Isaac Freeman, storyteller at the Hostein River Heritage Center

Linda Burchette

August 16, 2015

Isaac Freeman said that when he was young, children didn’t drink Dr Pepper because it smelled like perfume and they didn’t drink Coke because the bottle it came in at 10 ounces was smaller than RC Cola, the preferred soda pop in a 12 ounce bottle.

“You were known for what you drank,” he said. “Orange Crush, Grapette, whatever; then came Mountain Dew.”

The original bottle for Mountain Dew said, “It’ll tickle yore innards!” said Freeman, who added that, “If I had said ‘it’ll’ at our house my mother would have slapped me cross-eyed.”

Freeman was entertaining the largest audience ever to attend an event at the Holston River Heritage Center, a museum of the Smyth County Historical Society in downtown Marion, with storytelling on Aug. 16. His tales have amused audiences around the region and beyond since he became a professional storyteller in the late 1990s.

A retired attorney and circuit court judge who was also known as a great dinner speaker in those days, Freeman has performed professionally at the Barter Theatre, the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, the Lincoln Theatre, Bristol’s Rhythm & Roots, and many other locations across 28 states.

Freeman started his performance at the museum on Aug. 16 by giving some history of the county’s namesake, Phillip Alexander Smyth. He moved on to “remember when” including the cost of soda pop at 5 cents and the treat of it once a month when he was a child, and night-hunting with his brother.

He said in his younger days he lived for five years with a spirit he called “Mr. Ghost” in a house across the street from a Howard Johnson’s motel. More than a few times he left the house in the middle of the night to take a room at the motel. Eventually they gave him a key, he said, and would bill him monthly for his unexpected stays.

Freeman began his storytelling as a child, he said, telling lies to his parents. They were such good lies that he said he developed a reputation with his friends who asked him to lie to their parents for them in exchange for whatever they would give him. Then he lied to his teachers in school, he said, and usually they would believe him.

“I was pretty good at telling lies and then I went to work for a congressman,” he said. 

Freeman closed his performance with a sampling of his singing and yodeling abilities through a song about butter beans. He said at parties he was known as Yodelin’ Isaac and his wife, Alice, was known as the Butter Bean Queen because of the song. At their wedding, he said, the guests threw butter beans instead of rice.


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