In the singers’ descriptions, the time lived alone with the songs often assumed an importance that equaled, or even outweighed, that of the time spent singing in public. Some of the greatest singers seemed to prefer a private rather than a public life with songs and, like Sulejman Fortić’s mentor, “lived withdrawn from the rest.”  When, in preparation for this essay, I re-read Lord’s chapter on the singers for the first time in decades, it immediately struck me that their words had been the prime shapers of my personal path toward a folklorist’s future, which has been to explore the private dimensions of public performance. What happens in the minds of listeners and narrators as a tale unfolds? What does the tale do to them and how do they live with it when it is not being told?
The three stories converge invisibly during the performance, but the forestory and the understory live on from one telling to another and beyond the confines of the tale itself.
In the absence of Jane’s parents, Sydney’s ritual brought the entire family, living and dead, into the bedroom. Just before lights out, Uncle Gill and father Mark were traced on the map; then the line of previous lives that had flowed over centuries into hers were chanted to her in the dark, giving way to a tale that was about all of those lives and somehow also about Jane. Here, all of the absences were bound together and made palpably present to the rhythm of a heartbeat, the primal wordless story we all hear first, pre-born. Grandmother Sydney created the greater audience—through words and gestures that summoned the generations into Jane’s presence.
In the tale, the Rawhead and Bloodybones creatures are, like the Grimms’ Frau Holle, figures of justice who mete out rewards to the good and punishment to the bad. They may be terrifying in appearance but they are predictably fair in deed.
Details of the family’s remembered forestories reveal how various narrators at various times laid the ground not merely for a performance but for a contrapuntal understory.
Two types of self-created images prevailed: the explicitly personal and the overtly otherworldly. Jane pictured protagonists that were essentially self-portraits and monsters so real she could touch them. Her favorite folktale character was a boy that her grandmother dubbed Merrywise, a name that seems to have been made up by her grandmother expressly for Jane.  This is the picture that Jane created from the name:
The second group of images that strongly struck Jane were the central symbols of the magic landscape, figures not seen anywhere in this world, but powerfully present within her mind. One such figure was Rawhead and Bloodybones, whose tale Jane has heard and then told continuously for seventy years. This creature, aside from the female protagonist, was the only consistent character in the tale. Yet tellers rarely described him. By far the most elaborate description of Rawhead and Bloodybones to appear in any of the family performances is 11-year-old Jane’s fifteen-word characterization in the oldest surviving recording: “it looked like a skull. And it was bloody and it had bones on it.”  The second-longest description is “funny-looking thing” applied by Jane at age 62 in her performance of 2000;  other recorded performances reveal nothing of how the creature looked. Yet the internal images created by listeners, and re-seen by them every time they heard or told the tales, were indelible and dramatic. Thinking back, Glen recalled that she saw “a bloody mass of bones” when listening to others tell the tale, though she never used such dramatic imagery when she herself told it. Even when the Rawhead and Bloodybones did not instill terror in the listener, they left a lasting visual impression. For Jane, the internal goodness of these creatures outweighed the horror of their faces:
In the forestory, the folktale phrases spoken in everyday life brought together the most magical and the most mundane; similarly, in the understory, the listeners’ everyday human world (Glen’s nemesis, Susie, or Jane’s own, freckled face) inhabited the magic landscape.
Although “Grown-Toe” contains its opportunities for terror—a terror instantly recalled by Nora’s many childhood listeners decades after they last heard her performances—it is one of her few openly comic stories. Even so, it possesses special wrinkles reflecting the immanence of the performance situation. In the Farmer-Muncy-Lewis households, the women owned the magic. The stories were told almost exclusively by females, and grown men were typically missing from the audience. The forestory that Jane’s grandmother shared with her invoked absent males, but those males lived largely in the imagination: they came home late if they came home at all. In the understory as well, females tended to supplant males, as when Jane re-imaged the boy hero Merrywise as an androgynous creature who looked exactly like herself.
“The Rich Woman,” like all of the family’s other porous house tales, climaxes in the same readily recognized, sparsely staged setting: the dwelling’s darkened interior. The house—ideally, the family’s ultimate bastion against the worst that nature, or human nature, may send against it—is suddenly rendered hopelessly vulnerable. Something uninvited, or unintentionally invited, has worked its way inside, and it will not be expelled unless or until the woman of the house controls it.