In case you missed the story, last Friday was something other than Black. It was also the National Day of Listening, something I would color happy.
Read the story here. Here's a snippet: "Launched by oral-history organization StoryCorps and scheduled for a day when families are more often dashing to take advantage of Black Friday sales, the event seeks to give people a reason to sit down with friends and family and have intimate conversations that can be preserved as heirlooms." You can also get tips on capturing oral histories here.
Just about every year, I go out to Raccoon Creek, W.Va., for an annual church homecoming that serves as a family reunion. Every year, fewer and fewer people attend. I had often wondered how long the distinctive dialect of my father's family would survive, not to mention how long anybody would remember any of the stories about growing up miles and miles from the nearest town, relying on only themselves.
Through a twisty trail of Internet surfing that led to e-mails and finally to a telephone conversation, I hooked up with a linguistics professor at West Virginia University (who used to teach, oddly enough, at N.C. State) and offered to interview my father and his six siblings for his linguistics project and for my own satisfaction of having the stories for myself.
I've culled a couple of bites of an interview I did with my father's two brothers, Leonard and Don, both of whom grew up on Raccoon Creek and both of whom were part of the huge migration of West Virginians who left in the '50s and '60s to work in factories up north. Leonard ended up in Columbus, Ohio, and Don in Detroit. Even after decades away, Leonard has so many of the linguistic features I loved in my grandmother, the a- in front of certain verbs. But the best part, of course, is how people I never knew are now alive in me because of the stories I captured. Now I know about the great featherbed of my father's grandmother, (Joannah Adkins Eplin, above) a woman who was born in 1869 and who died in 1948, and about the syrup pot she kept on her stove -- and about how much her grandsons loved her.
Even though the official Day of Listening has come and gone, if you have the chance this holiday season, get your dad to tell his war story just one more time -- on tape! -- or have your grandmother share her favorite childhood memory. It's a gift you can give yourself and to every generation after you.