell a tale about a couple who visited the state fair year after year. The husband always wanted to take an airplane ride, but the wife would always talk him out of it because of the steep $10 price that came with it.
Bolton said the pilot told the couple he would make them a deal. If they could stay quiet the entire trip, it would be a free ride.
Looking to still take their money, the airplane pilot barrel-rolled and dipped and dove trying to get the couple to scream. Finally after giving up, Bolton said, the pilot landed the plane.
“Well, I don’t know how you did it, but you didn’t make a sound,” the pilot said.
“I started to say something when Edna fell out,” the husband replied. “But $10 is $10.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.