This episode was originally released on May 28, 2019.
Can you imagine a world where there are no stories?
A world without “Once upon a time...”, without “Long ago, in a faraway place…,” without “...The End”?
How would it feel to live in a world like that?
In this episode, we’ll find out!
Our story is called “Grandfather Stone.” It’s a legend from the Seneca people: Native Americans who originally lived in what’s now known as New York state.
Voices in this episode include Jon Bell, Jonathan Joss and Diane Rehm. Grown-ups, you may know Jonathan Joss from T-V shows like King of the Hill and Parks and Recreation, plus miniseries and feature films like Comanche Moon and The Magnificent Seven. And public-radio fans, you’ll recognize Diane Rehm from The Diane Rehm Show, and her NPR podcast, On My Mind.
This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and edited by Circle Round’s founder, Jessica Alpert. Original music and sound design by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.
ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her here.
Things To Think About After Listening
Think back to all the Circle Round stories you’ve heard so far. Then, think about all of the characters you’ve met.
Is there one particular character you especially relate to? Maybe the two of you have something in common, or the character achieves something you’ve always dreamt of doing.
Ask a grown-up to help you make a recording where you talk about this character. Tell us who the character is, what story they’re from, and why they resonate with you. Then, have your grown-up email us the audio file. Our address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Musical Spotlight: Native American Drone Flute
In a way, playing the Native American drone flute is like having your own choir: because of its two wooden tubes, the flute plays two notes at the same time! One side of the flute plays the melody, while the other plays a constant note (or “drone”). Traditionally, Native American peoples have played the flute as accompaniment in spiritual rituals and meditation. In our episode, we use it to accompany storytelling, too!
NARRATOR: Once upon a time… there was no “once upon a time.” Because the people had no stories to tell. They didn’t even know what a “story” was!
And that made for some very long, drawn-out winters, when the snow fell hard and deep and everybody was cooped up inside, with little to pass the time!
In one village, a boy lived with his grandmother. Every winter, the boy counted the days until spring, when he could take his spear and catch fish in the river. By the time the sun set each evening, the boy’s basket was always overflowing with plump, glistening bass and trout!
One year...on the first day of spring... when the blankets of snow melted away and colorful flowers sprang from the earth... the boy ran to the river. He waded into the water, his spear poised above his shoulder.
BOY: I see you, little fish. Right there, little fish!
NARRATOR: But every time he plunged his spear into the crystal-clear river...
NARRATOR: ...the slippery fish would zig-zag away...
NARRATOR: ...and disappear downstream.
NARRATOR: By the time the sun went down, the boy’s basket had only two fish in it.
BOY: Oh, no! I’ve never caught so few fish before! Grandmother’s depending on me for dinner. This is going to be one meager meal.
NARRATOR: Reluctant to face his grandmother, the boy decided to meander home a different way. He entered the dark forest, and took a left turn where he usually took a right.
Soon, he approached a shadowy clearing. As he stepped inside, he heard a deep, rumbling voice call out.
STONE: Young man… Would you like to hear a story?
NARRATOR: The boy whipped his head this way and that. All he could spot in the dusky clearing was a ring of trees and bushes... with a large, smooth stone standing majestically in the middle.
BOY: Who’s there?!? Who said that?!? And what… is a “story”?
NARRATOR: Again, the voice piped up.
STONE: A “story” tells about the things that happened before this time. It tells how things came to be, and why things came to be. (beat) So, I ask you again: would you like to hear a story?
NARRATOR: Remember: the boy was in no hurry to go back home. Besides, he was also… curious.
BOY: Yes, please! I would love to hear a “story”! Thank you! But first… who are you? And where are you? I don’t see anyone here!
NARRATOR: Just then, the moon broke through the clouds. A gleaming, white ray passed through the trees, and lit up the stone in the middle of the clearing. Suddenly, the boy realized where the voice was coming from: the stone!
