Excerpt from the “Story of StoryCorps” in Listening Is an Act of Love
by Dave Isay
In early 2003, a small team of colleagues and I started piloting the project. We rented a recording studio in Manhattanâs Chinatown and built a simulated booth out of seven-foot-tall pieces of thick acoustic foam. I invited my great-uncle Sandy to record the first session. Sandy was eighty-eight years old at the time, the last living member of my grandparentsâ generation. He had been married to my grandmotherâs sister Birdie for fifty-five years. She had passed away several months before the interview. Unlike Birdie and her sisters, my great uncle Sandy was not an over-the-top character. I knew him as a gentle, quiet man with a dry sense of humor. I wasnât at all sure if the interview would work.
Uncle Sandy and I sat together in this mock booth, and for forty minutes he told me stories Iâd never heard before. He talked about his first date with Birdie, how heâd asked her to meet him on a tenement stoop on Manhattanâs Fourteenth Street. âI see this vision of purple coming down the street,â he recalled. âShe was so glamorous, and I thought, âWhat the hell is she going to see in me, a two-bit farm boy?â Thatâs when I tried to duck out. I turned and tried to get in the door. But it was locked. And I often think if that door was open, it would have ended there. It was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.â With that, he broke down weeping.
At the end of the session I asked him how it felt. âI hate to say this, but itâs a good feeling,â he said. âI donât have to act like Iâm happy with everythingâbecause Iâm not. And I never will be.â At eighty-eight, Sandy still drove around New York City in his car. I learned that he would listen to that CD of his interview over and over again on his drives. A good sign.