The truth is that it is natural, as well as necessary, for every man to be a vagabond occasionally.
- Samuel H. Hammond
Tramps, rogues, and hobos. These are just a few of the names given to people whose lives are characterized by almost continuous traveling. While the term “vagabond” originates as a legal reference to vagrancy, it began to take on different meaning in the 19th century when it became more closely associated with Bohemianism. The critic Arthur Compton-Rickett defined the type as men “with a vagrant strain in the blood, a natural inquisitiveness about the world beyond their doors.”
These are the smiling faces of our San Francisco Facilitators! Our first day of interviews is tomorrow, and for the past few weeks they have been working tirelessly to prepare. Read a little about each of them after the jump:
Norman Chin was born into a poor farming family in 1920, during the worst time in China. He was sold to an illegal immigrant family in order to raise money to support his own family after his father became too ill to work the farm. His family had no money and no relatives to call upon, so the conclusion was that they either sell seven-year-old Norman or his three-month-old baby brother. Norman was sold.
Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, no Chinese citizen could legally come to the U.S. to live at this time. Norman’s adoptive father, an illegal alien, bought the paper son rights from another illegal alien in order for Norman to come to the U.S. This was known as the Paper Son Deception. A “paper son” was a young man who was brought to the U.S. by someone who claimed that they were a Chinese-American citizen born in San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake and fire, and that all their papers had been lost in that disaster. Norman’s “paper father” claimed that he had three sons living in China, ages 9, 11, and 13. Norman came to the U.S. as the 13-year-old son.
The retirement celebration of Dr. William Farley, MD brought along a sea of smiles, amazing stories, and gratitude. Generations of families lined up to say goodbye to the father of 8 and small town Obstetrician/Gynecologist whose practice had spanned 57 years. It was a fitting end to the career of a man who had delivered between 15,000 and 20,000 babies; all with such a personal touch that were it not for his age, his practice would still undoubtedly be going strong to this day.
“I had the dubious honor of saying that I was delivered by a veterinarian.”
Burton Riffle’s interest in knot-tying began at 11-years-old. He overheard a conversation between his father and a veterinarian coming to treat the family’s jersey cow. The veterinarian told a story about a fatal horse accident. He tied knots to pull a horse out of a ravine.? The knots were then altered by an unknowing farmer. The horse fell on to the rocks below and “burst open” because the knots were not secure enough.
“Since then,” Burton says, “I have purchased many knot books. I have broadened my horizons by being able to tie knots. I have worked on trees. I have worked on steep barn roofs. I’ve hauled things with vehicles and tied things on top of cars. It all started with that first interest in knots.”
Luckily for us at MobileBooth West, Burton carries a rope in his pocket. He demonstrates many knots: slippery square, sheep shank, sheet bend ,and bow line. He finishes with a grand finale: the jar sling, which he uses to pick up a Gatorade bottle.
In early June of this year, Iowa City was among the many Midwest towns and cities hit by floods. As the Iowa River rose, parts of the city were evacuated and the water left homes and significant portions of the University of Iowa campus severely damaged. Just four months later, I traveled to Iowa City with fellow Facilitator, Kate, to record conversations as part of the University of Iowa Library’s flood story archive. During three days of recording we heard about dangerous waters, last-minute evacuation, and the devastating damage to homes and buildings. But what we also heard again and again was how people came together in the days before the flood.
Poor houses, or poor farms, were county or town-run residences where people without means were supported at public expense. They were common in the United States beginning in the middle of the 19th century, and were often home to the elderly, the orphaned, and disabled. People requested help from the community Overseer of the Poor, an elected town official. If the need was great or likely to be long-term, they were sent to the poor house.
Use of poor houses declined after the Social Security Act took effect in 1935, and most of these residences disappeared completely by the 1950s. Gene Meador came into the MobileEast Booth in Roanoke, Virginia to talk about his experiences at the poor house his family owned and managed when he was a child.
“I was my father’s partner from age 5.”
Earl remembered shining the shoes of the Godfather of Soul, who advised Earl, “It’s an honorable profession. You just need to think about what else you want to do with your life.”
“You know, I love spirituals and rock, Sarah Vaughn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni, just to name a few! ”
— Teena Marie, “Square Biz“
Music has always been a vital part of Nikki Giovanni’s life. Nikki is a poet, mother, professor, activist, Grammy nominee, National Book Award finalist, and a muse/collaborator for many musicians, including Kanye West, Capathia Jenkins, Queen Latifah, and Blackalicious. Nikki stopped by the MobileBooth recently in Roanoke, Virginia (an hour from where she is a professor at Virginia Tech) and remembered a few musically inspired moments in her life.
Where are the Door-to-Door Facilitators? We’re on the road collecting stories from all over the country. Last Sunday, Anna Walters and I ventured out on a three-day whirlwind trip through New England, making stops in Bedford, New Hampshire, Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts for the Memory Loss Initiative. As always, the people we met are the best part of our trips, so I feature all of them in the slide show below. Enjoy! And look out for more posts from the Door-to-Door team.
I would like to thank all of our partners and participants at each organization. Your warmth and kindness was wonderful.
It’s been an exciting first week for MobileBooth West in Peoria, Illinois. Carl Scott joined us after spending a couple months in Brooklyn, New York at the StoryCorps office. We got to know each other over a game of Scrabble and some Swedish Fish. (We found out – upon dictionary investigation – that zag can actually be its own word, separate from zigzag).
Opening day in Peoria came with amazing fanfare. There were refreshments, press, staff from our partner radio station, WCBU, and curious onlookers who wandered over from the nearby Metro Centre Farmer’s Market. There was also a ribbon cutting ceremony with the biggest pair of scissors any of us have ever seen!
