A Celebration of American Family Stories
101 Bruce "Utah" Phillips - Thoughts on Storytelling
Since we’ve just past our 100th story I thought I would feature folksinger and songwriter Bruce “Utah” Phillips talking about the importance of storytelling in our lives. His comments are followed by a song Utah wrote titled “The Telling Takes Me Home.” With Bruce’s permission and encouragement, I made a slight change to the title for my radio series celebrating family stories, The Telling Takes Us Home. Bruce is gone now but he lives in my heart and in the imagination and hearts of so many people. How I wish I could talk to him now about what is going on. I’m sure he would have something worthwhile to say.
102 Alan Jabbour - Lost Horses
Some years ago I interviewed a fiddler named Alan Jabbour for his family stories in Washington DC. He served as the director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Here he tells a story about an ancestor’s grand plan for coming to America that failed to pan out, as the saying goes.
103 Oleta Singleton - An Old-time Church Meeting
Our friends Scott and Jeanie in Port Townsend are members of a church but they are prevented from worshipping in person because of the pandemic. So I thought this story by 93-year-old Oleta Singleton from central West Virginia about a very different kind of church meeting might bring both them and you a smile.
104 Charles Lane - Tuskegee Airman
Back in the early2000s, I spent several months in Omaha, NE, working with young people under the supervision of the juvenile drug court. My project was to teach them how to conduct quality interviews with some of the elders of their community. This included Holocaust survivors, WWII military pilots, three generations of firefighters, a noted jazz musician, a 93-year-old former Pullman porter, a former organizer for the meat packing union, and others. After the interviews were recorded, I worked with the young people to create a series of radio programs that aired on Nebraska Public Radio and a station in California. Well, given all that is happening related to race relations in the United States I thought I would feature part of an interview from that project with retired fighter pilot Colonel Charles Lane who during WWII flew with the all-black 332nd Fighter Group and were known as the Tuskegee Airmen
105 John Deaderick - Madame Butterfly
Our friend John Deaderick told me this story when we lived in Nevada City. My mother loved opera and so the story had special meaning for me.
106 Beverly Marks - Jesse James Slept in Barn
Beverly Marks who now lives in northern California shares her memories of stories that reach back to her family’s roots in Nebraska
107 John Wheeler - The Earring
Here’s a story about courtship in earlier times told by John Wheeler from Charlottesville, Virginia. Love it appears can come to anyone at any age.
108 Martin Simpson - The Gift of Music
Martin Simpson is a celebrated guitarist and banjo player from England who I met and recorded at the Strawberry Music Festival some years ago. The festival was held each spring and fall at Camp Mather on the rim of the Yosemite Valley in California, a magical place full of music and good cheer. Martin plays the music that follows the story.
109 Jay Ungar - Ashokan Farewell
Well, one of the most celebrated and beloved public television documentaries was the Civil War by Ken Burns. The theme music for the series, “Ashokan Farewell,” was written and performed by fiddler Jay Ungar. I spent time with Jay and his wife Molly at the Ashokan Environmental Education Center in upstate New York in 2015 and recorded an interview for my Rosin the Bow podcast series. Here is the story Jay told me about writing “Ashokan Farewell” and how the waltz played a significant role in keeping the Ashokan Center alive.
And I will end with this: We find ourselves as Americans this Independence Day struggling to overcome our political, racial, economic, religious, and cultural differences so that we might not only limit the spread of the Covid 10 virus but also remember and strengthen the ideals from which spring this unique experiment in self-government. I pray that we come to our senses and, if music can play even a small part in that, I say let us be thankful.
110 Michael Pritchard - Anzio
Historians estimate that during WWII 60,000 to 70,000 Allied troops were killed in Italy between September 1943 and April 1945. The number of casualties—killed and wounded—exceeded 320,000. Perhaps as we celebrate the 4th of July, we might consider the sacrifice made by men and women from all walks of life in defeating the evils of totalitarianism so that we might enjoy the fruits of democracy, flawed and threatened as that form of government may appear to us in this day and age.
This story is told by Michael Pitchard and concerns the Battle of Anzio, one of the bloodiest engagements of the Italian campaign during which Allied troops were pinned down for months on the beachhead just south of Rome.
The song that follows the story was written at the time by a British soldier named Harry Pynn in response to an alleged comment made by a member of Parliament bemoaning the fact that the real battle to end the war was the invasion of Normandy and that the soldiers fighting in Italy were little more than a bunch of “D-Day dodgers.” It is performed by the Clancy Brothers from Ireland.
111 Mike Farrell - My Irish American Father
Today’s story is told by Mike Farrell. Mr. Farrell is well known as the actor who played Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt in the TV series MASH and for his commitment to social justice issues. He came to Olympia some years ago to give a speech and we sat down for a conversation about his family and his conflicted relationship with his father. My father died when I was just one year old and my mother never remarried, so I never had to navigate what has been for many young men uncertain waters.
112 J.D. Hoover - New Shoes
This story is told by J.D. Hoover from Braxton County, WV. J.D. works for the juvenile court in West Virginia and, like many of the West Virginians I know, is a skilled teller of tales.
