Sitting at the Feet of the Master

In the summer of 2010, I was taking a week long summer workshop with my storytelling coach, Connie Regan-Blake. As part of the workshop we were to go on a field trip to Banner Elk to the homeplace of Connie’s teacher, the late Ray Hicks, master storyteller. We were to go meet his wife Rosa and his youngest son, Ted. Connie said that Ted never told the old stories until his daddy died but when Ray passed away that Ted started telling the old stories almost just like his daddy did. She said that Ted would tell us some Jack tales.

I was very excited about all of this. I had never gotten to hear Ray but I could tell by the way that Connie’s eyes lit up when she talked about Ray and his family that I was in for a very special treat. I was particularly excited to meet Ray’s wife, Rosa because I had heard that Rosa was very knowledgeable about wild crafting herbs and mountain doctoring and I was very into learning about that.

When we finally got to the homeplace we were all very excited. We got out of the van and went to the house. Rosa greeted us at the door. Her tiny hummingbird frame, she was exactly what I was expecting. As we moved into the entrance of the house, all of the women in the group (and the group was all women) went straight from the front living room into the kitchen to get a closer look at the wood cookstove that Rosa still used for her everyday cooking.

When they all flocked into the kitchen, I just sort of stayed back because the kitchen was already full. I looked over to the right and there was Ted. He was laying on one of the beds in the living room. He had busted his knee and was unable to walk. He had a bushy long beard that flowed down over the bibs of his overalls. I just quietly looked over at him and he looked at me and then he said, “Wanna hear a Jack tale?” I said, “oh boy do I.”  I sort of jumped up and bounced across the room and onto the other bed that was there in the living room.

Then he began…”now in this one, Jack was at home yet living with his mama.”…that was it. I was hooked. Ted told Jack tales for the rest of the afternoon and I clung to every word he said.

On the last day of the workshop, Connie led us out on the porch of her house. She gave each woman a bottle of bubbles. She asked us to take turns blowing bubbles and making wishes for our storytelling plans moving forward. When it got to be my turn, I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to go back to Banner Elk as often as possible and I wanted to sit at the knee of the Master. So that’s what I did.

As often as I could I would scoot over to Banner Elk to see Ted. Even when he got sick and ended up in a nursing home, I would still go. Sometimes it was just me alone. Sometimes I brought my husband and children.

My favorite times were when I would load Ted up in my car and drive him over to the old homeplace to see his mama. We would drive all over “the beech” – that’s what Ted called Beech Mountain where he lived. One time we drove over to “the land of oz” an abandoned theme park that my parents took me to as a child. Wherever we went, Ted was always talking and telling me the old Jack Tales and encouraging me to tell them.

When Ted passed away it took a toll on all of us who loved Ted. He really was just the kindest person that I know I have ever met. His sweetness touched the lives of many. To die at such a young age, it also broke the hearts of many.

It was almost a month to the day later that Rosa passed away as well. The two shared the same birthday on March 3rd.  Ted Hicks changed my life for the better in so many ways. He died a legacy in his own right.

Vixi Jil Glen, Storyteller, Leicester, NC