Kamilah Kashanie (KK): It’s the StoryCorps Podcast from NPR. I’m your host, Kamilah Kashanie.
We’re about a week out from Thanksgiving, so I’m dropping in to remind you about something we do every year here at StoryCorps. It’s called The Great Thanksgiving Listen.
If you’ve been around StoryCorps for a while, you probably already know what I’m talking about. It was started in 2015 as a way to encourage people from all over the country from all ages to record a conversation with a loved one or someone they admire over the holiday weekend.
Participant #1: What’s been the hardest part of the pandemic?
Participant #2: Is there anything you want to tell me that you’ve never told me before?
Participant #3: Can you share one of the happiest memories that you have experienced in your lifetime?
Participant #4: Can you tell me the story of how and why you came to America?
KK: We’ll talk more about how to participate later in this episode. But first, to help inspire you to record your own conversation, we’re going to share some of the ones that we love.
First, we’ll hear from Max Garcia. He spoke with his grandfather, Mario Garcia, who was once a well-known child actor in Havana, Cuba.
In 1962, Mario fled the Castro regime and came to the US as a refugee. He had to put his acting career to the side. But he passed his passion on to his grandson. At StoryCorps, Mario told Max about the first time he ever stepped on set.
Mario García (Mar G): My father was a musician in Havana and he took me to a rehearsal. And he told me to sit down at a bench outside the studio. Suddenly, someone approached me and said, ‘We are trying to test for this commercial.’ I must have been 10 years old. So, I got up and I did the casting call. I mean, I have never been an actor, but it was like I had always been doing this. From the commercial, I went on to be on telenovelas and a movie and all that. I mean, that was gonna be my career. But, four years later came a revolution and changed it.
Max García (Max G): And you had to come to Miami.
Mar G: February 28 of 1962, I woke up and I knew that this was the day I would leave. My mother made me dress in a pinstripe suit and a beautifully white ironed shirt and a tie and she told me something that I never forgot. She said, ‘People will evaluate you based on the way you dress.’ So, I arrived in the U.S. as a refugee looking like a million dollars. But anyway, we went to the airport and there were a lot of children. We were all fighting for the window. And I remember seeing the clear waters of, of the water in Cuba. And it was so, so beautiful. 60 years later, you start telling that story and it all comes back. It, it doesn’t go away.
Max G: I remember you told me that story on my 14th birthday and it was the first time I was old enough to put it all into perspective and understand how much it took.
Mar G: Absolutely. In a foreign country with no language, no parents, going to school, gone from being an actor to, to being a busboy. I remember that I was working and I had my 15 minute break. I would go back to an alley behind the restaurant and sit on a wooden crate, and dry the tears with my apron. It was a challenge, but optimism never failed me. At 74, I’m not giving up on, you know, getting a good part in a movie sometime.
Max G: Yeah. That sense of optimism and that dreaming big that I do have before auditions, is because of you.
Mar G: Tell me, what would you see yourself playing?
Max G: My favorite scenes are the final scene where they run after them at the airport and they say, “Don’t leave me, please don’t leave me.”
Mar G: And in a perfect movie, Max, I would be the old florist who sells the bouquet that you run to the girl with. I hope that when you are my age, you will still be dreaming because the next best thing could be around the corner.
KK: That’s Mario Garcia, with his grandson, Max Garcia.
This next conversation was actually recorded on Thanksgiving a few years ago, using the StoryCorps app, so you might hear some family dinner sounds in the background.
It’s a 13-year-old interviewing her grandmother. She wanted to know more about her grandfather, who died when she was really young.
Granddaughter: No one ever told me this, like, my Mom won’t tell me where did he die and like how did he die?
Grandmother: He died in my bedroom, and the night before he died, for some reason, he couldn’t sleep, and I didn’t sleep. And we were just talking about our lives when everybody was a baby, when Mommy was a baby, and we talked until four o’clock in the morning. My last words to him were, “Well, you can sleep in the morning but I’ve got to get up so why don’t we just end this conversation and go to sleep?” And he never woke up.
Granddaughter: Think that was fate?
Grandmother: I think it was fate because we shared our whole life that night, and why would we have chosen that night to do it?
Granddaughter: Yeah. This also isn’t a question but it just popped into my head — why don’t you want to date again? Like do you think, like, he doesn’t want me to, or something like that.
Grandmother: No, I don’t think Grandpa would have a problem with it — I think if it was the reverse, Grandpa would be married now. I know Grandpa would be married now! I’ve had like about four different people in my life that I dated for a little bit. I think what happens is that you get kind of independent and I like to do what I like to do when I like to do it without answering to anybody who I didn’t share my life with. Like anybody I didn’t meet now, I just don’t really want to give my independence to somebody that I just meet on the internet or something.
KK: That conversation is a really good example of how some StoryCorps recordings give you a chance to ask things you always wanted to or maybe wouldn’t ask otherwise.
So, we know that not everybody is gonna be together this Thanksgiving, either because of COVID or because not everyone lives near family, but you can still participate in the Great Thanksgiving Listen!
We’ll tell you how, after this short break. Stay with us.
KK: Welcome back.
If you’re not going to be with the ones you love this Thanksgiving, there are still lots of ways you can connect with your people. The next two stories you’re about to hear were recorded remotely using StoryCorps Connect.
First, is Dominie Apeles interviewing her Grandpa, Florentino Apeles back in April of this year.
