The Telling Takes Us Home

A Celebration of American Family Stories

Joe McHugh is a storyteller, old-time fiddler, author, and public radio journalist/producer. In the 1995, he set out on a quest across the United States to record people telling their family stories, the kind of stories that get passed down in families and organizations that help tell us who we are and where we come from. They encompass the experiences of families living on farms, in small towns, and big cities, of what it was like to leave Europe, Africa, and Asia to come to America in hopes of finding a better life, of working in coal mines and in factories, of running for political office, and, well, it’s a long list but collectively these stories help tell the American story with an authenticity and passion often lacking in text books.

1  Kevin Burke - Joke with the Pony Cart

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, here is a story told by Irish fiddler Kevin Burke. Kevin grew up in London, the son of Irish parents, and he would go with the family to Ireland when he was young to visit his grandparents. Here are some memories of those visits and a prank once pulled on his grandfather.

2  Alan Hayashi - As Long As I Have You

This story is told by Alan Hayashi who, when I recorded him, was the head medical officer for Placer County in California. As we think and appreciate what public health officials do to keep us safe, it might worth considering the influences that led them to take on this challenging work. Music is by the Ink Spots.

3  Maria Gillan - The Yearbook

For this story, Maira Mazziotti Gillan talks about her Italian-born mother. As I thought about the suffering caused by the pandemic in Italy as well as our own country, I thought of Maria. She is a respected poet and the founding director of the Paterson Poetry Center in Paterson, New Jersey, the city where I did most of my growing up. Paterson was, and continues to be, a community of immigrants, a place people come to hoping to improve their lot in life. Hope you enjoy Maria's enthusiasm for this experiment we call America.

What's more, family stories celebrate the bedrock relationships that often exist between the generations: the lessons we learn from a mother or father, from a wise grandparent or eccentric uncle or aunt. They might not be the kind of action-packed stories served up by Hollywood but, because they arise from lived experience, they have staying power. Like vitamins for the body, family stories can help strengthen our internal emotional and psychological immune system so that we might better resist the dis-eases of cynicism, despair, conceit, and fear of others. For when all is said and done, we are all in this together and must learn to work together if we hope to forge a better future for ourselves and for those to come.