When Olive Chapman Lauther’s family settled in Florida, they lived in a tent.
Sometimes her swimming companions were baby alligators.
She loved the aroma of pineapples, but loathed flea bites.
Olive’s childhood reflects those of Manatee County’s pioneers, but it was Delray Beach in Palm Beach County more than 100 years ago.
On Thursday, Caren Neile, a writer, instructor and artist-in-residence at Florida Atlantic University, will bring Olive to life in Festival sARTée’s Old Florida Storytelling: “Memories of a Florida Pioneer Family,” at Manatee Village Historical Park.
It will be Neile’s first visit to Manatee County and her performance should resonate with a community that reveres its heritage.
“A lot of the world — and many Americans — think of pioneers as those who went west,” she said from Boca Raton on Tuesday. “Outside of Florida, not many realize the incredible courage and commitment it took for people to come here, start a new life, a new town, a new world.
“What body of water Olive played in — the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico — is less important when it comes to telling a story about what it was like for a young girl coming from the north to a real pioneer life,” she said.
Donning period dress, Neile will relate Olive’s life from the age of 7 through her teens as written in her 1963 memoirs, “The Lonesome Road.”
Olive Chapman Lauther died at 104 in 1991 in Miami.
“What happens in story telling is I am taking you on a visceral journey,” said the Huntington, N.Y., native. “In order to help you feel you are there, I need to create in your head, your heart, those sensations — the texture of a baby alligator’s skin when she was swimming with it, the feel of sand beneath her feet, the smell of the pineapples ... ”
A Ph.D., Neile chairs the 1,500-member National Storytelling Network and is director of the South Florida Storytelling Project School of Communication & Multimedia Studies at FAU.
“I was trained a writer, but I found the oral tradition much more compelling,” she said. “There is really something exciting and communal about telling a story to an audience, because it’s co-creating my story. The immediate feedback is very important.”
Manatee Village Historical Park officials anticipate a rapt audience for Neile.
“Whether it’s Delray Beach or Manatee County, we’ve got a shared history — the experiences of people settling along the Manatee River, the similar obstacles and enchantments — and we like hearing such stories,” said Phaedra Rehorn, special events coordinator.
“We don’t tell stories about history like we used to. It’s a dying art.”
Neile is keen on keeping it alive.
“Story telling is so different from giving a lecture about history,” she said.
“As long as I can tell their stories and tell their memories, I’m doing something meaningful for them.
“I want people not just to know, but to feel what it was like.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.