By Glenn Burkhalter

When I first heard that the American Gourd Society was contemplating establishing an award to honor the late Jim Story, I was thrilled. But when it didn't get "off the ground" as quickly as anticipated, someone asked if I might head it up. When I declined, someone else said, "he wants to win it, not organize it!

But lets go back to 1991. After seeing the straight-neck long handle dipper gourds at my first gourd show in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, I wanted to try to grow them. Upon inquiring about the seeds, I was given the name and phone number of a Mr. Jim Story. I called him, told him what I wanted and he said he would send them right away. When I asked the cost, his response was, "all I ask is that you promote the American Gourd Society whenever you have the opportunity!" And that, my friends, was pure Jim Story.

After that brief telephone introduction, Mr. Jim became a friend, mentor, instructor, congratulator and challenger. I learned that he was born in Alabama and still had a sister living there, not too far from where I was born and raised. Mr. Jim and Mrs. Jane once came to our Alabama gourd show, one of many he visited every year for as long as health would allow.

Extra-long handle dipper gourds came along a couple of years later and I built my first gourd arbor in 1994. A couple of years after that, and with the encouragement of Mr. Jim, I began to tie overhand single knots in the dipper necks, something Mr. Jim had been doing for years. Then, after five years of trying, I finally succeeded in tying a figure eight knot. Soon after that, Mr. Jim called and issued a challenge. He said, "I want you to tie two knots in one gourd", something he had never done. I said, "Jim, I don't think it can be done, but I'11 probably break half my crop this year trying" I broke some gourds, but did succeed in tying the two knots in 2003 and again in 2005 photo attached) At the time, I believed it to be a first such double-knot in the gourd world.

At most shows, Mr. Jim would be asked to Emcee the Saturday night dinner or Sunday morning breakfast. On one of those occasions, he gave me my first opportunity to recite my version of Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Flag." At another dinner, Mr. Jim was at the podium when my friend, "Hagar The Horrible-Gourd Man," made an unannounced entrance. As was his custom, Hagar, with his red beard, mustache and cherry red gourd nose and wearing his toe sack clothing tied with a calf rope and leather sandals on his feet, gourd helmet on his head and a gourd canteen slung over his shoulder, came running through the crowd, brandishing his gourd sword and gourd shield, yelling about being a terribly mean Viking and warning all the men to stay out of his way.

For once, Mr. Jim was almost speechless. I could hear him saying over and over: What is this? What is this? And then, as Hagar completed his dash through the room, he seemed to suddenly recognize the man at the podium. Stopping directly in front of Mr. Jim, he bowed low and proclaimed, THE GREAT GOURDFATHER! Then he rushed out of the room.

Over the years, I have tied hundreds of gourd knots and, from an interested gourd grower, received an occasional request for instructions on how to do it. Following in Mr. Jim's footsteps, I have tried to teach my methods and encourage anyone who contacted me. On one occasion, a man called again the following year and was excited to tell me of his success. At that point, I issued him a challenge. I said, "I probably will never do it because of the time involved, but I believe it is possible to tie a square knot in a single gourd. Unfortunately, I never heard from him again.

When CeCe Thomas and her Jim Story Award committee finally got the award going in 2009, I entered an overhand single knot that had developed a beautiful golden patina and was fortunate to win that first year. For my entry in 2010, I did put in the necessary time to tie the square knot, and again, I was fortunate to win In 2011, I tried for another two-knot gourd and managed to get the knots in the neck but could never get them straightened out one over the other, as with the first two knots in 2003 and 2005. It was an impressive gourd, though, and I received the award for a third time.

It has been a real honor for me to participate in the Jim Story Award contest for the last three years. It did cause me to try to "stretch the envelope" and go beyond the ordinary, as Mr. Jim always encouraged us to do. He was an extraordinary man and probably did more to promote gourd craftsmanship, especially gourd manipulation, than any other individual in the history of the American Gourd Society. No one will ever replace Mr. Jim! But each one of us can do our own little part!

It is now my privilege and honor to participate in the Jim Story Award judging process and to continue to encourage all aspects of gourd craftsmanship----as Mr. Jim did.