Get That Interview

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Get That Interview
by Louise B. Snead

As the time grows near for Mother's Day and Father's Day, we can't help but remember certain family experiences that made wonderful memories and stories that we can drag forth and tell at the next family gathering. And, though we may be able to recall our parents' stories verbatim now, what will happen to those stories fifty years from now? Who will remember them?

Some of you are fortunate enough to have grandparents, aunts, uncles or other relatives who can personalize history for you. It's one thing to read about the Depression or the 1929 Stock Market Crash, the Joe Louis/Max Schmelling fight or World War Two. It's really something else to know someone who was alive during those times and who can tell you what it was really like. Then again, there are events that never made the history books because they were considered unimportant, too controversial or political or because some facet of society did not want them in the history books

One of my biggest regrets is not having interviewed my husband's uncle before he died. Uncle George was a saxophone player during the big band era. He played in Duke Ellington's band, Count Basie's band, and many others. He had personal contact with or played for Tommy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Nancy Wilson, and he had utterly fascinating stories about them, their personal lives, and clubs they played.

I'd listen to him for hours, sometimes hearing the same tales, but sometimes hearing something new. Sometimes he'd describe the clothing, the local attitudes toward band members, the grueling schedules. Other times he'd tell us what a cow someone would be or how sweet. Ever wonder while Miles Davis used to play with his back to his audience? Uncle George used to swear it came out of the practice of the 1930 South when Black musicians were allowed to play for, but not look at, their white audiences.

Uncle George is gone now, and so are some of those memories. If I had only written them down.... In retrospect I can see now how questions from me might have sparked new topics or stirred previously forgotten memories.

My father was bom in 1893 (he was ancient when I was born). He experienced a total eclipse of the sun when he was three or four years old. With the blackness coming midday as it did, everyone thought it was Judgment Day. I heard about The Titanic from the time I could understand English.

Think of what you've experienced in your life-time. If you're my age, you'll remember exactly what you were doing and how you felt when President Kennedy was assassinated. Were you affected by the mandatory integration of schools? Where were you when Nixon resigned? Did you go to Woodstock? Do you remember Jimmy Hendrix, Mama Cass Elliott, Richard Pryor at his peak, and/or Janis Joplin? What about Sputnik? Hot Pants? Can you recall when baseball was great? Seeing Elvis, the Temptations, or Popo Gigo on the Ed Sullivan Show? Black and white TV's? Three-d glasses? Pinky Lee? The Lone Ranger, Captain Video and the Video Rangers with Icabod Mudd, Lash LaRue or Howdy Doody? Did you march in the Civil Rights movement? Were you a flower child? Do you remember the day The Godfather was released to theaters and the very long, but worth-the-wait lines? Kids today think the quiz shows are new. What about Gloria Lockman spelling 'meringue' on the 64,000 Question or that Dr. Joyce Brothers got her first break on a quiz show?

These are things, if mentioned at all, that will be related in a sterile, impersonal list of sequence of events or timelines in history. These same events can be given life and meaning through personal stories.

Do you know how much you have to pass on to the next generations? You may think your life has been pretty mundane or uneventful, but others may see it entirely differently. Think of how dull historical facts would be without someone's own recollections. You owe to your offspring to give them a personalized history. Who is the oldest member of your family? What do you know' about them?

My assignment to you is threefold:

(1) Interview older people. If you're like me and don't have parents, aunts, uncles and the like anymore, borrow someone--the elder lady down the street, a senior gent from church. You'll learn something. I They will be flattered that you; thought enough of them to do it. Not only that, but they're probably lonely and will seize the opportunity to spend time talking with someone.

But don't stop there. Write it down. You don't have to be a novelist or a professional writer. But some of the greatest works in the past century--fiction and non-fiction-—came out of a real life experiences recorded in journals, diaries, and through oral histories. Think of The Diary of Anne Frank, Roots, and The Color Purple.

Did you know that romance writer is Susan Johnson's Russian series came from stories from her grandmother?

(2) Pass on your own experiences. Think of all the noteworthy things you've experienced, the people you've met or seen in person and tell your children about them. My kids are awed that I actually met Stevie Wonder when we were 15 and that I was less than 20 feet away feet from John and Robert Kennedy in Charleston, West Virginia, but I was a kid and too shy too do or say anything to them as they walked past me. My kids are blown away when they start to play a 'new' song and I take it over and start singing it because it's a remake of a song I heard when I was their age.

If your children aren't ready to a hear such stories, perhaps because they're too young to appreciate them, write them down so you can rediscover them together.

(3) Encourage the younger people in your family to keep a journal for their kids. Share the importance of respecting older people, not just for Mother's Day or Father's Day, but every day. After all, if we're fortunate enough, we'll be there one day, hoping someone is interested in something we remember or have to say.