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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Everyone has a story

This month's Columbia Journalism Review has a great cover article on StoryCorps the innovative project designed to capture the stories of ordinary people and archive them at the Library of Congress.

You may have heard some of the excerpts on NPR. Kiera Butler writes about the potency of these stories while visiting a Mobile Booth in New Orleans French Quarter. The brainchild of David Isay, he started StoryCorps because he believed that "most people had something not only worth saying, but worth preserving," writes Butler.

"StoryCorps tells people they matter and they won't be forgotten," he says.

Capturing stories has been on my mind a lot lately. A week ago I was helping my grandmother with some landscaping and took some time to go through my grandfather's old trunks. I'd write more about that here, but I'm working on an essay about what I found. Suffice to say that he managed to document so much of his life -- his early fascination with the progress of aviation, the developments of World War II, his writings as a star student at Lincoln High School, his service as an engineer in the U.S. Coast Guard, his misplaced optimism as a city councilman.

There's a rich treasure of information about him in those trunks and I plan to spend a lot of time in the coming months digging through it all. But I also realized that at 84, I need to get my grandmother's stories down. My thought was to record her just talking about growing up in the Depression, living as a wife and mother through the uncertainty of World War II, the value of female friends over a lifetime, the heartache and joy of motherhood and grandmotherhood, outliving the love of your life...

Gram has this melodic voice that she puts to good use as a member of the St. Bartholomew parish choir. I can't hear "How Great Thou Art" without hearing her voice. I realized that I don't want to ever lose that voice, so I'd like to capture her on tape talking about her life, telling her story in her own words.

I have so much guilt about not spending more time with her. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't think I should just pop over. She understands and prefaces every conversation with, "I know you're a busy woman." I hate that she feels that way about me because she is way to important in my life to be relegated to a "to do" list.

But now I have another reason to visit. Michael has recently become attached to her and it was through my Grandpa and his trunk. He's the one who keeps asking me if I'm going to write about Grandpa. Anyway, Mikey came out in Grandpa's Coast Guard hat and ironically wore it in the same jaunty fashion my Grandpa did. It made me, Gram and my mom smile. Last weekend Mikey had a sleepover at my parents and part of the weekend included a trip to Gram's to try on Grandpa's "suit" as he calls it and get some pictures.

Gram was only too happy to get that heavy wool suit out of the closet where it has been for decades. And being the sweet woman she is, she also had the patience to answer a 7-year-olds many questions about a Great-Grandpa he never met.

1 comment:

Lori said...

Story Corps is one of my favorite things to listen to on my Hellish Commute(TM). I encourage you to record your grandmother's stories. I wish I had had the foresight to record some of my grandparents' stories when they were still around.