The Life and Times of Ray Hicks

by

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from Daniel Allar ( http://folkloreforum.net) and David Holt (www.davidholt.com): The Life and Times of Ray Hicks: Keeper of the Jack Tales by Lynn Salsi. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2008. $34.95.)

Lynn Salsi’s The Life and Times of Ray Hicks: The Keeper of the Jack Tales is a biography of Ray Hicks, a master storyteller from Banner Elk, North Carolina. Hicks farmed in the Appalachian Mountains his entire life, and the “Jack Tales” referred to in the title of this book were passed down through his family in that area. He had very little money his entire life, worked from sunup to sundown just to keep his family fed, and spent most of his free time telling the stories he had learned from his grandfather or playing the French harp.

Although the book is basically a rundown of some of the most important aspects and events in Hicks’s life, some reoccurring themes emerge. For example, Hicks was very proud of the fact that he stayed home, cared for his mother, and was not bound by material items. Hicks was also proud… that he was the “true” holder of the “Jack Tales,” which were stories featuring a poor character from the mountains—Jack—who behaved much the way Hicks did. In fact Hicks repeatedly claimed that he and Jack were the same person.

He and his wife, Rosa,  lived the old-time way, raising their own food, collecting and selling ginseng and herbs, cooking and heating with wood in the same house where Ray was born. “Cut your own wood and it warms you twicet.”

He was a 19th century man in a 20th century world. He knew more about the old timey ways than anyone I have ever met. Last time I saw him he was telling me how they used to put dirt in a wound or cut to heal it…but he said you can’t do that anymore…no dirt in the world is clean enough now.

He was what we call an all day talker. He would start talking the minute you got there…start right in on a story. He had the most amazing accent, kinda talked way back in his throat. He’d say, “Jack seen a man comin down out of the woods with a great big head and he was knocking big trees down and hittin big rock boulders and wasn’t even hurtin’ a hair in his own head… he said, ‘Hello there. Who are ye?’ ‘ My name is Hardy Hard Head.’ ‘Well Hardy hard Head you must be…into my ship.’ ”

By the end of the day he’d still be talking, telling you the story. You’d get up and say, “Ray, it’s gettin late, gotta go.” He’d follow you all the way up to the car standing in the road still telling the tale. You’d just have to put down the window, wave and say, “Ray, I’ll see you..love you” and drive off with him still standing there still telling the story in the middle of the dirt road.

 

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