The Las Palmas Library in San Antonio, TX, hosted StoryCorps for three recording days from August 15-17, 2010. My co-Facilitator Yazmín Peña and I facilitated several San Antonians’ interviews, including one between Jesse Treviño (L), nationally renowned local artist, and his friend, Gabriel Velasquez (R).
Jesse remembered car clubs from his childhood in the Westside. Their hand-painted posters and colorful jackets inspired him to pin stripe his friends’ cars. He was a serious young artist, and with his diploma, he moved to New York City in 1965. He painted portraits of Greenwich Village roamers and tourists, chasing his dream to succeed as a painter.
A Vietnam War draft notice came in 1966-his dream had to wait. He thought about art throughout his training and service, and took moments for himself to sketch his fellow soldiers on scraps of paper. In Vietnam, he got a care package from his mother and made a painting with its brown paper, brushing bits of color of a woman holding a baby. He avoids remembering the horrors of the war.
A mine destroyed Jesse’s strong hand and hospitalized him for weeks. I asked him how the war changed his art. “It made me more passionate,” he said. “It shook me and I started to look at things the way they really were.” Losing his hand did not stop him. “I’ve created more art this way, after losing my hand,” Jesse continued. Be it his foot, mouth, or prosthetic, he would paint with anything if he had to.
For the last four weeks, StoryCorps’ East MobileBooth was in Bellefonte, a charming Victorian town of 7,000 in Central Pennsylvania. We had local historians, music instructors, local farmers, and even members of Bellefonte’s Borough Council come and share their stories. In fact, thanks to the wide geographic reach of our local radio partner, WPSU, we enjoyed having participants from all parts of the region.
Two of these participants are sisters Jessica Welch and Jennifer Theiss. Last week, they came into our booth to honor the life of their father, former State College Mayor William Welch, who passed away on September 4th, 2009. Mr. Welch was Mayor from 1994 until his death, winning his last re-election in 2007. Before being Mayor, he served four years as a State College councilman. He was a graduate of Penn State University and lived most of his life in the area.
Ms. Welch and Mrs. Theiss did not come to honor their father’s career in public service. They came to remember him as a family man with baby blue eyes, suspenders, and a Panama hat. Mr. Welch was an avid reader who took great pride in being perceived as intelligent. He was a friendly neighbor to Mrs. Theiss’s family. He was a devoted football fan (some of Ms. Welch’s most cherished memories are of watching football on her dad’s couch). And he was a very, very devoted – and well-dressed – stamp collector. When Mrs. Theiss was fourteen years old, he took her to a philately convention in Reno. Just a few years ago, accompanied by Ms. Welch, he attended an international convention in Colombia, where his collection received an award that Mr. Welch displayed proudly in his home.
Perhaps the thing Mr. Welch’s daughters remember him most for is his positivity. Mr. Welch’s kidneys failed sixteen years ago, and Ms. Welch donated one of her kidneys to save his life. His health continued to deteriorate over time, but, according to his daughters, he maintained an unwavering optimism. “I never heard him complain once,” said Mrs. Theiss.
In honor their father, the sisters planned to stay home and watch Penn State’s college football season opener, just like their father would have done.
Our first weekend in Fargo was packed with events for Pride Weekend. From a special roller derby bout to a block party culminating in a parade through downtown Fargo, the Mobile Team stayed busy trying to keep up with everything between interviews! Even busier than us was The Pride Collective. The Pride Collective organized all the events for Pride Weekend and also helped us invite members of the LGBTQ community and allies from the Fargo-Moorhead area to do a StoryCorps interview.
Nelson Richardson came to the MobileBooth during our second week in Fargo with his partner Denis Timm. The couple recently moved to Fargo, which for Nelson meant moving back home to the Midwest. Nelson grew up in Minnesota, spent a few of his teen years living in a monastery in California, and as a young man ended up living in New York City.
He met Denis there through a dating service called Brunch Buddies. Nelson explains: “You paid a fee and you got a list of six numbers.” The six numbers were from other men who had also signed up for the service. Nelson arranged dates with the first six numbers and didn’t find anyone he liked. During the second round of numbers, Nelson met Denis.
At the time Nelson lived in Manhattan and Denis lived in Brooklyn. Denis remembers arranging the date: “People that were in the ‘city’ would never come out to the boroughs, and I remember speaking on the phone and he agreed to come to Brooklyn and meet me at my job … It was a big plus for Nelson.”
