Michael Garofalo (MG): From NPR, it’s the StoryCorps podcast. I’m Michael Garofalo.
A couple of weeks back, over Thanksgiving weekend, we had our second annual Great Thanksgiving Listen. This is where we try to record as many interviews as possible over one weekend using the StoryCorps app.
And in this episode, we’re going to hear a little bit of what happened in this year’s crop of stories. And we’ve got a special request for your help in solving a little mystery and maybe helping us finish one of the stories that was uploaded.
Joining me now is our digital editor, Andrew Goldberg.
Andrew Goldberg (AG): Thanks for having me.
MG: So, Andrew, you joined us about this time last year, and we talked about how the app allows for interviews to happen that probably would never happen in a StoryCorps booth.
AG: Oh, absolutely. I mean people are using the app all over the place. They continue to just like they did last year. You hear it in cars, you hear it in restaurants, on buses, in schools, all over the place. That’s one thing — one of the limitations of the booth is we can’t carry the booth everywhere, but the app can show up anywhere people want to have an interview.
MG: And something that we heard last year, and that we continue to hear, is that people find really interesting ways to use the interview.
AG: Yeah, this is really wonderful because it gives everyone an opportunity to take part. In this one interview, what you hear is a brother and sister — the sister is sixteen-years old, the brother is six. He’s autistic and doesn’t speak. So he’s signing to his sister, she’s asking the questions, signing to him. He’s signing back and she’s interpreting for him. So, this is another great example of another way to use the app.
Sister: What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
Brother: I like being able to see things that others don’t. It makes me feel special.
Sister: What are you proudest of? Why does it make you feel proud? Yeah.
Brother: I like when my pictures go on the fridge. It makes me feel good when I do well.
Sister: What’s one thing you’d want someone to know about you if they’d never met
Brother: Having autism — sometimes it makes people feel scared. But it’s not scary. Once you get to know me, I’m really fun.
AG: One of the things Dave always talked about was this is a conversation for the ages — between two people, sitting down. This is something for children’s children’s grandchildren generations to come. But really, the app is something people use for quick conversations. Sometimes they talk about current events, sometimes they just want to preserve a family story or a funny moment. And they do a minute, two minute, three minutes, nine minutes. Now the typical StoryCorps interview is about 40 minutes long. A lot of the ones that are coming in from students are six, five, ten minute interviews. They don’t go on and on.
MG: And you mention students. How are students and schools involved in this?
AG: One of the main things is that, for the Great Thanksgiving Listen, that’s where our focus was. Everyone’s welcome to participate, but the appeal was to high school students. Sit down, record an intergenerational interview. You hear people and they’re asking about things that they’re reading in their textbooks and they have people sitting in front of them who have actually lived through those events. It gets a little scary as you get older and you realize that the events you lived through and experienced are suddenly in the history books, I’m sure for a lot of us. But for somebody who is 14, 15, 16-years old, it’s a little exciting to be able to make that connection between what you study in class and people who you know in the outside world in a very different context.
MG: And this next interview sort of exemplifies what you’re talking about. It’s a granddaughter and grandmother, and they’re talking about West Virginia when it was segregated.
AG: Right. And one of the conversations they talk about is voting. The first time her grandmother was actually able to go and cast a vote in 1964, and she cast her vote for John F. Kennedy.
Granddaughter: How’d it make you feel — voting for the first time?
Grandmother: Oh, it made me feel good. It made me feel proud that I was able to vote, that I have a right to vote if I wanted to. And I wanted to. So I’ve been voting ever since — I vote every year. I like the young people now, put some young people up there that will represent y’all, not us. I’m 84, I’ll be 85 my birthday if I live. I have lived my life. This is y’all’s world now — this is not ours. We done had our world. Y’all got to face this. This is what y’all got to come up with. When you get able enough to vote, vote. People have gone to jail and everything for you to have the right to vote. Get out there and vote.
MG: So obviously these interviews were recorded just a couple weeks after a very contentious presidential election. Is that something that people talked about a lot?
AG: Oh it was a very, very, very popular topic. And people are welcome to talk about whatever they like. We don’t tell you, this is what your app interview is going to be about, just like we don’t say this is what your booth interview is going to be like. But we do put in questions to guide people in case they don’t have an idea, and we put in a whole series of election and voting questions this year. And they seemed to be some of the most popular questions of any of the ones chosen. Mainly because people did want to engage, there were people who were thrilled with the outcome of the election and shocked at the same time. And then there were people who were incredibly disappointed and also shocked at the outcome of the election. So the one common thread regardless of who you were hoping would win the election was you were shocked at the outcome.
MG: Another thing that people seemed to have talked a lot about this time was race. I don’t know if that’s because of the election or what.
