Once upon a time, a school librarian named Bill Mayhew -- who loved above almost everything else to tell stories -- won the $2 million in the Maryland lottery. But did he live happily ever after?
Well, the story line is still developing, but Mayhew said his Memorial Day weekend Lotto win was an "absurd stroke of luck" that will allow him to leave his job and concentrate on his passion: storytelling.
"Here's my story: I was doing okay and then I won the lottery. Will I continue to do okay? Don't know," said Mayhew, 50, who lives and works in Greenbelt.
Up to now, because of financial considerations, storytelling has been only a part-time job. But he now has the resources to become a full-time storyteller at parties, schools, swap meets, conventions and wherever else he can.
Mayhew chats about his life's recent plot twist while sitting on a child's chair at a child's library table in the media room of Greenbelt Center Elementary School, where he's spent much of the past five years dispensing audio-visual equipment and library books.
"I never thought, 'Wow, if I only had that money I could buy a new car or a boat.' I thought, 'If I won that money I could quit my job and become a full-time storyteller . . . . ' But the only way to do that would be through some ridiculous stroke of luck, which this is. It's like holding a hat out and some money falls into it. It's 6 million to 1 odds . . . . "
Greenbelt Center Elementary School Principal John Van Schoonhoven said Mayhew has always been "an original, a pragmatist." He also remembers Mayhew's words to him the first morning back at school after his big win, before anyone knew about it.
"He said, 'I won $2 million in the lottery. I'm going to tell stories to children,' " Van Schoonhoven said. "Not, 'I'm going to buy a Mercedes' or 'I'm going to take a trip around the world.' The very fact he said what he said is a tribute to where his head and heart are at."
If such dazzling good fortune sometimes has a downside -- the possible jealousy of friends and neighbors or unhappiness caused by a change in lifestyle -- some elements about Mayhew's luck make his story unusual.
Mayhew said he was not a regular lottery player. In fact, he estimates that he only spent about $130 on tickets during the past decade -- and he let the computer pick his recent winning numbers.
Also, he opted to share his newfound wealth.
"I gave 30 percent of it away to a poor person," he said, matter-of-factly. "He worked for a company that stopped existing. He's older than me and had some clerical skills but nobody hired him."
Each May for the next 20 years, after taxes are taken out, Mayhew will get a check for about $50,000. His friend -- "an extremely shy person" whom he declines to name -- will annually receive about $21,000.
The friend accompanied Mayhew and his wife, Maren, 42, when they took the ticket to lottery officials in Baltimore.
The journey was a bit unnerving, Mayhew said. "The things that go through your head, 'I'll lose the ticket, I'll never find it again, they'll change their minds, an eagle will fly away with it . . . . ' "
Such things, of course, are very likely to happen as any third-grader knows from Mayhew's amazing folk tales, legends, fables and humorous yarns.
As Center School teacher Janet Pappas led about 30 third- and fourth-graders into their last session with Mayhew earlier this month, the librarian sat in the corner of the media room. The children plopped down at his feet, a small contingent of devotees leaning against his chair and him.
As usual, he invited them to suggest stories. (He doesn't use books, but has a good ear for hearing, then remembering. He collects stories at conventions and swap meets and has hundreds on tapes.)
They asked for favorites, such as "Mean Jack." Mean Jack was a blacksmith so mean, recounted Mayhew, that he "kicked puppies, stomped kitties," and when asked by customers whether their horseshoes were ready, handed them finished horseshoes red-hot from the anvil.
When Jack dies, Saint Peter turns him away and then even the Devil tells him, "You ain't coming in here, it's bad enough already, go start your own place."
But Mayhew warned them not to ask for "Skeleton Woman," "because there are adults present" who might find the story too gorey. "Skeleton Woman," he later explained, is about a cranky woman who accidentally burns her finger. While licking her wound, she discovers she likes the taste so much she eats the flesh off her finger, then greedily devours her own body.
He knows some educators disdain the telling of "violent" stories -- including the non-Disneyfied version of "The Three Pigs," in which two of the pigs die. But Mayhew said his readings from the late educational theorist Bruno Bettelheim helped him conclude that there is a certain valuable catharsis in hearing such stories -- not to mention the instructional value to latch-key children of tales such as Red Riding Hood.
Despite their low tolerance for the likes of "Skeleton Woman," though, he said that "my favorite audience is a whole mess of adults with a few kids sitting in front so the adults can pretend like I'm talking to the kids, and can relax and enjoy those stories. They can pretend I'm not telling them 'The Three Pigs,' but I tell you, the adults love those three pigs."