Denis recalls one other thing in particular about their first date: Nelson’s shoes. “Those shoes were old, beat up – they looked like big clunky Uggs. And he had on nice dress pants and a decent shirt and he had these shoes on. It was like wearing a tuxedo with flip flops. It was just so incongruous, it was so weird. But that was Nelson. And Nelson is still weird.”
For Nelson, being weird was mainly a problem for him when he met new people. He describes himself as intensely shy. But in the end, Nelson found he couldn’t help himself around Denis: “One time we had a car trip and I said, ‘You know I do think I like you very much.’ But it was a very tentative statement … We had to give it time. And we did, and now it’s 24 plus years.”
A bilingual, bicultural home could present challenges for both parents and their children. What will be the dominant language? How do you balance the two heritages?
In July, Olga Galvez brought her mother, Chris Ettlin Galvez, to our San Francisco booth to tell the story of their family for an Historias recording. Chris grew up in a white middle class family in East Oakland. During the 1960′s Chris was hitchhiking in Central California with a friend and they were given a ride by a family of Latino farmworkers. Chris’ friend, fluent in Spanish, was able to converse easily with the family. That day turned out to be a transformative one for Chris. She was introduced to an entirely new language and culture. She went on to became a Spanish major at San Francisco State College where she also earned a teaching credential.
Having been active in the civil rights movement during this period, and with her newly developed language skills, Chris found a place in the United Farm Workers organization. Soon, Chris met her future husband, a Salvadoran immigrant. After a whirlwind courtship, they got married and began a family in San Francisco. In Chris’ words, having her children was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” Chris felt that it was important for her daughters to be fluent in Spanish and it became the dominant language spoken in the home. English could easily be picked up from Chris’s side of the family and in the larger culture.
When I tell people that I work for StoryCorps, many people mention a parent or grandparent they wish they had interviewed before they passed, which is one of the many reasons we are so excited that we’re partnering with Ruth and Naomi Senior Outreach in Birmingham, AL.
Chaplains Mary McQueen Porter and Lynn Bledsoe visit isolated elders to sing, play harp, and provide human and canine companionship. In their own way, they exemplify the StoryCorps motto, “listening as an act of love.”
Mary and Lynn are now incorporating StoryCorps interviews into their senior outreach visits. To date, they have recorded over a dozen interviews with elders using a StoryKit.
If Portland, Oregon isn’t currently one of your top choices of places to see in the United States, you might think about updating your list. Heralded as one of the ‘greenest’ cities in America, Portland is a hotbed of community activity and a beacon of 21st century city planning. Bicyclists and pedestrians fill the tree-lined streets, taking time from their leisurely stroll for a quick cup of Stumptown coffee or a bite to eat at one of the local food carts.
A big city that still retains the small town vibe, Portland is a place where happy hour-frequenting 20-somethings and families coexist peacefully. And smack dab in the middle of downtown Portland sits the Multnomah County Central Library, a pillar of this North Western community since 1913. Like Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), the Multnomah Library was a 2009 recipient of the National Medal Award, awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to the ten best libraries and museums around the country.
(Multnomah County Library, front entrance)
Behind the beautiful facade of the building lies nearly 17 miles (yes, MILES) of book shelving, which is a good thing because according to the Library’s website the average library card holder in Multnomah county checks out nearly 31 items per year, a national record.
Last week, StoryCorps Facilitator Sophie Simon-Ortiz and I traveled from foggy San Francisco to Sunny Portland for three days of recordings. Here are a few of the stories that came out of that quiet room in the back of the library.
Not quite underwater, fellow facilitator Katrina Singh and I were actually at the Tennessee Aquarium. We hit the road in early August, headed two hours north of Atlanta to Chattanooga. The three-day recording experience was a gift to the Tennessee Aquarium from IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services). Each year, IMLS awards five museums and five libraries with the nation’s highest honor, the National Medal. In 2009, the Tennessee Aquarium was among the ten institutions to receive it.
Tennessee Aquarium Communications Manager Thom Benson immediately made us feel at home. While Katrina facilitated the first conversation, I checked out the seahorses just around the corner – what a diverse and colorful group of fish. At the end of the day, Thom took us on a tour of the museum’s Ocean Journey building. There we were mesmerized by jellyfish, impressed by the variety and numbers of marine animals and amused by penguins. It was a blast!