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Close friends since birth, Jim and Jack were meeting in Nashville, where they had both grown up and Jack still lives. They invited me to join them, and there I interviewed them in Jack’s sunroom. Our one meeting, lasting two or three hours, was all they wanted: the chance to reminisce about their parents, who were also close friends; about their boyhoods; about Nashville back in the day. Much laughter highlighted this short and touching interview. Now they smile at the memory and enjoy the audio recording of our conversation.
   


Shameem lives out of state and visits her son and his family in the Bay Area several times a year. She and I meet two or three times whenever she is in town. Shameem was born in India and lived most of her adult life in Pakistan. Her grandchildren are being raised in America, and her son and daughter-in-law wanted their children to know their roots. Following in her own mother’s footsteps as a natural story-teller, Shameem recounts her life fully and beautifully. The book of her narrative, full of family photos, will be cherished by generations.
   

Zheng fu was born in imperial China and lived through tremendous upheaval in China’s political and economic landscape. One of her daughters married an American, who saw the great value in capturing Zheng fu’s story for her grandchildren, both American and Chinese. Zheng fu does not speak English, and it was her 15-year old granddaughter, Lily, who served as interpreter during our interviews. This interaction alone was priceless: Zheng fu recounted her life’s story to her granddaughter, who listened raptly, exclaiming in wonder and asking question. The dynamic was intimate and touching.
The three of us met over a five-month period at their home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Zheng fu has returned to China, and both she and Lily are immeasurably richer for the experience, as is the whole family — both the Americans and the Chinese — with their bi-lingual book of Zheng fu’s story.
   

Estelle’s daughter wanted to honor her mother and to give her own daughter “one of the most precious gifts she will ever receive.”  Estelle, however, was hesitant to embark on the project.  What if she didn’t remember the answers to questions?  What if her story was too full of regret or mistakes?  Estelle graciously agreed to begin, and she ended up not only looking forward to our conversations, but remembering many more of the happier times in her life than she’d recalled before.  Her closing reflections were of “pride and joy.” The book of her narrative, highlighted by family photos, is, indeed, a precious gift to the whole family.
   


Cathie and Syd have been married for 58 years. Their children are all busy professionals, but they wanted very much to capture their parents’ stories for the grandchildren. I interviewed Cathie and Syd, independently and together, asking about of each of their own childhoods and paths into adulthood, then about their life together. Syd was hesitant yet willing, as he loved his children and grandchildren and appreciated their interest. Cathie was very comfortable and happy to oblige. When interviewed together, they both participated with enthusiasm. This project was both audio- and video-recorded; there are no plans for it to culminate in a book.

 

Renee, born and raised in San Francisco, told her stories of hopscotch in the street, dances on Treasure Island, the military boys gathering at the docks, and more.  When her sister, Debbie, joined her, her stories became more animated and new details emerged as the two sisters shared laughter and memories. The book of their narrative, full of family photos too, will be enjoyed by generations to come.
 

Ed is one of six children; his mother, Virginia, lived into her late 80’s, but his father, Edward Sr, died when Ed was nine years old. At 60, Ed yearned to know his father better and to learn about the couple his parents had been. We embarked on an oral history project about his parents who had already passed away, by interviewing his siblings and cousins about their memories of Virginia and Edward. These interviews took place in St. Louis, Missouri. By recounting their memories of, and reflections about, Edward and Virginia, all those interviewed breathed life into the faded memories and myths of who Ed’s father had been. One unforeseen benefit was the unfolding of each participant’s own story of growing up; another was the strengthening of family bonds now, a generation later.

   

Mary Lois is private by nature but wanted to pass her family story on to her progeny. We looked through photo albums both paper and digital and held interviews in her living room, by her pool, and in her garden surrounded by birds. The highlight of this project was when Mary Lois’s three siblings traveled from all over the country to Mary Lois’s home, to reminisce together about their childhoods and remember their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. They laughed over shared memories, read aloud letters written in childhood, recited favorite poetry, and illuminated for one another aspects of their family life that only they — each from his or her unique perspective — knew. What an incredible gift they have given their progeny in this book of family history!

   

Peggy was eager to give her progeny the gift of her family’s story and the story of her own life. She has spent her adulthood very involved in the community and asked me to include interviews of colleagues and friends about her, creating a fuller picture of who she is. Interviews with her grown children opened important windows onto the family history and onto the years during which Peggy was raising her family. Upbeat and industrious by nature, Peggy also experienced great tragedy. This, too, was explored in her poignant story.

   


Jim and Maxie have been married for 59 years. Their children wanted to capture their stories, many of which were already familiar family lore, while others were pieces of their history only alluded to all these years. I interviewed them, independently and together, covering territory from immigration stories two and three generations back, to the present. When the family presented Jim and Maxie their book on Christmas morning, Jim held it to his chest — speechless, tears in his eyes — a first on both counts. Maxie and the rest of the family shared in the joy as everyone pored over the stories. Full disclosure: they’re my parents!

   

Jim is a busy and successful businessman, and his family and friends mean the world to him. For years, his son, Jeff, has been writing his reflections of the father he reveres. Too busy to do anything with his writings and good intentions, Jeff met me and found his solution! Jim’s project is unique in that all of our interviews included at least one other family member. This is due to the fact that Jim is so connected to his family and wanted their input to be integral to the project. Others’ participation also helped because Jim has Parkinson’s and his speech is slightly impaired; an additional set of ears helped conversation go smoothly for all. Another unique aspect of this project is the contributions from a wide variety of friends; emails from many, many friends overflowed with funny stories, thoughtful reflections, and touching tributes for inclusion in the book. Along with the book, the family is having a video made.

   

Priscilla remembered the power of her own father’s voice on a tape she discovered of him years after his death, and she wanted to give the same gift to her daughters. We meet for ongoing interviews, delighting in each other’s company and in adding to this continually unfolding story. This project is audio-recorded only; there are no plans for it to culminate in a book.

 
 

 
  I am currently working on several new projects…consider making the next one yours!  
 

 
 

 

 
   
Copyright 2015 Maggie MarkdaSilva