STONE: I am Grandfather Stone. I have been here since time began, so I have many stories to tell. But first... storytellers should always receive something for their stories… a gift, in exchange for their gift. Have you something to give me?
NARRATOR: All the boy had with him were the two fish he’d caught that day. He reached into his basket, pulled out the larger fish, and placed it on top of the stone.
BOY: Will this trout do?
STONE: It will do. Thank you. Now. Come sit. And I will tell you a story, a legend about the world that was.
NARRATOR: The boy settled down on the ground and leaned his back against the cool, smooth stone. He closed his eyes as the stone began his story.
He told of a time when people made their home… in the sky! They were known as the Sky People. A great tree grew in their heavenly realm, but one day it was torn out by its roots. A woman tumbled through the hole it left behind, and she plummeted toward the world below.
Toward this world. Only back then, this world... was covered with water! And the animals who lived in this world… could speak! So the creatures decided they would save the woman who was falling from the sky. They used soil and dirt from the depths of the water to create a soft place for her to land: what we now know... as earth.
The boy hung on to Grandfather Stone’s every word. When the tale was over, he yearned for more.
BOY: That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard! I would ask you to tell another, but I have just one fish left, and Grandmother and I need to eat.
STONE: That’s alright, young man. It’s getting late and you should be heading home. Come back tomorrow, and I will tell you another story.
BOY: Thank you, Grandfather Stone.
NARRATOR: When the boy arrived at his house, his grandmother was wringing her hands with worry.
GRANDMOTHER: (worried/loving) My child! I was expecting you hours ago! Where have you been?
NARRATOR: The boy wasn’t sure what to do. Should he tell his grandmother about Grandfather Stone, and his stories? Or would she think he was talking nonsense?
He knew he had to do something.
The question was… what?
What would you do if you were the boy?
We’ll find out what happens… after a quick break.
NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “Grandfather Stone.”
When we left off, a boy had spent the evening listening to a story told by Grandfather Stone. Before the tale, the boy had given the stone a gift; in this case, one of the two fish he’d caught that day.
Now, remember: this was in a time before people knew what “stories” were, so when the boy got home late, with only one fish, he wasn’t sure what to tell his grandmother.
BOY: (not sure if he should tell her the truth...) I’m sorry, Grandmother. You see, I spent all day fishing, but I only managed to catch two fish. I was afraid to show you, so I took a longer way home, and -
GRANDMOTHER: Wait a minute!
NARRATOR: Grandmother’s eyes flashed toward the boy’s basket.
GRANDMOTHER: (suspicious but loving) You “only managed to catch two fish,” you say? Then why is there just one fish in your basket?
NARRATOR: The boy groped for words.
BOY: Oh! Right! Well, you know, I…
NARRATOR: Grandmother sighed.
GRANDMOTHER: (sigh) Alright. I can cook up some cornbread to help fill our bellies. But promise me, child: tomorrow you’ll go back to the river and catch more than one fish... yes?
BOY: Yes, Grandmother. Of course I will.
NARRATOR: When the boy went to sleep that night, his body was in bed … but his heart and mind were somewhere else. They were back in the dusky clearing, where Grandfather Stone waited with more stories.
In the morning, the boy grabbed his basket and spear, and walked to the river. But by the time the sun was setting, guess what? He’d only caught two fish! Again!
The boy considered going straight home, but now he was even more afraid of disappointing Grandmother. He was also eager to hear another story. Before he knew it, his feet whisked him back to the clearing in the forest.
STONE: Young man! I was hoping you’d return. (beat) Would you like to hear a story?
BOY: Yes, please, Grandfather Stone!
NARRATOR: The boy grabbed one of the two fish from his basket. He laid it on top of the stone.
STONE: Thank you. Now… I will tell you a story.
NARRATOR: Again, the boy relaxed on the ground, his eyes closed, his head resting against the stone’s cool, smooth surface.
The stone told a story about how long ago, when animals could talk, the proudest and most boastful creature… was Bear. The burly beast was always bragging about his most prized possession: a long, glossy, furry tail.
