The Telling Takes Us Home

A Celebration of American Family Stories

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic Joe is offering to send a Story-A-Day in an email to anyone who requests it. The recorded stories will be from 2 - 6 minutes in length in Mp3 form and are selected to help bring a bit of encouragment and reflection on the power of families and communities to overcome hardship by pulling together. Plus a bit of humor to keep our spirits up. They will be posted here too.

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3-17-20 (St. Patrick's Day) – Kevin Burke / Pony Cart

And since today is St. Patrick's Day I am sending along 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 to visit his grandparents. Here is a memory from those days.

3-18-20  Alan Hayashi / Mother Treated for TB

Here is our second story-a-day told by Alan Hayashi who when I recorded him he 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 be a good thing to consider the influences that led them to take on this challenging work. Of course, if you have any comments I'd love to hear them.

3-19-20  Maria Gillan / The Yearbook

Today's story is a series of recollections by Maira Mazziotti Gillan about her Italian-born mother. As I thought about the suffering 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.

By way of saying goodbye to this St. Patrick's Day week, today's story comes from Michael Pritchard. Michael is an actor who has worked with troubled youth for many years. I met Michael and recorded his family stories when I was giving a talk at a juvenile justice conference where he was also a presenter.

3-20-20  Michael Pritchard

I find music a great help when I’m faced with difficulties. Here are a pair of short stories about the role music played each family’s life. The first is told by Eric Funk. He is a composer, musician, and professor of music at Montana State University in Bozeman. I interviewed Eric for my Rosin the Bow radio series.

I became friends with Dr. Bill Durbrow when Paula and I lived in Nevada City, California. He often came over to our house and played wonderful Stephen Foster songs on our piano. I miss those visits.

3-21-20  Eric Funk/Opera Day Bill Durbrow/ Chopin Waltzes

As people struggle just to figure out how they will meet their basic bodily needs, food—clothing, and shelter—this story by Olga Andreyev Carlisle speaks to the needs of the soul. In this case, beauty.

3-22-20  Olga Andreyev Carlisle/The Necklace

3-23-20  James Ferris - Juvenile Judge

When I first met James Farris, he was serving as a juvenile judge in Beaumont, Texas. Here are two short stories that I culled from a longer interview in which Judge Farris talked about his family and his memories of his father. I picked these stories because, with schools being closed in many communities for the foreseeable future, many parents find themselves spending more time with their children than they had planned. In Judge Farris’ story, we meet a parent who made a decision to spend extra time with his son because he believed his son needed that special kind of attention.  

3-24-20 Betty Farmer - Beans Worked Me Hard

People are realizing now more than ever how important it is that people tell the truth, especially those in leadership positions. When they don’t, they risk making the situation a whole lot worse than it needs to be. I met and interviewed Betty Farmer at the West Virginia Folk Festival in Glenville, West Virginia, some years ago. She was one of the “Belles,” women over the age of seventy who were selected by each county in West Virginia to represent them at the festival. She had many good stories to tell and this one reminds us why it’s usually a good idea to tell the truth. Hope you enjoy it.

3-25-20 Les Purce - Fortune Teller

3-26-20 Stan Miller - The Reunion

Stan Miller lives in Nevada County, CA, and he was the principal of the elementary school where my daughter Emily attended from 1st  grade to 3rd grade. Stan had a slew of great family stories and I think this one is particularly suited for these stressful times when so many people, among them doctors and other health care professionals, find themselves separated from their loved ones, sometimes for long periods of time. That also includes grandparents who are prevented from physically visiting with their grandchildren until the pandemic passes.

Les Purce is an African-American who grew up in Pocatello, Idaho. When I met Les and recorded his family stories he was the president of the Evergreen State College here in Olympia, Washington. Here he tells a story about a fortune teller who helps Les’ grandmother Birdie prepare for what fate has in store for her.

3-27-20 Joanna Robinson - The Fire

We often find ourselves tested by disasters both large and small and, if we’re lucky, we might learn something true about ourselves and others. This story is told by Joanna Robinson, a wise soul and godmother to my daughter Emily.

3-28-20 Frank Orlando - Mother Was a Hairdresser

On Friday’s Morning Edition, NPR ran a story about how women are mourning the fact that they are prevented from going to their hairdressers because of fear of the Covid19. The news story made me think of a memory that Frank Orlando shared with me about his mother and how she did far more for her customers than just wash, cut, and style their hair.

3-29-20 James Houston - Thoughts on Family Stories

Some of us today who are being forced to stay at home are thinking more and more about our families and our own lives. Maybe you have considered writing down your stories. But then you think, perhaps, that nobody will publish your story or the story of your family, so why bother. As a writer myself, I find the act of writing deeply satisfying whether or not I believe what I am writing will get published. It’s a journey, the writing, a great way to develop the reflective powers of my brain and mind. James Houston was a writer who died in 2009. He was also my friend. His fiction and non-fiction books chronicled the history of the West and the Pacific Rim. When I was going around recording people telling their family stories I asked him to share his thoughts on the subject of family stories and why we sometimes feel compelled to tell them. So take his advice and start writing. If nothing else, it will help pass the time.


3-30-20 Billy Cornette - A Civil War Story

In case they come to take your toilet paper, here’s what you might do. Billie Cornette is an old-time musician who plays with the Reed Island Rounders. I recorded him telling family stories while attending the Appalachian String Band Festival that is held in early August each year at a state park in Clifftop, West Virginia.