Dominie Apeles (DA): What’s been the hardest part of the pandemic?
Florentino Apeles (FA): The fact that I’ve seen a lot of people suffer. That was very hard.
DA: Yeah, you’ve been to a lot of funerals.
DA: We saw each other every week, even if we were social distance. We’ve always been like this. After I was born, I saw you every day.
FA: Yeah. [Laughs.]
DA: What do you remember about the first time you saw me as a baby?
FA: You looked very, very, very like your mom and your Lola. [Laughs]
DA: Lolo, what happened on your first date? With Lola.
FA: We were on a zigzag road. You know, it’s a lot of turns. I was sitting in the back and I didn’t feel well so I threw up. [Chuckles.] She actually put her hand below my mouth so I would not wet the rest of the seat. And right away, I fell in love with the look on her face.
DA: What do you see of you in me?
FA: I’m going to use the word resourceful. You’re a jack of all trades. Dancing, singing, painting, cooking. Name it, and you’ve got it. What do you like most about me?
DA: You have these crazy stories and most of them don’t even exist. You taught me everything. I love you Lolo.
FA: Oh, me too. Very, very, very, very much.
KK: That was Florentino Apeles, and his granddaughter Dominie Apeles.
Our next story comes from brother and sister, Jorge and Luz Muñoz. They spent 16 years cooking hot meals for day laborers in Queens, N.Y. Jorge and his family aren’t feeding people in their usual way right now, but they are sending food donations to families in need.
Luz Muñoz (LM): I remember one day we were having lunch, somebody knock on the door. Mommy, get up and see who it was. She came back and said, “There’s a guy asking for something to eat.” And you Jorgie, you just get up and give them your meal. You were seven.
Jorge Muñoz (JM): We learned that from her. She says, “We have a home, food to eat, but some of them, they don’t have nothing, so just share.”
LM: We don’t have a lot of money. We sleep all of us in one room: mommy, you and me. And it was hard like having sometimes one meal, two meals a day. Then when we start working, we got a little bit lift.
JM: I was working as a school bus driver, and one day I noticed seven guys waiting for someone to pick them up and go do any kind of job. It was raining and they have no job that day to buy food. So I tell them I have some food at home. And that’s when the idea starts to cook for them. What was your first reaction?
LM: Oh, you are crazy. [laughs] No I’m kidding. I was happy because we can help you. Mom was doing the rice, I was chopping the onions, and you were doing tomatoes. I mean, the kitchen was small for us, but we were together. What gives you hope or strength now?
JM: I don’t know how to answer that one. I mean, I feel good. You do not need to be rich to feel what I feel, just willing to do it. At the end of the day, when you hand them a meal and you see that smile on their faces, that smile pays for everything.
That was Jorge and Luz Muñoz over StoryCorps Connect.
And just to show you how easy it is to use, I tried it out last year too. I interviewed my own grandmother, Velma Hamilton.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time at her house. She’s lived in the same brownstone in Brooklyn for most of her life, because before it was her house, it belonged to her grandparents.
Kamilah Kashanie (KK): Can you tell me what your grandmother was like?
Velma Hamilton (VH): My grandmother ruled the nest, okay? She was the matriarch. All wise, all wisdom, that’s how she was. I remember people all over the block called her mom or grandma because she had that mothering spirit. She had a tendency to take over your life. But it was all done in love. And you have a tendency to give it to her.
KK: Did she do the cooking?
VH: Oh yeah. The house was always smelling of food.
KK: Like a true Caribbean household!
VH: Oh it felt like a true Caribbean house. You smelled coconut, stew beef and bacalao. And you know what! It didn’t matter what she was cooking. Whenever she cooked, she used to share it with the block. And my grandmother, she was always giving, always caring; That’s what made her function.
KK: You’re like that too.
VH: You know what, as I’m thinking about, it’s just what we’re made for, we’re made to do. If somebody needs help, how can you not help them?
KK: I think that the most valuable thing you’ve taught me is how to be selfless. Like how to be generous to other people. In, like, the way we spend our holidays together, everyone’s welcome, anyone can come.
VH: Well if you get nothing else, I’m glad that you at least got that from me. That you’re willing to give of yourself. I really am proud of you, you know.
KK: Thank you. And now you get a little sneak peek into what I do for work. This is what I do all day!
VH: Yes, yes. And it’s just right up your alley, because you love to talk!
KK: OK. [laughs]
VH: This is definitely your gift honey. You’re operating in your gift.
KK: As you think about who you’d like to interview over Thanksgiving weekend, ask yourself, ‘Who do I admire? If this was our last conversation, what would I want to say to them? What do I wanna learn?’
And then record your conversation in person using the StoryCorps app, or remotely using StoryCorps Connect. For more information, including our list of great questions to ask, head over to thegreatlisten.org.
That’s all for this episode. It was produced by Laila Oweda and edited by Jasmyn Morris. Our technical director is Jarrett Floyd. This episode was fact checked by Zanna Mckay. Special thanks to Michael Garofalo, Janmaris Perez, Mia Warren, Eleanor Vasilli, Abe Selby, and Sylvie Lubow.
To see what music we used in the episode, go to StoryCorps – dot – org.
For the StoryCorps podcast, I’m Kamilah Kashanie. We’ll be back with a brand new season on December 7th, but for now, Happy Thanksgiving!