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
136 John Curry - I saw the Light
In an earlier story-a-day offering I featured story told by Paula’s cousin about how bad feelings can arise when a certain technology confuses people. In Pam’s case, it was an improperly installed cell phone cover that was the culprit. Here are a couple of incidents in a similar vein told by John Curry of Waynesboro, Virginia, who I met and recorded at a juvenile justice conference in California in 2001.
137 Tom Barr The Violin “Coffin Case”
Today I heard on the news that an earthquake hit the town of Sparta in the mountains of North Carolina. Living on the West Coast, I don’t associate earthquakes with that part of the world. When the news broke there was no information as to whether anyone was killed or injured. Well it made me think of a story I came across while interviewing people for my Rosin the Bow prodcast series. It concerned a man from Sparta who wanted to learn how to make violins. Here Tom Barr, a violin maker in nearby Galax, Virginia, tells how the man was able to realize his dream and what happened at the end of his life.
Violin cases in the 19th century and earlier were made of wood and often resembled miniature caskets. They were often referred to as “coffin" cases. The following music is an old mountain ballad performed by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Rhonstadt.
138 Peter Marshall - Divided Loyalties
Peter Marshall recorded this family story last week after hearing a previous story-a-day story about a bugler in the Civil War. I met Pete who was born in England and now lives in Charlottesville when I was invited to play music at the farmer’s market in Charlottesville to raise money for UNICEF, an organization I have always respected. Pete is a skilled folk musician who also hosts a folk music radio show on WTJU-FM. And because he’s a musician, I asked Pete to also record some music to follow his story. He wound up sending me the old-time tune “Gray Wolf” that was performed by his daughters Leah on fiddle and Talia on bass, with Pete backing them up on octave mandolin. The fact that the tune harkens back to the days of the Civil War seems especially appropriate.
139 Linda Watanabe-McFarrin - The Amah
Linda Watanabe-McFerrin is a writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. I recorded her sharing her family stories back in 2000. Here she tells a story about a woman who helped save her mother’s life when her mother was an infant. The music is performed on the Japanese shakuhachi flute by Rodrigo Rodriques.
140 Betty Farmer & Bruce Phillips - Lightening
Two nights ago, a cluster of severe thunderstorms rolled through northern Wisconsin. One came right over our two lake cabins and I was sitting at my computer preparing my story-a-day offering when a bolt of lightning struck nearby and a surge of electricity traveled up my left leg. It was the first and I trust last time I will have been struck by lightning, if only a glancing blow. Well, the lights flickered at the moment of the strike but we didn’t lose power. It was only later when I tried to use the telephone that I discovered that our telephone line was dead and two of our telephones were fried. It took two days to get everything back in order except for the very cool old telephone system we have for talking between the two cottages. The technician from Frontier Telephone said he couldn’t work on “vintage” equipment so we now have to run from one cottage to the other, a distance of about 250 feet, to tell someone they’re wanted on the telephone or that supper is ready. And that got me thinking about a couple of lightning stories in my family stories archive and I put them together for today’s featured story. The first is told by Betty Farmer from Point Pleasant, WV, and the second is told by the late folksinger and social activist Bruce “Utah” Phillips. Bruce’s story concerns his step-grandfather who was Jewish and lived in Cleveland, OH.
141 Lucy Winter - Kept Thinking
My mother was a history teacher and when she talked about the Great Depression she would sometimes say, “Cash was king,” meaning that so many people, including her own parents, lost their life savings when the banks failed that if someone was lucky enough to have cash, then he or she was in much better position to weather the hard times.
As you know if you’ve been following my daily emails, Paula and I are spending time with family in northern Wisconsin. Paula’s mother Lucy will celebrate her 90th birthday tomorrow, her real birthday is in September but we’ll be back home in Washington state by then, and I since she’s a devoted fan of the story-a-day project, I asked if she might have a story to share. Well, here it is.
142 Chamba Lane - Travel Letters
We just finished celebrating Paula’s mother’s 90th birthday with cake and ice cream, a round of Hearts during which Lucy successfully “shot the moon,” and no small share of stories and related memories. And as I was looking at Lucy with her son John and daughter Paula I thought about my youthful travels that took me away from Paterson, New Jersey to Florida and then to California and eventually to West Virginia and how my mother would wait for a call or letter to make sure I was alright. So for today I am featuring a story told by a former DJ at the radio station KVMR-FM in Nevada City, CA. He passed away some years ago and was as unique a human being as I have ever known. His name was Chamba Lane and this is about his mother and the letters he sent her during his vagabond years. And thanks to Kate Rushby for recording one of my favorite songs.
