Last updated: March 10. 2014 11:49AM - 977 Views
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Michael Reno Harrell sings songs and tells about his rural upbringing to attendees of the 18th annual Azalea Storytelling Festival at Callaway Auditorium on Friday.
Michael Reno Harrell sings songs and tells about his rural upbringing to attendees of the 18th annual Azalea Storytelling Festival at Callaway Auditorium on Friday.
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The 18th annual Azalea Storytelling Festival drew a large crowd to the Callaway Auditorium as this year’s storytellers recounted tales of reflection and whimsy, and some sang songs to entertain.

At Friday night’s opening, Bill Harley was the first to take the stage. The two-time Grammy winner started with a song about not taking anything for granted, and accepting the world as it is. Harley then transitioned into a story about the time he crossed an interstate just to get a pair of socks.

While staying in a hotel, Harley said he decided to walk across a busy interstate in order to buy a fresh pair of socks from s mall, rather than get a taxi to take him just across the street, like the hotel attendant suggested. After dodging cars, having his sanity questioned by a police officer and sliding down a deep culvert into “this muck, reconstituted wetlands with seven-legged frogs jumping around,” he finally made it to the mall parking lot.

After traversing what felt like another seven miles across the large parking lot, he realized he was at the back of the mall used his credit card to pry open the door. He ended up in the lingerie section of a store, surprising a clerk, and drawing the attention of everyone, but he finally got his socks. When he got back to his hotel, he was hungry and found out a restaurant was next door.

“Call me a cab,” the exhausted Harley told the attendant.

Barbara McBride-Smith told the audience about the time her mother was almost arrested at Walmart for trying to get a specific brand of baking powder to make biscuits at 5 a.m. on her birthday. McBride-Smith said her mother only used Clever Girl baking powder, and after getting up early on McBride-Smith’s birthday to make her biscuits, realized she was out.

Going to the local store more than an hour before it opened, her mother caught the attention of an employee she knew, who tried to help her, but the store didn’t have Clever Girl brand in stock. He suggested she try Walmart, where she found the sought-after baking powder.

However, after waiting in a long line in the sole checkout line, she asked a manager to open another register, but the snide manager refused and when the mother tried to explain her situation, he told her she should just buy biscuits from McDonald’s.

“Well, I guess that’s when my mom lost her cool,” McBride-Smith quipped.

McBride-Smith was later awakened by a phone call by her mother, saying she was busted at Walmart for shoplifting. McBride-Smith rushed to the store and found out her mom had tried to leave an IOU for the baking powder because she was tired of waiting in line and didn’t have any cash smaller than a $20 to leave behind. McBride-Smith’s mother said she didn’t understand the problem because her local store allowed her to leave IOUs when she needed.

After finding out that the young store manager had never had home-baked biscuits, McBride-Smith’s mother offered to bring a batch to him and all the employees only the early morning shift. The kindness seemed to melt the manager’s heart and he took her payment for the baking powder, let her go and promised that if she ever needed help in the future, to ask for him.

“That’s why if you ever go to my house, you will only find one brand of baking powder, Clever Girl,” McBride-Smith said.

Megan Hicks, a newcomer to the Azalea Festival, told the audience about how she stole from Disneyland when she worked there at 19 in the late 1960s by giving away free food to those who didn’t have enough to pay for the overpriced meals. She said the first incident happened after two small children with $1 were heartbroken they could only afford fries and a drink, so she told them about the “special going on right now” to get a whole meal for a $1. After they left excited, she continued to cut deals for young couples, children, families and anyone else that were caught off guard and unable to pay the price of food.

“I knew it was only a matter of time before I got busted,” Hicks said.

After she gave a big meal to a long-haired attendees for only 50 cents, she was surprised to see a security guard was the next customer. He gave her a curious eye, and she thought her time was over, but she never heard anything about it until a few weeks later when the guard came back to buy a coffee, leaned over the counter and warned her not to make any “deals” that day because park management were inside looking around.

It turns out, she never was busted, but did leave and moved forward with her life.

“While at Disneyland I made a big life decision, one I started by making a promise to myself in the Magic Kingdom that I would not do anything that I couldn’t stand in front of people and tell them about without regret,” she said.

Michael Reno Harrell, another newcomer to the festival, told about his rural upbringing starting with his family’s heritage in North Carolina running back to the “North Carolinathols.” Growing up, he spent a lot of time with Stover Mason, a friend of his maternal grandfather. In fact, the two had “adopted” each other as grandfather and grandson after Harrell’s paternal grandfather died.

Harrell recalled when Mason took him to a swap meet. Harrell was about 10 and inexperienced at trading. Mason pulled up to Harrell’s home to pick him up for the swap meet at 6 a.m. and had already traded something for a mule on the way. When they arrived at the meet, he immediately traded the mule for other items.

Harrell went searching and found a man with a Zepco 303 closed-face rod and reel combination, top of the line at the time, for $5. Harrell had $3 and after the man asked if he had anything to trade to make up the difference.

The two headed back home at the end of the day and Mason had a truck load of things from the meet, including cash, a chainsaw, shotgun, Singer sewing machine “and the same red mule.”

Harrell had the rod and reel, which he had ended up giving his $3 and also his $4 pocket knife.

“I was about halfway back home when I realized I was in financial ruin,” he said.

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