There are two traditions of French Canadian storytelling; the public and the private. The public tradition is performed as community entertainment. The private tradition was practiced in the home, usually with an adult spinning the story for the young ones in a relaxed, informal way. Prior to radio and television, the private tradition was also a form of entertainment and education for children. The themes of the stories frequently pitted good against evil, with lutin (goblins), loup garou or witches inhabiting the woods. Some stories warned of the seven deadly sins, while others intended to keep children close to the village. Not that long ago, the forests that surrounded the homesteads were so thick, a child could get lost after having wandered just a few hundred feet into the woods. The story “Mud Pudding” is also an original song with the same title. — GP

The Storyteller
The Storyteller, Musée de la civilisation, Séminaire de Québec collection, L’Opinion publique, 1871, 1993.25327.1.

Springtime in the little French village above the straits was a time to put away the snowshoes and heavy winter coats, although the nights could still bring a reminiscent chill of winter. This was such a night. The cousins were assembled in the great room of Mimi and Pipi’s cabin, laying about the floor and enjoying the warmth of the fire.

“Did I tell you I came across Oncle Gautier in the corner store Monday morning this week?” asked Cousin Gilbert in a gentle, “matter-of-fact” voice.

The cousins shook their heads but made no expressions, believing this was just small talk. The fire blazed on with a creak, a pop and a spit.

“He asked me how I was doing. Well, you know Oncle Gautier’s memory isn’t that good anymore, so I reminded him that I worked in the logging camp all winter.”

“I said, ‘Oncle, I’m not getting any younger,’ bending forward with one hand on my aching hip.”

‘I can’t tell you how many times I slipped on the icy skidroads. I had to work two shifts after a short staker up and quit. We had a young bucker climb up a cold deck which fell apart and nearly rolled him flat out. It took a whole day’s work to get the logs stacked back up again. Then a fever went through the camp and I was laid up nearly a week. The king-snipe said I couldn’t go back on the skidroads, so he put me in the mill to operate the hoot-nanny. All I did was breathe in macaroni for the rest of the season, but knock on wood (knock, knock, knock), I’ve got a few more seasons left in me….’

Cousin Gilbert interrupted himself. His voice took on a stern tone as he began imitating Oncle Gautier.

‘Oh you young people have it too easy,’ he growled as he wagged his finger. ‘Listen to you, whining like a little crumb boss. Look at me. I’m 90 years old and you don’t hear me complaining! Why just last year, I was making that Swedish fiddle hum along the Manistique like a swarm of hornets. I was known as the meanest, orneriest Timberbeast this side Big Bay De Noc. I was catching widow makers with one hand as they fell from the sky, but knock on wood (knock, knock, knock)…’

With a sudden and befuddled expression, Cousin Gilbert sat straight up. His eyes darted about the room searching for the source of the mysterious sound.

“…..Come in?” he asked.

The cousins roared with laughter at the joke as did the children in loft above the great room.

“Oh yeah, Oncle Gautier’s memory isn’t what it used to be,” said Cousin Paul Andre.

“Can we hear more stories?” asked little Rosanne from the loft above.

“I have a story for you,” said Genot Élan de L’Hiver, “but you have to ask your mother first.”

“Oh please, please may we come down?” pleaded the little ones. Cousin Claire-Marie looked up from the rocking chair, gave a little smile and nodded her head once.

With a rustling of quilts and the pattering of little feet overhead, the children bolted from the oversized bed and climbed down the ladder. They sat in a half-circle in front of Genot Élan de L’Hiver, their backsides to the fire. Genot waited for their attention, and he began the story.

“When I was very young, my family lived away from the village. I always wanted playmates and I was very lonely. We had a cottage on the edge of the forest not far from the Old River Road. Like all good French homesteads, we had a garden in front and an orchard in the back.”

“Every Mercredi (Wednesday), I would walk along the Old River Road to my Ta-Ta (Auntie) Mai’s house. She made the best homemade soup. I was always invited to come and spend the day with her. I would help her with chores and keep her company.”