AG: Yeah, people talk about race a lot. I think part of it is that race was a big part of the election that just took place. So even if you didn’t want to talk about the election, you wanted to talk about some of the topics that arose around it — whether it was gender, whether it was race, whether it was immigration — people wanted to talk about how the changes in this country are going to affect their lives going forward. And then there was a lot of reflection on how race affected people’s lives in the past. And that always happens because when you’re talking to generations that are older, they experienced a very different America in a lot of ways than what it is today.
So this next piece of tape is a granddaughter talking to her grandmother. They live in Texas. And she was talking about one of the first times that she really experienced racism in the town where she grew up. She talks about going into town with her family on a trip and what happened.
MG: And we should just warn listeners that this story does contain racial slurs.
Grandmother: I must have been about six-years old. My brother and I would go into town with my parents, mainly on Saturdays. And they parked the car near where they paid their electric bill. On the right side of the street was these big, beautiful homes with a lot of pecan trees. And the squirrels were out, just gathering up these pecans.
My brother and I saw these pecans — not inside of the woman’s yard, but outside — because we knew not to go inside of her yard. But we saw all those pecans and squirrels were gathering ‘em up, and we got out of the car to get these pecans outside of the fence. And then all of a sudden we heard a woman running out in her yard saying, “you little pickaninnies, put ‘em back, put ‘em back, put ‘em back.” That was the first time I heard the word pickaninny. I really did not know what a pickaninny meant. It’s the same as if you would call me a nigger.
And I thought for many, many nights after that, why? What did we do? And it’s an experience that you never, ever forget. That’s the unfortunate part. Some things you try to put out of your mind, but then it’s there. Those are the things that never leave.
AG: So there’s so many things about that that are compelling. It also reminds you that these things that happen when people are very young, they never leave them. And people — their lives change, they get older and have careers, and lives, and marriages, and families, but there are those sort of defining moments in people’s lives. I don’t know, when I think about the app tape I’m proudest that they’re able to share that defining moment because that should never be lost. Her granddaughter knows her as an adult, but this is something that has always stayed with her and shaped who she became and how she sees the world.
MG: That brings us to our final story. And this is the one I mentioned earlier that we need some help with from our listeners. It’s a story that raises the question: is it ever too late to make amends? And it comes from a man named Dr. Joseph Linsk. Now he lives in Atlantic City. He’s lived there his whole life. He’s been practicing medicine there since the 1940s. He’s 94-years old now and in failing health, and he’s held onto a secret from his childhood for more than 80 years.
Dr. Joseph Linsk: When I was 8 years old, I was running in the schoolyard and my arm struck the eyeglasses of one of the students. And he began to cry. He was going to tell his father. It would cost two dollars to fix the glasses. And I was frightened to death — where was I going to get the two dollars?
We had a cleaning lady by the name of Pearl, a black woman. And I knew that every week, she’d get two dollars for her services. On this particular day, I was so terrified, I took the two dollars, and took it to the teacher and settled the problem of the broken glasses.
When Pearl finished her day’s work, she went for the two dollars and they weren’t there. And my mother said there was no question that Pearl took the two dollars and didn’t admit it. And my mother was so angry, that she told Pearl not to come back anymore.
And then the word leaked out that Pearl was a thief, and Pearl couldn’t get another job. And she had several children.
I was the only one who knew the true story. And I didn’t tell anyone. And I was smitten with grief at what I had done. I kept that secret to the age of 94, which is hard to believe, but the event never left me.
MG: That’s 94-year old Dr. Joseph Linsk, recorded at his home in Atlantic City by his son, Richard.
And, Andrew, this is really half the story. It leaves us wanting to know what happened to Pearl.
AG: Dr. Linsk doesn’t remember Pearl’s last name and doesn’t know what happened to her or her family. We did some digging and here’s what we do know. Dr. Linsk grew up on Atlantic Avenue in the Uptown section of Atlantic City, New Jersey in the early 1930s. Pearl had kids so we can assume she was of a certain age, but without more information about her, we didn’t get very far.
MG: And that’s where you guys, our listeners, come in. If you think you know who Pearl was, or you might know someone who was related to her, please get in touch with us. We’ve put this out on the radio, here on the podcast, and on the web, and we’re hoping to find someone who is related to Pearl, or who knows what might have happened to her. And if we can find that person and they are willing to talk to us, or maybe even talk to Dr. Linsk, we’ll share that with you here.
To get in touch, you can use our voicemail line — (301) 744-TALK, that’s 301 744 T A L K, or write to us at the email address [email protected] Any leads, anything at all will help.
Andrew, thanks so much for joining us.
AG: Thanks for having me.
MG: That’s all for this episode. These stories were recorded with the StoryCorps app during the Great Thanksgiving Listen — year two. And you can get on your app store now.
Stories were produced by Dan Collison and the podcast was produced by me.
I’m Michael Garofalo. Until next time, thanks for listening.