Folklore is a special discipline. This is a subjective statement, and the only real defense I can offer for this claim is a demonstration of why it is special to me. In large measure, that is what this book is about—what a trained folklorist finds so very appealing about the field of folklore study. I enjoy listening to stories, and my training as a folklorist helps me enjoy them even more. In this book I try to lay bare the process whereby I hear and enjoy personal narratives. So my first round of thanks goes to all the people who have been instrumental in my training as a folklorist and student of literature, especially the faculty and students who were a part of my graduate experience at the Folklore Institute.
Less specific but equally important is the debt I owe to the larger academic community I have been a part of over the ensuing years. This study does, I hope, reflect my participation in this larger community. Many of the concerns I address are or have been in the air among my colleagues at Indiana, at professional meetings, and in the pages of publications in folklore and adjacent fields. I am not breaking new ground in attending to text and context, in attempting auto-ethnography, in analyzing the social base of seemingly idiosyncratic stories. Yet, the way these ideas come together in my mind and in response to these particular stories is unique and, I hope, instructive. The constellation of traditions, skills, and ideas that inform my interpretation reflect my personal experience as well as my assimilation of the concerns and methods of literary folkloristics. Folklore studies provide the discipline its own best examples of reflexive historiographic case books.
I am grateful to the many people whose talents and energy benefited me and the project represented by this book. Some were helpful primarily through their own scholarly discourse, both formal and informal: especially, Richard Bauman, David Bleich, Linda Dégh, Alan Dundes, Gary Alan Fine, Robert Georges, and Henry Glassie. Others offered personal support or practical advice when it was needed, especially Richard Dorson, before he died. Mark Workman gave me an invaluable close reading of the manuscript, and I very much appreciate his suggestions, large and small.
The copyeditor at Indiana University Press did a wonderful job. Suzanne Hull and Michelle Rhee did the illustrations. The Folklore Institute secretaries, Ruth Aten, Velma Carmichael, and Syd Grant, all helped with some parts of the manuscript, at least before I finally mastered word processing. Joan Catapano, senior sponsoring editor, and Roberta Diehl, managing editor, were my patient and supportive contacts at Indiana University Press. I thank them and their staffs heartily for their warm and professional interactions. I am grateful to the professional journals that published my earlier research on personal narrative, and I am especially appreciative of the many well-wishing friends who have listened to and commented on my papers at professional meetings. You know who you are, and your interest has made all the difference.
My deepest appreciation goes to the two wonderful storytellers who share their stories in these pages—Loretta Dolby and Larry Scheiber, both of Huntington, Indiana. My sincerest apologies go to them as well; inevitably my uses and interpretations of their stories cannot do justice to their talent and creativity. I am happy to thank my sister, Carol, once again for all of her help in creating an effective fieldwork situation. My husband, Mark, and my daughter, Alexis, have offered a constant supply of support and distraction, whichever was needed. Above all, I thank my parents for the faith and love that nurtured initiative for such a project in the first place.