COVID-19 – StoryCorps
Triple your impact this Giving Tuesday! Donate by midnight, 11/30! Donate

“We’re Stuck With Each Other”: An Unconventional Quarantine Love Story

Neil Kramer and Sophia Lansky married in 1996, but it didn’t work out. After they divorced, Neil moved across the country, but they still leaned on each other. 

At the end of 2019, when the pipes in Sophia’s apartment burst, she was stuck with no place to stay. So she called the one person she knew she could depend on.

Neil Kramer and Sophia Lansky holding hands in Queens, New York, in October of 2021, on what would have been their 25th wedding anniversary. Courtesy of Neil Kramer.

Sophia moved in with Neil at the beginning of 2020. Coincidentally, Neil’s mother also moved back in with him around the same time, and the three of them decided to share the two-bedroom New York apartment for what they thought would be “a few weeks”. 

Elaine Kramer (left), Neil Kramer, and Sophia Lansky in Queens NY, in May of 2021. Courtesy of Neil Kramer.

Exes Sophia and Neil came to StoryCorps to talk about what they’ve learned from living together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early on during the pandemic, Neil started chronicling their odd living arrangements through a photography project. 

From left to right: Sophia, Neil, and Elaine watching the news in March of 2020. Queens, New York. Courtesy of Neil Kramer. 

He’s still taking photographs of their shared experience. And the three of them are able to collectively tap into the humor and absurdity of their life.

Top Photo: Neil Kramer and Sophia Lansky on February 9th, 2022 in Queens, New York. Courtesy of Neil Kramer.

Originally aired February 11, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

As The Curtain Goes Up —Two Performers Remember “Phantom’s” Beloved Costume Dresser

Phantom of the Opera had its Broadway premiere in 1988, at the Majestic Theatre. Not long after its opening, Jennifer Arnold would become a permanent fixture on the crew, working as a costume dresser for over thirty years. 

Jennifer Arnold, courtesy of Janet Saia.

Jen embodied the spirit of the theater world, with a quirky sense of style and an enigmatic spark. She was also known for creating intricate matchboxes with photos and glitter, giving them as gifts to members of the cast and crew. Each one, intentionally designed for the person.

Janet Saia’s collection of matchboxes gifted to her by Jennifer Arnold. Courtesy of Janet Saia.

When the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down Broadway, the theaters closed their doors. Within a matter of weeks, Jen would pass away. 

Kelly Jeanne Grant and Janet Saia are two performers for the show. They came to StoryCorps as the show reopened in 2021 to remember their friend, and the impact she had on their lives.

Janet Saia and Kelly Grant in costume backstage at the Majestic Theatre in January of 2016. Courtesy of Janet Saia. 
Top Photo: From left to right, Kelly Jeanne Grant, Jennifer Arnold, and Janet Saia in New York in 2016. Courtesy of Janet Saia.

Originally aired October 22nd, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A COVID Love Story: Detroit Couple Reflect on How a Difficult Year Brought Them Closer Together

When they first met, it didn’t take long for Namira and Omar Anani to fall in love. For Omar it was instant, but for Namira, it was Omar’s small acts of kindness that made her realize he was the one.  

They got married in November of 2019, but just four months into their marriage, their busy lives changed as Namira, a non-profit lawyer and Omar, a restaurateur, were faced with a slew of challenges brought on by the arrival of COVID-19.

They came to StoryCorps to reflect on a difficult year and how it ultimately brought them closer together. 

Photo: Namira and Omar Anani at their wedding in 2019. Courtesy of Namira Islam Anani.
Top Photo: Namira and Omar Anani in 2020. Courtesy of Namira Islam Anani.

This interview was recorded in partnership with the Arab American National Museum. It is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired February 19th, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

A Grandmother Gives Advice On Living Through “Crazy and Consequential Times”

As a young girl growing up during WWII, Jane Isay heard stories about how both of her grandparents had died during the 1918 influenza pandemic, leaving her mother an orphan from a young age. 

