My history buddy, Susan with the Friends of the Ballard Locks, sent out an email reminding me that November 27th this year, besides being the biggest shopping day, is also designated as the “National Day of Listening” sponsored by the Story Corps. The object of the National Day of Listening is to encourage you to take an hour and record the memories of a relative or friend. They tell you how to go about recording it or just taking notes and if you like, submit it to Story Corps. If you have never checked out the Story Corps website or listened to one of their broadcasts on NPR, then I highly encourage you to do so. I believe that everyone has an interesting story to tell, if you just ask the right questions.
I have some experience with this. In 2007, I took the opportunity to interview my dad. He’s a Korean War veteran with the 187th Airborne and I wanted to record his experiences in the army. Admittedly, I had to ask him three times before he would sit down with a tape recorder going, but he did it. I was motivated to get his story by an oral history class I had taken and the knowledge that we are losing so many veterans every day. There are projects all over the country to record veteran’s oral history interviews, the two most prominent being the Veteran’s History Project at the Library of Congress, and my favorite, the Veteran’s Survey Program at the Army’s Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA. Long story short (too late!), I did the interviews and wrote an article about his experiences that the History Channel Magazine was gracious enough to print.
However, he had more interesting experiences with history than I, or he, realized. I don’t really remember how it came up in conversation, but I asked what it was like during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 (I was only about a year and a half old at the time). He told me that he was working in a grocery store in Hollywood, California at the time. Sure enough, the American public was in a panic about the possibility of a nuclear war. There was a run on the grocery store with people buying up everything they could to stock up for the apocalypse they thought was on the way. Dad told me he had to stay at the store for 4 nights stocking the shelves as quickly as they could unload the trucks. Moreover, the punch line was that after the crisis was over, many people tried to return all of the groceries they had bought!
My dad didn’t think that story was very historically significant. However, all I had ever read about the crisis was the political side and the military side. There might have been a mention of a terrified public, but my dad’s story put a face on that aspect of the event. It made it real.
Therefore, during the holidays, when you have your extended family around the house, and the meal is over and everyone is sitting around talking. Take the time to ask the questions. And listen.