Friday, August 5, 2011

Listening Is an Act of Love

My friend Julie loaned me some books a while back, and one of them, Listening Is an Act of Love, just sat on my coffee table. Something about the cover did not inspire me, and I've been busy. But when I have to read, I have to read, so I picked it up and Could Not Put It Down. The only reason I read it slower than I wanted is that I wanted it to last.

It is an anthology of real stories, told in Storycorp booths across the country. All the interviews are from ordinary people, yet their stories are amazing. There are love stories, tales of poverty, drugs, homelessness, adoptions, the Holocaust, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, plus just cute and touching things. Most of the interviewers are family members or friends, and these people are surprised to learn things they never knew. Somehow the quiet recording studios and intimate atmosphere let people say things they never shared before. There has to be a Volume II, please tell me there is going to be a Volume II.

On one of my mom's visits to California, she and I and my sister Janice were sitting around talking. We started to ask our mom yet again about my grandmother's fascinating family history, and I made an attempt to get it down, at least just the basics. I meant to copy it over and fill in the rest of the generations, but so far this is as far as it ever got:

Scribbling Is an Act of Love?

Marie Littlefish (Petit Poisson) was my great-grandmother, she came from France and had six children. Later in life as a widow with this slew of kids, she married a younger bachelor and they had one more child together. If you saw a photo of my sturdy great-grandmother, you would know how amazing that last part was.

My grandma's family story could make a mini-series: men coming back from the war atheists, a death too young from TB, a wrong side of the tracks/Romeo and Juliet proportion love tragedy, all filled with cool French names like Emily, Rose, Valentine, Van Dam, Amadaes and ...Hortence? Yes I had an Aunt Hort. It would have sounded so much better if we had used the cool pronunciation of aunt (like gaunt, not like ant) and the cool pronunciation of Hortence, but we didn't and she was what she was. My Chicago cousins have taken the family names and called their girls Emily, Rose and Leah, but so far there have been no Hortences.

So Mom, sorry about the scribbled attempts at jotting down the family tree. I really meant to do something pretty involving calligraphy. I'm sure there is someone in the family that has done a better job than this. But it was and is neat to hear my mom's amazing and clear history of her family, including some details that did not come out until much later in my grandmother's life. And if there is going to be a book, we've got the cover ready.

Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project