143 Louise Galenza - The Entity
While having lunch this afternoon on the outside deck with some visiting family member, the discussion turned to the subject of favorite cars and, for many, it was one of the first cars he or she ever owned. And that brought to mind this story with its unique supernatural flavor. It is told by Louise Galenza who, when I recorded her in 1999, was working as a librarian in Gilmer County, WV, the county where I owned an 80-acre farm back in the early 1970s when I was going through my “back to the land” phase, as my mother would say.
The short piece of music comes from a string quartet composed by Henryk Gorecki titled Already It is Dusk. It is performed by the Kronos Quartet. I recently—meaning post-pandemic—interviewed violinist John Sherba who is a member of the Kronos Quartet and I will be featuring that interview in an upcoming podcast for the Rosin the Bow project. To listen to any of the sixty-plus interviews you can visit: www.rosinthebow.podbean.com
144 Richard Jones - The Family Photograph Album
I am going to feature the same storyteller two days in a row. His name is Richard Jones and he lives in Evanston, IL. He is a poet and teaches writing at a college in the Chicago area. The first story is about a family heirloom of sorts that he wishes he had today. Tomorrow he will tell a story about his father and something he did during WWII that he later regretted.
145 Richard Jones - The Stolen Buddha
Here is a second story from writer Richard Jones. I trust it is to your liking. The music is performed by our two very dear friends, Jeanie Murphy and Scott Marckx.
146 John Wheeler - The War Objector
I’m sending this story out to my good friend John Luna in Oregon. It is told by John Wheeler from Charlottesville, Virginia who earlier told us a story about his grandfather who was a judge in a rural area of Virginia and who would eat lunch in his pickup truck with an elderly black man. Sometimes a family member can really surprise you. The music is by the late, great Phil Ochs.
147 Bill Durbrow - Snakes and Skunks
As many of you know, Paula and I lived in Nevada City, CA, for a number of years and still have many friends living there. And they are going through a rough patch just now because of extreme heat, forest fires, and polluted air. Here are two short stories by Dr. Bill Durbrow from Nevada City who I recorded some years ago. Both are from his family whose roots reach back for generations in the Sierra foothills around Nevada City. And the fact that the second tale is about someone who also learned to play the violin, makes the story dear to me. As for music, the first segment is sung by Spider John Koerner who lives in Minneapolis and the second, the Apple Pickers’ Waltz, was composed and is sung by Vermont fiddler Pete Sutherland.
148 Freddy King - My Grandparents from North Carolina
In October 2000, I was in New York City and on my way to a meeting with the writer and education expert Neil Postman. I had taken the bus from my brother’s house in Montclair, NJ, into the Port Authority Building and was making my way to the subway that would carry me down to Greenwich Village and the campus of NYU. While waiting on the platform for the subway to arrive I was enchanted by the singing of a young black man. Since I had a little time to spare and had my recording gear with me, I asked the man, his name is Freddy King, if he might have a family story to share. He was happy to do that but was working a schedule as a busker and needed to get to the next subway station. So I rode with him and he told me the story as we rumbled along under the streets of New York. When we reached the next station, he allowed me to record his performance. A kind man and a generous man.
Later while listening to his recollection of his grandparents I kept thinking about how many black families have lost their farms and businesses in the United States since 1900 due to forces often beyond their control. The decline in this ownership has been steady and continues as reflected in this statistic:
"A 2002 Report by the US Dept. of Agriculture showed that black people owned less than 1% of the rural land in the United States and the total value of all of that land together is only 14 billion dollars, out of a total land value of more than 1.2 trillion dollars, while the total land that white people owned 96% of rural land, bringing their land's joint worth to just over one trillion dollars.
Black American farmers are more likely to rent rather than own the land on which they live, which in turn made them less likely to be able to afford to buy land later.”
149 Pete Seeger - Thoughts on Storytelling
When I interviewed Pete and Mike Seeger for their stories at the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2001, I asked Pete for his views on storytelling, an art near and dear to my own heart. This is what he had to say.
150 Stephen Brooks - A Debt Unpaid
Today is Saturday, August 22, 2020 and Congress has been called back into special session to debate measures to save the U.S. Postal Service from a host of Trump-inspired shenanigans aimed at undermining the mission of this essential public service during a pandemic and discouraging mail-in voting. But the post office is part of our collective DNA as a society and is too important to too many people, I believe, to be successfully dismantled by a political lackey.
And believe it or not, in my archive of family stories I have one about a former Postmaster General of the United States. And this is how the story came to me: I was on a flight someplace, I can’t remeber where, and I got into a conversation with my seat mate. His name was Steven Brooks and he told me that his wife’s maiden name was McHugh. Well, that led to a discussion about family stories and he told me one from his wife’s family. And since his wife and I shared the same surname, I asked if he would record the story when we got off the flight. So in the concourse of some airport he related the story that I am sending to you for tomorrow’s story.
