Thursday, February 7, 2013

Don't Procrastinate Oral Interviews!!

Oral Histories
Column for Lodi News-Sentinel
May 2001
By Ann Kerr

            Last year I wrote a column on “video histories,” and made the point that we should not procrastinate taking a video of parents and grandparents because we never know how long they will be with us. 
            This was really brought home in March when my husband’s mother died unexpectedly from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.  She had never written a personal history.  Rachel, one of her granddaughters, was asked to deliver the eulogy at her funeral and the only information she had to go by (other than a few dates) was the video we had made in 1995.
            The audience laughed with fond memories as Rachel told how her grandmother had eloped when she was 17.  When she and her new husband came back to Modesto from their marriage in Tahoe, grandma was afraid to tell her very strict parents what she had done.  So she and grandpa each went to their own homes to live and told no one.  This went on for two weeks. 
            One day grandma was sitting in church with a girl friend who whispered in grandma’s ear taunting, “I bet I’ll get married before you do!” 
            “Oh, no you won’t,” grandma smugly replied.  “I’m already married.”  Little did she realize that her parents were sitting in the pew behind her and heard the whole thing.  He father was livid.  When they got home he announced, “I’ll have this marriage annulled if it costs me a cow!”
            Well, he got over it because grandma had married a sweet wonderful man and everyone came to love him.  They were married well over 50 years until grandpa died in 1996.
            But I got to wondering what grandma’s father was like . . .  this man who seemed so strict and firm.  He had written a short personal history, but included only the main facts of his life.  What about him as a person?  I was curious.  Only two of his children are still living and they are in fragile health.
            My husband made a date with one of them who lives in Oakdale, and we visited him with the sole purpose of learning some interesting things about the life of his father.  We used a small tape recorder so that later I could easily transcribe his memories into the computer.
            We asked questions, of course, but some of the best memory joggers turned out to be a few snapshots we had found in grandma’s home.  One was her brother (our interviewee) standing by a milk can near the barn.  We learned how the family supported themselves by milking cows and selling the milk to a local creamery.  Every day they    made ice cream and it was this treat that got them through some very tough years.
            And yes, grandpa was strict and quite a taskmaster.  But all this children loved and respected him for it.  (After they were grown anyway.)
            If you decide to make an oral history, you can use the same questions we used for the video histories.  If you didn’t get a copy, you can email me at the Lodi Family History Center and I will send one to you.  If you don’t have email, I will have some copies you can pick up at the Center at no charge.  Do it now, before it’s too late.

Here is a clip from our interview with my husband's parents, as referenced in the column. We call if "The Elopement."


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