Story of StoryCorps Excerpt

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 Manhattan’s 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 grandparents’ generation. He had been married to my grandmother’s 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 wasn’t 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 I’d never heard before. He talked about his first date with Birdie, how he’d asked her to meet him on a tenement stoop on Manhattan’s Fourteenth Street. “I see this vision of purple coming down the street,” he recalled. “She was so glamorous, and I thought, ‘What the hell is she going to see in me, a two-bit farm boy?’ That’s 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.” With that, he broke down weeping.

At the end of the session I asked him how it felt. “I hate to say this, but it’s a good feeling,” he said. “I don’t have to act like I’m happy with everything—because I’m not. And I never will be.” 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.

Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.