113 Bill Knight - A Family Concern
For today’s story Bill Knight talks about how his family worked together to find a way forward for one of their own. I pray that this extended family we call America can learn to work together for the welfare of all.
114 Geraldine Flaherty - A Way to Save Money
I love courtship stories and this one is told by Geraldine Flaherty and is about how her parents got together.
115 Frank Chezik - El Dorado
This story is told by our good friend Frank Chezik. Frank is a commercial electrician and his wife Karen is a retired educator and school administrator. They live in Nevada City, California. Whenever we visit Frank and Karen we go away feeling better about ourselves and the world. You can’t ask for better than that.
116 Litzie Trustin - Escape from Austria
As parents we want to do all we can to keep our children safe but it is a gift to be able to identify real threats from imagined threats. Litzie Trustin participated in our Omaha Voice project for which young people under the supervision of the Sarpy and Douglas County Juvenile Courts interviewed the “elders” of their community for a series of public radio documentaries. One of the documentaries concerned Holocaust survivors and for it Litzie talked about her experiences as a child in England during WWII. Here she tells how her mother was responsible for getting her and her sister safely out of Austria soon after Hitler took over.
117 Beverly Quinn McHugh - The Horseblanket Dollar
When I began work on the Telling Takes Us Home radio series I interviewed my mother for her stories. We sat for several hours talking about grandparents and great-grandparents and her own childhood growing up in rural northwestern New Jersey where her parents ran a roadside hot dog and hamburger stand that they purchased in 1929, just before the the stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed.
Here she talks about how important true leadership can be for people struggling to make sense of the world and put food on the table. I thought it spoke to our own situation and how essential an election can be to the survival of our republic.
I’ll also mention that I went on the Internet soon after interviewing my mother and was able to purchase one of the large pre-1932 dollar bills from a collector. That’s when I found out the bills are called “horse blanket” dollars. Paula and I then put it in a frame and gave it to my mother that following Christmas. Since my mother knew little of the Internet and never thought there was a way to find such a dollar bill, she was thrilled with the gift and, now that she has passed away, it hangs on the wall of our house in Olympia.
118 Robert Morgan - Panthers and Rattlesnakes
I think a bit of American folklore would be a welcome distraction given what is going on. These tales are told by Robert Morgan who teaches writing at Cornell University and who earlier told us about his family’s memories of “Hellmira,” a prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War.
119 Stan Miller - The Robes
This story is told by Stan Miller who, when I first met him, was serving as principal of my daughter Emily’s elementary school in Nevada City, CA. He shared earlier with us a story about how his grandmother and infant father missed the sailing of the Titanic by only a couple of hours. This is a very different kind of story and a slice of American life not all that long ago.
120 Bebs Chorak - Memories of Tugga
Here is a story told by eighty-five year old Luigi Waites, a jazz legend who I met in Omaha, NE.
121 Luigi Waites - The Paper Clock
Here is a story by Bebs Chorak from South Carolina concerning an African-American woman who meant the world to her family.
122 Frank Quinn and Mary Olney - Two Coal Stories
Today we understand what the burning of coal is doing to the atmosphere and people’s health. My mother told me a story that when she was seven she was sleeping in a small cabin that was behind her parents’ tavern and the cabin was heated by a coal stove. She remembered waking up feeling very groggy and headachy and she got up and started to walk toward the tavern to tell her mother and the next thing she knew she was waking up with her face down in a puddle of water. She believes the coal fumes very nearly took her life.
Because of the pandemic today many people have lost their jobs and are having trouble paying their utility bills. It will get worse as winter comes on. Here are two stories about not having enough money for coal to stay warm. The first is told by Frank Quinn who grew up in Ireland and the second by the former minister of First Christian Church in Olympia, Washington, where I had a writing office for a number of years.
For the music I chose one of my favorite pieces of music, one I play on my fiddle as a slow air. It was composed by Mark Isham for the film October Sky and is titled “Coalwood” after the coal mining town where a future NASA scientist was born and raised. If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it
123 Lee Sexton - The Accident with Dynamite
For today’s family story I’m sticking with the coal theme by featuring a story told by a retired coal miner named Lee Sexton. Lee Sexton comes from eastern Kentucky and he is a highly regarded traditional musician playing both the banjo and the fiddle. I met Lee at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, WA. Paula plays the banjo and sat in on a workshop by Mr. Sexton and later told me that I had to interview him because he had great stories to tell. Thanks to the folks who run Fiddle Tunes I was able to find a quiet building where I could conduct the interview.
As for background, Lee worked in the coal mines all his life and only retired when he contracted “black lung.” This story is about his father, also a coal miner. It is a slightly longer than many of my other stories but I like it because it speaks to the kind of grit and fierce determination to overcome hardships that I think are part of the American character, at least in generations past.