“Ta-Ta Mai would answer the door in the same way when she heard me knock. The door would swing open. A few chickens scurried around the room, and there she stood in her bare feet; wiping her hands in the same purple print apron with tiny yellow flowers.

“‘Mon petit garçon (My little boy)!‘ She would say with a big smile on her wide face. ‘Come in. You’re just in time for homemade soup !’»

« On this day, I took the usual path to Ta-Ta Mai’s house. But when I crossed the foot bridge, I heard a most unusal sound, like an evil giggling. I stopped for a moment and looked around me. »

« Out from under the bridge emerged a troupe of tricky trolls ! I had never seen them before and I was scared. One of the trolls came forward to speak. He must have been the boss.»

« How are you this pretty, fine day ? » he asked in his squeaky troll voice.

« I’m fine. » I answered. « I’m on my way to my Ta-Ta Mai’s house for some homemade soup. »

« Not so fast. We’ve got a treat for you. It’s called ‘boue pouding (mud pudding).’ Would you like to have a taste ? »

The children’s faces twisted in disgust at the very thought of tasting mud pudding.

“I said, ‘No, I’d rather not,’” but the Troll Boss insisted. He said, “‘Take a little taste, just on the tip of your tongue and then you can go.’”

“What did you do?” asked little Rosanne. Genot paused for a moment before he continued.

“I said I would try the mud pudding if they would let me be on my way. The troupe of tricky trolls giggled with delight.”

“Pass up the bowl of mud pudding,” shouted the Troll Boss.

“The bowl was passed up from under the bridge to the delight of all the trolls. They eagerly awaited to watch me take a taste. I closed my eyes tight, stuck out the tip of my tongue and tasted a tiny little drop.…and guess what? Next to Ta-Ta Mai’s homemade soup, it was the second best thing I had ever tasted! I looked at the Troll Boss and asked if I could have some more.”

“The Troll Boss leaned forward. ‘Are you sure you want some more?’” he asked.

“Oh, yes please,” I answered.

“The Troll Boss gave me the bowl and the spoon and I gobbled it down. When I was finished, I licked my lips and savored every drop. The Troll Boss looked at me and grinned.”

“Now, you are free to go,” he said in a quivering, dastardly voice.

“I waved goodbye to the trolls and went on my way. When I was almost to Ta-Ta Mai’s house, I started to feel strange. I stopped in my tracks. I felt my ears. They had some points and my skin was bumpy green! I said ‘What happened?’ with a squeak in my voice. By the time I arrived at Ta-Ta Mai’s house I had turned into a troll! I knocked on her door and at first, she didn’t recognize me. I cried like a lonely cat.”

“Then what happened?” asked Rosanne’s sister Genevieve.

“I told Ta-Ta Mai the whole story about the trolls and the mud pudding, but she knew exactly what to do. She gave me her pot of homemade soup and a bag of spoons.”

“Trolls are always hungry,” she said. “Take the soup to the trolls, invite them to eat with you and see what happens.”

“I hurried on my way back to the trolls with the pot of soup. The trolls met me at the bridge and I invited them to eat. Oh, they were so hungry, just like Ta-Ta Mai said, and by the time we were done eating the soup, which was made by Ta-Ta Mai’s loving hand, the trolls had changed into children!  Now, I had so many playmates, I was the happiest boy you could imagine. And do you want to know a secret?”

The children’s eyes grew wide and they leaned forward. Genot peeked over each shoulder to make sure none of the adults were listening.

“Cousin Gilbert was the Troll Boss!” he whispered.

The little ones gasped in disbelief except for Rosanne.

“I KNEW it!” she exclaimed, slapping her hands on her thighs.

The children scurried off to bed, up the ladder and into the loft, while down below, silence once again settled into Mimi and Pipi’s cabin. Only the crackling hypnotic fire continued to speak with a creak and a pop and a spit.

Boue Pudding (Mud Pudding) excerpted from “Stories that Mimi and Pipi Told” © Genot Winter Elk Picor, 2016. Published with Permission.

Join Genot Picor in the “public tradition” of storytelling during the St. Ignace Heritage Days (July 15, 16 and 17, 2016) and at Rendezvous at the Soo (July 30 and 31, 2016).


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