Phyllis Root shares the story behind her story …
Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble had their start when our family stopped at a store in Arizona on a trip out west and my daughter who was seven at the time found a book of coyote stories. We read the stories on the rest of the trip, and I became acquainted with Coyote the trickster. Later when I searched for more trickster tales, it seemed that most if not all of the traditional tricksters were male—Brer Rabbit, Anansi, Coyote. Where, I wondered, were the female tricksters? Who was telling their stories?
About that same time at my local library I came across a book on folklore that told how when Anansi reached the Caribbean from Africa he sometimes became Aunt Nancy. Ah, I thought, that’s a very tricky thing to do.
The idea of a female trickster, of an Aunt Nancy, stayed with me for a long time. One day in church the Church Ladies sang a song about trouble, and Old Man Trouble took shape in my mind. I scribbled notes on the church bulletin with the pencil provided in the back of the pew for visitor cards, and later at home I began the story of Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble. Aunt Nancy, I discovered, was kin to my relatives whom we had visited each summer when I was small, driving from Indiana where we lived to the family farm in southern Illinois.
My aunts, my mother, my grandmother were all women who did not let trouble get them down.
Aunt Nancy went on to have more visitors in other stories—Cousin Lazybones, Old Woman Woeful, and Mr. Death—and she out-tricked them all, but Old Man Trouble remains my favorite. This past winter my younger daughter travelled by dogsled and cross country skis for two months up in the Northwest Territories and wrote me that every library in the small communities she visited had at least one of the books I had written on its shelves. The one she found most often? Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble.
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