You may or may not have heard “The Golden Arm” ghost story that Charles tells at Isabel's 16th birthday, but I did when I was a child and it left an impression. When the idea struck me to have Charles tell a ghost story around a campfire, I searched my childhood for memories of just this, you know, the serial killer with the hook for a hand, stuff like that. I suddenly remembered a dear friend telling me this story in my backyard and knew it was prefect. But where did this story originate from? Hmm...
I was surprised to find out.
From what I could gather online, this story has existed for a very long time, being told orally, and it varies from teller to teller, country to country. The most famous person to have actually written it down was Mark Twain. He wrote it in script fashion, with notes on how to deliver and tell this story and later added it to his book “How to tell a story and other essays.”
Now there are a couple of things Mark Twain suggests that I did not do in Yonder. The first thing he does is call this story a negro ghost story, in his words he says 'On the platform I used to tell a negro ghost story' Wow, right? He even wrote out the story in the dialect he wanted to have it told... which, I opted not to do any of this. Twain's opening line to this story should sound a little familiar to you. “Once 'pon a time dey wuz a monsus mean man, en he live 'way out in de prairie all 'lone by hisself, 'cep'n he had a wife.”
In Yonder, it sounded a bit more like this:
“Once upon a time there was this mean old man who lived all by himself out on a prairie, except he had a wife–”
“If he has a wife, he's obviously not living alone,” Benjamin interrupted. “Why not just say, “'There once lived a mean old man and his wife.'” (Benjamin is actually asking the question that was plaguing me.)
Now he ends this story with words of advice: '(If you've got the pause right, she'll fetch a dear little yelp and spring right out of her shoes. But you must get the pause right; and you will find it the most troublesome and aggravating and uncertain thing you ever undertook.)'
It is always a bit shocking to find out where stories, songs, and customs come from. This one was a fun learning experience but to a once little girl, huddled in her backyard and hanging on every word, it sent shivers down my spine and (I will admit it), I gave a 'yelp' like Twain said I would and most certainly jumped.