A Son, His Mom And A Story About A Dog

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As part of StoryCorps' National Day of Listening project, Scott Simon talks with his mother, Pat, about an incident that happened before he was born. The project encourages people to sit down with a loved one on Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, and record a meaningful conversation.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Today we help launch a new chapter in the StoryCorps project - a National Day of Listening. StoryCorps, which brings you the personal stories of everyday Americans, wants to start a new holiday tradition with you and me. David Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, joins us. David, thanks for being with us.

Mr. DAVID ISAY (Founder, StoryCorps): Hi, Scott. Great to be here.

SIMON: And what's the idea?

Mr. ISAY: Well, the National Day of Listening is a pretty simple idea. We're asking the whole country on the day after Thanksgiving, November 28th, to take out an hour and stop, find a loved one, and interview them about their lives by any means necessary. If you have a video cam around the house or if you have an old tape recorder or a computer - and while we can't, at StoryCorps, take these interviews into the collection that goes to the Library of Congress, we have all kinds of suggestions for people on our Web site, on nationaldayoflistening.org, about how to preserve these stories and how to share these stories with your families.

SIMON: You know, I tried this recently.

Mr. ISAY: So I heard.

SIMON: Let's listen.

Mr. ISAY: Great.

Ms. PATRICIA LYONS SIMON NEWMAN GILBAND(ph): My name is Pat Simon Newman Gilband.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But you forgot Lyons(ph), the name you were born with, though.

Ms. GILBAND: Begin again...

SIMON: That's OK. You could...

Ms. GILBAND: My name is Pat Lyons Simon Newman Gelband.

SIMON: Way to go. Exactly.

Ms. GILBAND: Oh, boy. What a monogram that is!

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, I'm just Scott Simon.

Ms. GILBAND: OK. You're Scott Simon. You're my son.

SIMON: And we're in Chicago, Illinois, in your apartment, sitting on your living room sofa.

Ms. GILBAND: True.

SIMON: Now all of my life, I've grown up with a story that happened before I was born, right?

Ms. GILBAND: Yes, yes, yes.

SIMON: So let's set the scene, if we could.

(Soundbite of song "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer")

Unidentified Singer: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, had a very shiny nose...

SIMON: It was about this time of year, the early 1950s. My mother was expecting me and had a Santa Claus belly. My parents had a new German shepherd dog, named Taffy, that they had just brought home to their apartment.

Ms. GILBAND: And she was having trouble adjusting, and we were scheduled to go out for dinner this particular evening. It was out in the South Side. We were about to leave, and we were meeting two other couples there. And it was one of these things where they would wheel carts up to the table, you know, lots of food, exquisitely done. Oh, very - it was a fancy place.

And we were about to leave, and we were at the elevator when we suddenly hear the German shepherd yapping, yapping, yapping and clawing, clawing, clawing. And we knew we wouldn't keep neighbors very long that way.

And your father said, let's take her with us. We can leave her in the car. I said, it's zero weather out there. He said, I know, but there'll be a heated garage, and I'll give the guys some money and they'll take care of the dog. Don't be worried. It should be all right. And we get to the restaurant, and your father went up to the valet park, and they said they don't allow dogs in there. It's against the Board of Health ruling. So your father looked at me and he said, here, put these on.

SIMON: My father handed my mother a pair of dark glasses.

Ms. GILBAND: And I remember there was a long bar area before you got back to the dining room. The dark glasses, the dog leading me, it suddenly occurred to everyone that the dog looked like a seeing-eye dog.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBAND: And I'm pregnant. And the bar just came to a complete standstill of talking, and you could see there wasn't hardly a dry eye after I got through walking through that room and into the dining room.

SIMON: This beautiful, blind, pregnant woman.

Ms. GILBAND: And then during the dinner, you know, they're serving all these gorgeous carts of food to make a selection, and she began to wander. I thought your father was taking care of her, and he thought that I was sitting on her leash, and we became so interested in the food thatsuddenly, the waiter said, you're not blind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBAND: They didn't put us out. But we weren't welcome to go back there, I'm sure.

SIMON: Now, I have to thank you both for a couple of things.

Ms. GILBAND: What did you learn from me?

SIMON: Well, two things.

Ms. GILBAND: Yes.

SIMON: More than that, OK? Like a thousand things. But here's two things that I'll list now.

Ms. GILBAND: Yes.

SIMON: And the first is manners.

Ms. GILBAND: Really?

SIMON: I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I knew you'd say that. What? You learned your manners from me? Don't ruin my name that way.

Ms. GILBAND: But when he would come - when you would come back from a war zone, you would smell your food before you put it in your mouth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBAND: You know, that's manners? Oh, boy.

SIMON: There's some exceptions, all right? So people hear me on the radio, and they think I have very good manners.

Ms. GILBAND: Oh. OK. Well, yes.

SIMON: And that comes from you.

Ms. GILBAND: Oh, thank you.

SIMON: That would only come from you because you were so intent on making certain that I said please and thank you and was respectful to people.

Ms. GILBAND: Oh, I see. Well, I think any parents - most parents are that way. Your father had lovely manners.

SIMON: Yeah, he did.

Allow me to draw attention to what my mother just did. She deflected a compliment and moved the conversation away from her. With my mother, good manners has never been just saying please and thank you, but behaving with a kind of graciousness that Hemingway famously called grace under pressure. He said that was courage. In our show business family, my father called it class.

About 25 years later, my father was gone and my mother remarried. A woman who's had four last names isn't shy about commitments. She'd married a wonderful man who got convicted of a crime. About this time of year in the mid-1970s, the day was snowy and raw. Our family, teary and heartsick, got onto an elevator in Chicago's Federal Building. After a couple of floors, the elevator doors parted. In walked one of the men who'd been on the jury. We'd sat across from each other in the courtroom for weeks. He nodded tightly, bit his lip grimly, and looked up as the numbers on the elevator blinked down slowly - 11, 10, nine.

He seemed a decent man who was disconcerted to see the pain he caused nice people. My mother turned around and told him, good morning, sir. Well, at least we all get to home now, don't we? Now that's class.

Ms. GILBAND: Well, I think the thing I have learned from you...

SIMON: Yes.

Ms. GILBAND: Number one, you're a beautiful companion.

SIMON: Yes.

Ms. GILBAND: You've always been a lot of fun. No matter what age, we all got - we were compatible. We got along beautifully. It was always a lovely companion, which I think is so important. But you've never lost your child-like sense of enthusiasm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You mean, like the Cubs and the White Sox.

Ms. GILBAND: The Cubs and the White Sox, too.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. GILBAND: But you know, he's never lost that - always an appreciator. It's been a beautiful journey knowing you.

(Soundbite of laughter and crying)

SIMON: I cry all the time, too.

Ms. GILBAND: I know you would....

SIMON: Where did I get that from?

(Soundbite of crying)

Ms. GILBAND: I don't know. I don't know.

SIMON: I love you.

Ms. GILBAND: And I love you, sweetheart. And stop crying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: My mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman Gilband of Chicago.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Out of the tree of life, I just picked me a flower. You came along and everything started to hum. Still, it's a real good bed. The best is yet to come.

SIMON: Interested in recording someone important to you? StoryCorps has all the resources you need to get started. Just go to nationaldayoflistening.org.

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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