Now, as the United States contends with the COVID-19 pandemic, Jane made time to sit with her grandson, Tobey Isay, 11, to impart some of her hard earned wisdom. They recorded this conversation using StoryCorps Connect, not long after Tobey had contracted and recovered from COVID himself.

Editor’s note: Jane Isay is the mother of Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps. Tobey Isay is the son of Dave Isay.

Top Photo:  Jane Isay and Tobey Isay at their StoryCorps interview in Brooklyn, New York on April 11, 2020.
Middle Photo: Tobey Isay and Jane Isay. Photo courtesy of Jane Isay.

 

Chicago Siblings Remember Brother Lost To COVID and the Love He Left Behind

Growing up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Jorge and Jessica Valdivia looked up to their older brother, Mauricio. To many, he was a larger-than-life personality known to light up the room with his jokes and pranks. To his siblings, he was the rock of the family who always took the time to let them know they were loved.

Jorge remembers one Christmas when his parents couldn’t afford presents and Mauricio surprised him with his first Transformer, which he still has.

In April 2020, Mauricio, 52, died from COVID-19. He left behind his wife, their two sons, and a huge void in the lives of those who loved him most. Jorge and Jessica came to StoryCorps to share their favorite memories of Mauricio and what he meant to them.

Top Photo: The Valdivia siblings, from left to right: Eliseo Jr., Mauricio, Jessica and Jorge. Courtesy of Jorge Valdivia.

Bottom Photo: Jorge Valdivia holds the Optimus Prime Transformer that his late brother Mauricio got him one Christmas when they were young. Courtesy of Jorge Valdivia.

Originally aired February 5, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

After a Century of Living, Lessons From a Woman Who Was Larger Than Life

As of the end of 2020, more than 300,000 people in the United States have died after contracting COVID-19.

In this story, we remember one of those people: a grandmother and great-grandmother who was a larger-than-life character from a small town in northern New York.

Rose Pearl Liscum on her 96th birthday. Photo courtesy of Shelly Noti.

Rosella Pearl Liscum grew up near Ogdensburg, New York, where she died the day after Christmas at the age of 101. 

Back in 2012, she sat down for StoryCorps with her daughter, Marlene Watson, to talk about some of her most treasured relationships, including how she met her boyfriend, Bill “Wild Bill” Cota.

Rose Liscum and her boyfriend, “Wild Bill” Cota, dancing at the Heuvelton, NY AMVETS, where they first met. Photo courtesy of Marlene Watson.

 

Top Photo: Marlene Watson and Rose Pearl Liscum at their StoryCorps interview in Rensselaer Falls, NY on July 9, 2012. By Jasmyn Morris for StoryCorps.

Editor’s note: Jasmyn Morris, who co-produced this interview, is related to some of the subjects in this story. Rose Liscum was her distant cousin, Gert Uhl was Morris’ great-grandmother, and Joyce is her grandmother.

Originally aired January 1, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Queens Family’s Tradition of Feeding Those in Need — 365 Days a Year

Since 2004, Jorge Muñoz has gathered with his family in their small kitchen in Queens, New York where they cook meals for those in need. Together, they’ve provided more than one hundred meals per day to day laborers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, in the city.

They’ve kept up the tradition year-round for the last 16 years, providing approximately 500,000 meals — until May, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Using StoryCorps Connect, Jorge spoke with his sister, Luz, to remember the beginning of their journey, and how their mother inspired them to give to those in need.

Top Photo: Siblings Luz and Jorge Muñoz spoke about how their meal program began in their recent StoryCorps interview from their home in Queens, NY.

Middle Photo: The Muñoz family, (from left to right) Jorge, Justin, Blanca, and Luz, prepares meals from their kitchen in 2010.

Originally aired December 4, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“Brighten the Corner Where You Are”: Finding a New Way To Be Thankful in a Pandemic

Back in 1985, when Scott Macaulay’s parents were going through an acrimonious divorce, he found himself alone on Thanksgiving. So he decided to start cooking dinner for other people who had nowhere else to go. We first heard his story in an interview from 2010. 

 Scott Macaulay looking through one of his photo albums commemorating his Thanksgiving dinners.