124 James Kelly - The Music Lesson
James Kelly is a gifted traditional Irish fiddler who was born and raised in Ireland and now lives in Florida. I interviewed James at the National Folk Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina, for my Rosin the Bow podcast series. I thought this short story about his famous fiddling father and their small shop in Dublin might help us appreciate the role small family businesses play in society and how stressed many of them must now be in America and other countries given the pandemic. My grandparents ran a tavern and restaurant called Aunt Kate’s and Paula's family ran a golf course with a restaurant. I wonder how they would have handled the situation today.
125 Beverly Marks & Geraldine Marks - Money and Peace of Mind
Here are two stories about the relationship between money and peace of mind. They are told by two women who have the same last name but are not related.
The first story is told by Beverly Marks who lives in Nevada City, California, and who told a story earlier in the story-a-day series about Jesse James staying in a ancestor's barn. The second story is told by Geraldine Marks who when I recorded her family stories was living a farm in central West Virginia.
126 John Textor & Robert Butcher - Old time medicine
These two stories are told by men whose grandfathers were both physicians. The first is told by John Textor who lives in the Chicago area.
The second story is told by Robert Butcher who lived in Gilmer County, West Virginia, the county where I purchased a farm in 1970 and lived for five years. Robert told us a story earlier about how his father dealt with far too many roosters during the Great Depression.
We end with a short segment of music by the one and only Bobby McFerrin.
127 Mary Bausch - No More Wine
Here is a story that comes from the mountains of western Virginia. The teller is Mary Bausch who I interviewed in 2001 when she was in her seventies. I love the line at the end of the story, “on the hill.”
128 Alan Jabber - Fiddler Henry Reed
The late Alan Jabbour served for many years as the director of the Center for American Folklife at the Library of Congress. He was a skilled old-time fiddler who was greatly influenced by the fiddler Henry Reed. Here Alan talks about what it means to be regarded as a member of a family not your own but who shares the same abiding passion for music and life.
129 Maria Gillan - My Father and Politics
Well, my hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, has grabbed the national spotlight thanks to Donald Trump and a flawed mail-in local election for city officials. Apparently some irregular ballots were flagged, which I would think shows that the system works when it comes to efforts to prevent corrupt elections but that Donald Trump raced to embrace it as another example of the problems with elections by mail.
So I got to thinking about a story Maria Mazziotti Gillan, a poet from Paterson, told me about her Italian-American father. She mentions in the story a history teacher from Central High School and, coincidently, my mother taught history at the same school in the 1950s and 60s.
The following song, “Politics and Poker,” comes from a Broadway musical called Fiorella that was inspired by the political reformer, another Italian-American, named Fiorello LaGuardia who successfully ran from mayor of New York in the 1930s intending to break the Tammy Hall political machine’s hold over the city’s government.
130 Andrew McBride - The Mayor and the Priest
Another story about my hometown, Paterson, New Jersey. This one is told by Andrew McBride whose grandfather was once the mayor of Paterson. It is followed by my old friends Jake and Elwood, better known at the Blues Brothers. Here they go to visit the nun who runs the orphanage where they were raised in Chicago. With yardstick in hand, she requires them first to sit in the tiny kid’s school desks and matter go decidedly downhill, or I should say downstairs, from there.
131 Suzette Bradshaw - The Shooting on Lick Mountain
I recorded this story while attending the Appalachian Old-time String Music Festival in Clifftop, WV. It is told by Suzette Bradshaw and is a cautionary tale about allowing our cultural differences get the best of us.
132 Bill Grunwald - Dad and the Lights
Our family’s lake cottage is on Ballard Lake, which is the middle lake in a chain of three lakes, each connected to the other by a channel that was used in years past by the logging industry to move logs to a point where a train could take the logs down to Milwaukee and Chicago. One of the other lakes is called White Birch Lake and there is a small resort on the shores of the lake of the same name. Some years ago I interviewed the resort caretaker Bill Grunwald and here is a story he told me. It is the kind of story that creates a strong image in the mind, one that somehow lifts my spirits in these dark times.
133 Jessica Ruby Radcliffe - Fleeing the Revolution
Today’s story is told by Jessica Ruby Radcliffe who earlier shared a story about her rather scandulous Texas grandfather. She also wrote and performed the song, “You’ll Be Known by the Company You Keep" that I used with the story about the dog named Nippy
134 Les Purce - Learns About Murder
Les Purce is the former president of the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He grew up in an African-American family in Pocatello, Idaho, and I shared a story of his earlier about his grandmother and a fortuneteller.
Here he tells the story of how he learned about the murder of his grandfather while working on a train as a Pullman porter.
For the music I chose a song performed by cowboy singer Glenn Orhlin. I met Glenn many years ago when he came to teach at the Augusta Heritage Program at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, WV. “I Ride an Old Paint” has always been one of my favorite folk songs and makes an uncanny fit for the old cowboy passing through Montana on the train.
135 Dave Johnson - Casting Out Demons
There are many strange corners to our American culture and here is one of them. The story is told by Dave Johnson and is a first-hand account of watching his backwoods South Carolina preacher grandfather in action. Make of it what you wil