A Street Fight Leads To Love

Guest host Mary Louise Kelly speaks with her dad, Jim Kelly, for the StoryCorps National Day of Listening project. She asks him how he met her mother and for advice to pass along to her own children.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

All this week, the hosts of NPR programs are doing something a little different. Along with the usual crop of interviews, we're carving out a few minutes to interview someone close to us. The idea is to sit down with a loved one - or a friend or anyone, really - talk and listen.

Today is StoryCorps' National Day of Listening. And I decided to invite in Jim Kelly, who happens to be my dad.

Growing up, one of his stories always captivated me. It takes place in the late '60s, when he and my mom were both volunteer teachers in Appalachia. They didn't actually meet until something very scary happened.

Mr. JIM KELLY: In the summer, I was originally assigned to another community, very rough community. And the local fellows were saying that they were planning to rape two girls that I was with, the volunteers, and I basically told them they couldn't do that. You know, they jumped me and we had a - quite a fight. And I came out on the wrong end of it as I was sent to the hospital for about three days.

KELLY: For three days? I didn't know that.

Mr. KELLY: The program decided to send me to the same community where Carol was.

KELLY: Ah.

Mr. KELLY: Had it not been, I guess, for that unfortunate incident, I might not have been - be married to your mom.

KELLY: Wow.

Mr. KELLY: That it got me to that same community, and then we were able to talk and visit. And it was very nice back in those communities because there was no electricity, no diversions. So you did spend a lot more time just talking.

KELLY: Right.

Mr. KELLY: So I remember a lot of singing. The evening meal, people'd sit out on their porches or go down to the neighbors, and tell riddles - and played various sorts of games in the yard involving wit or skill, things we don't do anymore because we just watch TV. And we're entertained...

KELLY: People watch TV. Yeah.

Mr. KELLY: ...rather than providing our own entertainment. So being in Appalachia in late '60s was a step back in time, among a very sort of proud and independent people with a lot of traditions that the rest of us outside Appalachia have forgotten.

KELLY: I wonder if having lived in that kind of culture, whether that influenced the way you raised us in any way, or the way you decided to kind of run the family in the years after.

Mr. KELLY: I think it did. I think...

KELLY: We werent ever allowed to watch TV on weeknights - I remember - then, and hating it at the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KELLY: I think it did. I remember one thing in particular, I had this - you know, we were teaching in this little, one-room log cabin school house, and I remember thinking to myself, they just don't know much. And I had, you know, kids up to age 14 in the class, really sensed there was a need for knowledge. And at the end of the week, these boys came to me - I guess there was about five of them, age 10 to 14 - and they said, would you like to go squirrel hunting with us?

KELLY: Hmm.

Mr. KELLY: I said, well, I would love to. So the next day, they came. They had a .22 and they had a couple shotguns. And we went off in the woods, hunting squirrels. And as we walked along, they would point out all the various trees and bushes, and tell me the name, and tell me what the particular plant was used for and how if you pulled up this purple plant, you could - and boil its roots, it would make a remedy for cuts and bruises. And if you got this other one, it was a good seasoning for food. And if...

KELLY: Yeah.

Mr. KELLY: ...you took the bark off this particular tree, you could make a dye. And then I began to realize that they were teaching me. So I took that lesson to heart, kind of letting people be. And I think that transferred over into my parenting of you and your brother, that - of stopping every once in a while when I was trying to impose my views on you, and sit and listen to what you had to say. I think that helped you to be able to express it and - have an adult valuing what you said.

KELLY: I think you're right. That's my dad, Jim Kelly. And I spoke with him for StoryCorps' National Day of Listening project. And we encourage you to record a conversation today with a loved one. Find tips on how to do that at nationaldayoflistening.org.

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