One winter, clever Fox decided he’d teach cocky Bear a lesson. Fox told Bear that if he stuck his tail through the ice on the river, the next day he would catch a bounty of fish! Well, come morning, guess whose tail was frozen beneath the ice?! Bear tried to yank it out, but it stayed behind in the ice... and ever since then, bears have had short tails.
By the time the story ended, the boy was grinning from ear to ear.
BOY: Oh, Grandfather Stone! These stories are extraordinary! I wish you could tell me more... but I only have one fish left.
STONE: Not to worry, young man. Come back tomorrow, and I will tell you another story.
BOY: Thank you, Grandfather Stone.
NARRATOR: When the boy got home, it was very late. As he walked through the door, he found Grandmother slicing a loaf of freshly-baked cornbread. He noticed she had tears in her eyes.
BOY: Oh, Grandmother — are you crying?!? I’m sorry I worried you! I didn’t mean to!
NARRATOR: Grandmother gazed at her grandson. Then she gazed… at his basket.
GRANDMOTHER: (slowly, quietly) Wait... You only caught one fish...? Again...?
NARRATOR: The boy reached over and brushed a tear from Grandmother’s crinkly cheek. He took a deep breath.
BOY: (summoning his courage) Well, actually, Grandmother… The truth is, I caught two fish. (beat) But I exchanged one… for a gift.
NARRATOR: Grandmother arched her eyebrows.
GRANDMOTHER: What kind of “gift”? (beat) Can I see it?
BOY: Well… this one’s more of a gift... you can hear.
NARRATOR: The boy asked Grandmother to take a basket, and fill it with the slices of fresh cornbread.
With the basket of cornbread slung over one arm, the boy led Grandmother to the clearing in the forest. In the middle stood Grandfather Stone... his smooth, cool surface dappled by moonlight through the trees.
STONE: Young man. You’re back already! And you’ve brought a companion! (to Grandmother) Welcome!
NARRATOR: Grandmother was so surprised to hear a stone speak, she could barely speak herself!
GRANDMOTHER: (surprised, confused, flustered, curious) I, uh, well, I ----- thank you!
STONE: Well. Now that you’re here, would you like to hear a story?
BOY: Yes, please, Grandfather Stone! In fact...
NARRATOR: Grandmother watched as the boy emptied the basket of cornbread onto the stone.
BOY: ...we would like to hear many stories.
STONE: Thank you! (beat) Now… I will tell you some stories.
NARRATOR: The boy helped Grandmother ease down to the ground. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and gave a loving squeeze as Grandfather Stone began.
The stone told stories about clever animals and foolish people… stories about foolish animals and clever people… stories about how chipmunks got their stripes, how porcupines got their quills, and how we got the four seasons.
Hours went by. Morning came… the rays of the moon gave way to the rays of the sun… and the boy and Grandmother were wide awake, wrapped up in Grandfather Stone’s tales.
At last, the stone paused. And then…?
STONE: You have heard about the things that have happened before this time: how things came to be, and why things came to be. (beat) But from here on out, stories won’t be kept inside smooth, cold stones like me. They’ll be carried by warm-blooded people like you! (beat) Pass these stories on to your children... and your grandchildren... then have them pass these stories on to their children and grandchildren. Keep these stories going for as long as the world keeps going. (beat, slower) Now… my friends… it’s your turn.
NARRATOR: Then the stone fell silent… and never spoke again.
The boy and his grandmother heeded the stone’s final words. They returned to the village, and recounted the stories they had heard… sharing them with everyone, young and old... again and again and again.
To show their thanks, the villagers offered gifts of food and clothing. But the way the boy and Grandmother saw it, being able to pass Grandfather Stone’s magnificent stories on to others was gift enough.
And when spring turned to summer, and summer turned to fall, and fall turned to winter, and the temperatures and the snow began to drop, no one worried about suffering through a long, drawn-out season. They had their stories to entertain them and keep them warm.
And today… the whole world does, too.