To read Cathy Adams’ most recent feature on both Three on a String’s Bobby Horton and Dolores Hydock, click here. The feature below originally appear in the May 2007 issue of the now defunct Portico magazine.
Portico: Dolores Hydock
Story performer Dolores Hydock spins tales based on topics from the mundane to Medieval literature before spellbound audiences at concerts, festivals, and special events. Beginning her acting career playing the Statue of Liberty in a Fourth of July pageant, her varied experience has included being a house mother at a halfway house for juvenile delinquents, selling computers, copy editing cookbooks, and teaching acting at Birmingham-Southern.
A master at blending of humor, poignancy and joy, Hydock spoke to Portico about her love of life and language.
Portico: How does a girl from Reading, Pennsylvania wind up a professional Southern storyteller in Birmingham, Alabama?
Dolores: I don’t think of myself as a “Southern” storyteller in the traditional sense of sitting on the porch, rocking and lying, making the story up as you go along. I am a storyteller who is fortunate to live in the South. My background is more theatrical, my style more kinetic. Southerners are slower in telling stories as a result of generations sitting around in the heat on the front porch.
I moved to Birmingham 33 years ago via Connecticut. As an American Studies folklore major at Yale I did field studies on Chandler Mountain. Elderly mountain women took a Yankee college girl under their wings and taught me everything from quilt patterns to recipes to folklore.
Portico: What aspects of life in the South persuaded you to stay?
Dolores: Southerners have such a great sense of place. Northerners are always trying to figure out where they’re going next. This culture has an openness to connection between people, and that’s what storytelling is all about. Southerners say “doan go,” in a Selma accent, inviting you to stay and stay connected.
Portico: What has the transition to life in the South been like for your 86 year old mother?
Dolores: She has considered it an adventure, although sampling Southern food at Nikki’s West terrified her. She made the comment that there is nothing slow about Southerners moving down a food line.
Portico: Many of your stories focus on something as simple as an iron skillet or Jungle Gardenia perfume. Do you have a “seeing the world in a grain of sand” approach to life?
Dolores: The older I get the more I realize that life is made up of a lot of little things done in the maintenance of life. It’s good to learn to love the maintenance rather than waiting for the big dramatic moments. Cultivate both joy and gratitude, focus and put a frame around the little things that bring joy.
Portico: How have you translated Medieval literature, such as the 14th century epic poem Gawain and the Green Knight and the 13th century tale Silence into understandable interpretations for modern audiences?
Dolores: PanHarmonic, a trio of musicians who perform music from the 12th-16th centuries on reproduction instruments, and I took Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to six rural Alabama high schools as a touring project of the Alabama Humanities Foundation. I enjoy telling stories that have lasted for centuries, stories about the journeys of heroes, stories that ask kids who have never seen a hurdy gurdy or heard a harp or songs sung in Middle English or Latin if they can “walk the walk.” The themes of the music and the stories are timeless, blues songs that speak to life being hard and the bliss of the world being fleeting.
Portico: Tell us about your special affection for “holidays that aren’t on the calendar.”
Dolores: I like holidays such as Arbor Day for which there are no greeting cards. Easter has special significance for me because my first paying job was putting eyes on chocolate bunnies in the Luden’s Candy factory. Seeing those bunnies staring with their little beady eyes on the drugstore shelves people don’t think about how the eyes got there. I wrote a story about “back to school day,” comparing my experiences as a five year old to my mother going back to school for a lecture series in her eighties.
Portico: As a teacher and fan of Cajun dancing, do you consider yourself a musician as well as an actress?
Dolores: I like to dance, but I don’t sing or play an instrument well enough that anyone would pay to hear me. I do sing beautifully in the shower and in my car, and I love holiday sing-a-longs where I can perform with others around me singing loudly enough that no one really hears me.
Portico: You have a strong sense of family. How did your parents influence you?
Dolores: Both of my parents fostered a love of language and a sense of the power of language. We always had a lot of books in our home, and my mother read to me. For us the library was a palace, a sacred place, and the women behind the check out desk were high priestesses. Getting a library card was an honor and a privilege.
Through the power of language you can create worlds and make connections. If you have words you don’t need material things. Words augment and enlarge your world and allow you to laugh and cry and share your world while experiencing the worlds of other people.
My father gave us a sense of really caring about what we did no matter how trivial it might seem in the eyes of the rest of the world. The fathers of my generation had a work ethic and taught respect for yourself and your work. My father did his duties nobly.
To learn more and hear clips from Dolores performances visit her website at
www.storypower.org. CDs are available from local bookstores.
To reserve your spot at December 4′s Southern Tales event, featuring Hydock, visit www.bbgardens.org/southerntales.