And instead of music to follow the story, I am including a scene from a film that for me demonstrates how deep the roots of the post office reach into our shared mythic imagination.
And perhaps I should mention that I share my birthday, January 17th, with Benjamin Franklin, the father of the US Postal Service.
151 Oleta Singleton - The Moonshiner
In an earlier story my mother mentioned that she was pretty sure her father sold illegal apple-jack out of a shed behind the restaurant the family owned in northwestern New Jersey during Prohibition. Well, here is a story from one of my favorite storytellers from West Virginia. Her name is Oleta Singleton and I recorded her when she served as one of the “belles” for the West Virginia Folk Festival in Glenville, each belle being a woman over the age of seventy at the festival to represent her county in the state. In Oleta’s case, she was 93 when I recorded her stories.
This story is about the kind of homemade whiskey known as moonshine. I have also heard it called, “hen’s liquor” because “it makes you lay where you drink it." One old-timer I knew called it “autumn leaf" because "after you drink it, you fall to the ground and turn all kinds of colors.”
If I had any, why I’d be tempted to steel myself for the Republican National Convention with a nip or two.
152 Marty Creager - The Firewagon
Paula and I have been watching and listening to news coverage about the fires in northern California. We’ve also been in touch with friends who live in areas hard hit by this tragedy. We can only pray that the nightmare will end soon.
And as I have been thinking about fireman, a related family story came to mind. It is told by Marty Creager who I recorded in Peoria, IL. It is about his grandfather and some old-time photographs.
The follow-up story is short segment from a wonderful LP produced many years ago by Rabbit Ears. It features the actor Michael Keaton telling the story of Mose the Fireman, a series of tall tales in the vein of Paul Bunyan concerning a child name Mose who is found by a fire company in New York City and who grows up to become the best fireman who ever lived. Or so the story would have us believe.
Lastly, I came across a song written and performed by John Bigum. I don’t know anything about him but I was so moved by his song titled “The Volunteer Fireman" that I decided to break with tradition this one time and include the song in a follow up email. I’m doing this because I think the song can help us better understand the sacrifices being made right now by so many volunteers, both men and women. Let’s keep them in our prayers.
153 Bruce Perry - The Dead Body
For today’s story-a-day, Dr. Bruce Perry, a highly-respected expert on childhood psychological trauma, shares stories about his great-great grandfather and great grandfather.
154 Don Suda - Second Generation
This story is told by Don Suda, a third-generation Japanese-American who teaches school in Washington state. I met Don when Paula and I were giving a teacher workshop on how to use radio plays with in the classroom to enhance learning and foster a stronger sense of community. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, young people cannot participate in such a fun activity at present but perhaps in time they can.
If you want to learn a little about the work we did with radio plays in education, please visit: www.ravenradiotheater.com
155 Peter Rowan - Coats on the Bed
Those familiar with bluegrass music or the iconic folk-rock group from the 1970s called Old and In the Way will know the name Peter Rowan. At age 21, Peter joined Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys band and has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a musician and songwriter ever since. Peter grew up in an Irish-American family Massachusetts and here he shares some of his childhood memories. I chose a song that Peter wrote and performs to follow the story as it seems to fit one of those early experiences with young women and soon-to-be mothers.
156 Lee Smith - Ghost Stories
Well, these times we’re living through can be mighty scary, so perhaps we should have a ghost story or two to freak us out even more. Lee Smith is a wonderful and even a more wonderful storyteller with an infectious sense of humor who grew in a coal mining town in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. I interviewed Lee when she was a featured writer at the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2001. Here she recounts the tradition of telling ghost stories where she grew up.
157 Lee Sexton - The Moonshiner
The sale of alcohol has jumped 37% percent in the United States since Covid-19 became part of our lives, this according to CNN. So I thought it time to follow up Oleta Singleton’s story about a moonshiner in her family with a story by Lee Sexton. Lee’s first story was about how his coal-mining father lost both hands from an explosion when he was handling dynamite. Here’s more of that unfortunate man’s story and a primer on the art of making moonshine by someone who knows what he’d talking about.
I’m sending this out to my friends Larry Gendler who enjoyed Lee’s first story and John Flory who knows a thing or two about moonshine himself, not that he makes it, but he knows good shine from bad shine like he knows good politicians from bad ones.
158 Susan House - An Obsession with Turkeys
Here is a story told by Susan House who lives in Chicago. What memory of our father seems to get at the heart of who he is or was? That’s what this story does. I could have saved it for Thanksgiving but I think we need a bit of a laugh right now.
159 Lucy Winter - The Fishing License
While visiting this summer with my mother-in-law, Lucy Winter, she told us a tale about a run-in with the game warden on the lake many years ago. It was a good story and I thought I would share it. The follow-up song was written and is performed by Harry and Da Hosers.