Goodbye, Minnesota. MobileBooth West will miss you. We packed our bags this past week to arrive in Peoria, Illinois. Here is a list of what I brought along with me
1. Minnesota Nice. Now I know what ‘Minnesota Nice’ really means. It’s a natural kindness. It’s in the air and it’s in a smile. There’s no feeling of obligation to reciprocate, although you often feel the urge to do so. Some examples of Minnesota Nice: eating venison at a Labor Day gathering, being in an appreciation circle at Circles of Support, going on a motorboat ride at Pokegama Lake, singing “Blowing in the Wind” to live guitar in the MobileBooth, and devouring a complimentary burger basket at a play about an old doo-wop group in The Reif Center.
Here are some photographs that will give you a taste of what Minnesota Nice is – smiles and generosity, lakes and long hikes – hopefully you can bring it into your own life, wherever you are:
Opening day in Roanoke, Virginia was a traveler’s dream! Of course, everybody loves StoryCorps’ Airstream but when you throw in our location at The Virginia Museum of Transportation, and the fact that we had Sharyn McCrumb, author of the New York Times bestseller, St. Dale (that’s Dale Earnhardt, to all the NASCAR uninitiated) and ARCA driver Adam Edwards as our first interview then there is no doubt that MobileEast was ready to roll!
After spending the summer working in StoryCorps’ Brooklyn office, I gave up my little apartment, sold all my belongings, and hit the road.
Before I left New York many people asked me, “How does the Airstream trailer get from one location to the next?” In the old days (like 3 years ago) the MobileBooth was towed by brave Facilitators and StoryCorps staff in a truck. Today, we hire drivers, who usually come with pets. Mike, our fearless driver and his beefy sidekick Brandy, a 120 pound rottweiler, picked up our roving recording booth Sunday morning from the Basketball Hall of Fame parking lot in Springfield, Massachusetts, and delivered her safely to our new spot in front of the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia on Monday afternoon.
Sonam Lama was trained as a stonemason in his native Tibet. He worked as a volunteer apprentice to a master stonemason rebuilding monasteries after the cultural revolution. When Sonam moved to Massachusetts over 20 years ago, he started by volunteering to rebuild an old New England stone wall for a friend, and from there his reputation grew.
Paul Bloom’s father grew up in Lithuania at a time when all young men were subject to the draft. Like many Jews, he had to hide in his basement to stay safe. After marrying, he and his wife escaped across the border, crossing an icy river that reached up to their necks, and eventually traveled by boat to meet up with his father, a Hebrew teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts. Paul’s father became a peddler, selling thread, needles, and other products door to door. Wanting to move up in the world he went to New York to learn to repair umbrellas. At that time, people spent good money on umbrellas, sometimes buying ones with handles of silver and gold.
Photo: Paul Bloom/Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts
“Walking through the snow with half a shoe, searching for William Shakespeare.” - A Six Word Autobiography by B.J. Rolfzen.
Bob Dylan grew up as Robert Zimmerman in Hibbing, Minnesota â 30 minutes away from Grand Rapids. B.J. Rolfzen was his high school English teacher for 2 years. I went on a very special visit to B.J. Rolfzen’s home in Hibbing with Heidi Holtan of KAXE. (I brought the muffins.? Heidi brought the recording equipment). B.J. is well known around town for his long career as an English teacher and his special connection to Bob. He speaks annually at “Dylan Days,” a local event to celebrate the life of the musician.
B.J. remembers one of the rare visits Bob made to Hibbing several years ago. “I remember distinctly. He told me, You’ve taught me everything I know.’ I dispute that. I’ve taught him half of what he knows.”
Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
- Dr. Seuss
As the MobileEast Booth heads out to yet another new destination we wanted to take time to welcome Nina Porzucki and Carl Scott to the road and to share some of our favorite memories of Springfield, Massachusetts! The third largest city in Massachusetts holds the nickname of The City of Firsts, and earns that name because it is considered the first city established in the United States, being the largest metropolitan center on the Connecticut River and in Western Massachusetts.
Springfield, Massachusetts is known as the birthplace of basketball. During StoryCorps’ visit to Springfield, we parked the MobileBooth outside of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Paul Lambert, who gave us a great tour of the Hall, recorded some of his stories about the history of the game.In December 1891, James Naismith invented a simple game for his students at the Springfield YMCA Training School to play between fall and spring games. His students loved the game so much, they had rules published and took the game to YMCA school around the world. By 1894, young people were playing the sport in China. By 1936, 40 years later, it was an Olympic sport. At the time there were also young women who were students at the YMCA school who wanted to play the game and Dr. Naismith encouraged them. Basketball is now the fastest growing sport among young people world wide. “The joy of basketball’s expansion around the world is a remarkable story.” said Paul.
Photographer and Longmeadow, Massachusetts resident John Reuter stopped by the MobileEast Booth while we were in neighboring Springfield. He brought along his friend, colleague and fellow photographer Jennifer Trausch to talk about the very unique camera with which they both work in New York City. “John and I work together operating a large format camera,” says Jennifer. “We have a rental facility that artists and photographers rent to use this very special camera. The camera itself is 239 pounds and it shoots a 20 x 24 image that is on Polaroid film. There were six of these cameras built between the years of 1976 and 1978 and three of those are in a similar situation where its a rental facility, we make it easy for people to come in and use the camera, but the New York Studio has always been the largest in this business, so we facilitate about 80 to 85 percent world wide of all 20 x 24 Polaroid use.”