For the last 35 years, he’s advertised his dinners in his local newspaper, and in what began as a dinner for a dozen people, he now typically serves upwards of 100 guests at his Thanksgiving table. But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to find new ways of connecting with strangers on this holiday. Instead he has partnered with a local restaurant to offer free meals and is handing out groceries from the window of his vacuum repair shop, Macaulay’s House of Vacuums.

Loretta Saint-Louis has been attending Scott’s dinners since 2017. Over StoryCorps Connect, Loretta and Scott talked about how they first met and what she’ll miss about not gathering this year.

Top Photo: Scott Macaulay and Loretta Saint-Louis after their StoryCorps interview in Melrose, MA on November 6th, 2020. By Alanna Kouri and Loretta Saint-Louis for StoryCorps.

Originally aired November 13th 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Interviewing Neighbors During COVID Brought Her Light “When Things Seemed So Dark.”

Leverett, Massachusetts is a rural town of about 1,800 people in the western part of the state. Downtown Leverett, if you can call it that, consists of a church, a post office, and the town hall. You can drive through town without stopping — there are no traffic lights in Leverett. If you need groceries, there’s just one store.

“It’s a beautiful place with not a lot going on,” says Leverett resident Jinny Savolainen. “An exciting moment in town is when the cows get loose and they’re in the road.”

But just like everywhere else, COVID-19 came to Leverett. And when the town went into lockdown, Jinny wanted to do something meaningful with her time. Quarantine was especially isolating for her. In 2019, Jinny lost her daughter. And when the pandemic hit, she lost her job.

So she sent an email to the town listserv asking if anyone wanted to record remote StoryCorps interviews about their life during COVID. 

“I believe our grandchildren [and] great-grandchildren will want to know how we fared during this pandemic,” she wrote in her message. “I think they will be in awe of the way Leverett has come together, in the kindest, most humblest of ways.”

What started with one email ended in a collection of over a dozen interviews recorded with StoryCorps Connect. And we asked Jinny to introduce us to some of her friends and neighbors, including:

Betsy Neisner, a long-time cancer survivor, who has lived in Leverett for almost 25 years. She and Jinny met through the local elementary school, where their children studied together. 

Portia Weiskel, a town fixture for more than 50 years, who is lovingly known as “the egg lady” for her doorstep egg deliveries in her ancient Volvo. She spoke with Jinny about a quirky quarantine tradition that started at Leverett Pond and can be heard throughout the town.

Mary Hankinson, who is a nurse at a long-term care facility working with memory-loss patients. When the pandemic first hit and she realized how hard it was to access personal protective equipment, she coordinated a group of almost a dozen women who volunteered to make masks. They were hung on a rack outside the post office, where anyone could pick one up for free. 

Taken together, these conversations paint a picture of small town life and community during an unprecedented time. As Jinny put it, “Just when things seemed so dark, I found some light in the words of the people all around me.”

Top Photo: Jinny Savolainen standing in the garden of her home in Leverett, MA. Courtesy of Jinny Savolainen.
Second Photo: A quiet day in downtown Leverett. Courtesy of Jinny Savolainen.
Third Photo: Leverett Pond, where people gather on Sundays at 8 PM, to express their gratitude for essential workers by howling. Courtesy of Jinny Savolainen.
Bottom Photo: The Leverett Post Office, where hand-made free masks are available to anyone and everyone. Courtesy of Jinny Savolainen.

Originally aired October 9, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Together, Mother And Daughter Social Workers Face New Challenges During Pandemic

In 2018, Michelle Huston and her daughter Lauren Magaña came to StoryCorps in Atlanta to talk about their shared calling: helping people in the last stages of their lives.

Two years later, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle and Lauren returned to have a conversation over StoryCorps Connect about how their usually very intimate jobs have changed due to the lockdown caused by the virus.

Top Photo: Michelle-Dawne Hudson and Lauren Magaña at their StoryCorps interview in Atlanta, GA on August 21, 2018. By Hillery Rink for StoryCorps.
Bottom Photo: Michelle-Dawne Huston and her daughter Lauren Magaña working together at a nursing home in 2018.

Originally aired October 2, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.