02/09/05 — 'Big Fish' opens Wayne County Reads

View Archive

'Big Fish' opens Wayne County Reads

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on February 9, 2005 2:14 PM

Two men and their dogs were on their way to hunt ducks. One, Lester Gray, was feeling proud of his dog and declared, "Trooper is probably the best duck dog in the country!"

"Trooper isn't even the best duck dog in this boat," Howard Douglas, Duke's owner, responded.

And thus the bet was made -- $5 would go to the owner of the dog that got the most ducks that day.

The men had just gotten out of their boat and onto land when Duke ran off and out of sight.

Lester just knew he had won the bet.

The men got settled into the duck blind and Duke returned, sliding in on his belly and raising a paw.

"What does that mean?" Lester asked.

"It means one duck is coming and to get ready," Howard responded.

Sure enough, a duck came along. The men shot it, and Duke retrieved it. Then he ran off again.

He returned, sliding in on his belly, and picking up both of his ears.

Two more ducks were coming, and they were flying low.

The birds arrived, and the hunters shot them. Duke retrieved one and -- just so Trooper would sound good in this story -- he retrieved the other.

Off Duke went again. When he returned, he had a stick in his mouth and was shaking it vigorously.

"Aha!" Lester thought, "Duke has become distracted. There's hope yet!"

"What does that mean?" he asked.

"It means you've lost $5," Howard said, "and that there are more ducks coming than you can shake a stick at!"

THE STORY OF the competing duck dogs was one of many that Rodney Kemp of Morehead shared during the first story-telling event of this year's Wayne County Reads: "Big Fish."

People gathered at the Arts Council of Wayne County's art center on Monday night at 7 and first enjoyed a coffee bar provided by Grounds for Expression and music played by Jean Floyd. So many people arrived, that more and more chairs had to be put out. By the time the storytelling began around 7:30, it was standing room only.

Kemp had people laughing and applauding for close to an hour with his stories.

A former full-time ninth-grade teacher of history, Kemp now works in insurance and teaches at Carteret Community College.

During his teaching career, he found that students loved hearing stories, and that people loved sharing them.

Kemp collected much of what he heard, and keeps a large book of stories he carries with him to story-telling engagements, including one last summer at the Smithsonian Institution.

Kemp began story telling when Mike Luster determined that fish-house lying -- the art of telling exaggerated stories for entertainment -- was alive and well in Carteret County. Luster gathered a group of 15 story tellers who performed at the Seafood Festival, and Kemp found a new avocation.

ONE COULD NOT mistake the theme of this year's Wayne County Reads. Fish made by local artists and students filled the art center. The works were made of paper, wood and other materials. They hung from the ceiling and on the wall; they stood on the floor.

Arts Council Executive Director Alice Strickland welcomed the audience and introduced News-Argus Editor Emeritus Gene Price, who served as the evening's emcee.

Price reminded people of the importance of reading by telling a story from his own experiences. He and the late Hal Tanner Sr., who was publisher of the News-Argus, were on a business trip when Tanner asked, "What do you look for when you're hiring a reporter?"

"My response was, 'Send me a reader, and I'll give you a writer,'" Price said.

Tanner told Price of a young man who had applied for a job in the print room and who said he was an avid reader.

When Pricelooked at the young man's application and was surprised at the books he claimed to have read.

"I knew he was lying," Price said.

He decided to talk to the applicant about the importance of being honest when filling out applications.

On a Saturday afternoon, the young fellow showed up. He came from a poor family. His shoes were worn, his pants were threadbare, and his sleeves were ragged.

As he and Price talked, it became obvious that the information on his application form was true.

Price had him write a story on the old Underwood typewriter that still sits on Price's desk.

"It was beautifully done," Price recalls. "We didn't have a job, but I put him to work."

The young man hitchhiked back and forth from rural Johnston County to his job. When the days became shorter and the rides fewer, he slept on a table in the news room. He took his baths and meals at the local jail and sent his money home to his mother and six siblings.

And he achieved. Within a year, he was responsible for the paper's most important news beat. Not long after that, he was moving on to work at larger papers and positions, including editorial page editor of a major newspaper.

He was -- and remains -- a success because, Price reminded, "he was a reader."