SCOTT SIMON, host:
Mothers are venerated, praised, remembered and celebrated on this weekend every year - the least we can do for those who give us life, care for us, and love us like no one else.
Dave Isay, who founded the StoryCorps project that's heard on NPR, has been recording stories about mothers - by children, spouses, siblings, friends and mothers alike. He's collected some of them into a book now. It's called "Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from Storycorps."
Dave Isay joins us from WGBH in Boston. Dave, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. DAVE ISAY (Founder, StoryCorps): Scott, so happy to talk to you.
SIMON: You know, so many of our listeners - I dare say, probably almost all of them - are familiar with StoryCorps. But to remind us of the forum, its to give people a chance to have a conversation that they can hear over and over again and share, isn't it?
Mr. ISAY: Yeah. I mean, the way it works is you bring a loved one - or anybody who you want to honor by listening to their story - to one of our booths across the country, and youre met by a facilitator who works for StoryCorps, who bring you into the booth. And you have a 40-minute conversation with this loved one. At the end of the 40 minutes, you get a CD and another goes to the Library of Congress, so your great-great-great-great grandkids can someday get to know your grandmother through her voice and story.
SIMON: And do many people decide they want to talk to their mothers?
Mr. ISAY: Well, you know, weve done 30,000 interviews so far with about 60,000 people, because almost everybody comes in pairs. And very often, mothers are brought to the booth. But almost always, mothers are talked about. You know, it's our first and oftentimes, most profound bond, and it just comes up over and over and over again, from interview number one all the way through today.
SIMON: Let's listen to an excerpt from one of the stories, and this is Nancy Wright telling her son about her mother, Frances Erickson.
(Soundbite of StoryCorps recording)
Ms. NANCY WRIGHT: We had an interesting time, especially in adolescence. We were pretty compatible up to that point, and then I think we grated on each others nerves quite a bit. She was critical of me and very judgment-laden and finally, when I was about 30, we were together, and it was just a miserable weekend. I felt our relationship was awful. And I told her right before I left that I couldnt deal with that kind of criticism anymore and it wasnt helping me, and she said that thats what mothers do. I said I didnt need a mother anymore, I needed a friend. She was very angry and upset. And I kind of almost didnt expect to hear from her because she could be a little stubborn. Its kind of a family trait. And I think about two weeks, though, after that conversation, I picked up the phone one day and a kind of small voice said on the other side: Hi, this is your friend.
SIMON: To hear the tug in her voice when she says that...
Mr. ISAY: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that's one of the, you know, the thing about StoryCorps is that, you know, it's people really being authentic and connecting with each other. And, you know, nobody's looking for their 15 minutes of fame. It's just a chance to have these conversations and honor a loved one by listening to them.
SIMON: Do mothers and children come - sometimes come to StoryCorps to work something out?
Mr. ISAY: What you dont have are people coming to the booth who are coming to yell at each other. It is really people who come to tell someone that they matter and won't be forgotten by listening to them. There isn't an interview, though, where you dont learn something new about the person youre interviewing. I mean, as you know, it's the nature of having a microphone and having the license to ask these questions....
Mr. ISAY: ...that you dont normally get to ask.
SIMON: We have another excerpt of a story that we want to share and this is -and this is a tough one. Myra Dean's son, Richard Stark, was killed by a reckless driver in 1977.
(Soundbite of StoryCorps recording)
Ms. MYRA DEAN: People used to ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he used to tell people he either wanted to be a marine biologist or a garbage man. He wanted to be 10, and he didnt make it. A guy had been hot-rodding through our neighborhood. The car flipped over, and it landed on Rich. And all I can remember is they had pulled the driver out, and he kept saying, oh my God, what have I done? What have I done? And I just started screaming. And the ambulance driver came to me at the hospital and said, there was nothing we could do; hes gone. And I can remember having my back to the wall, and I just slid down on my butt, leaning against the wall. And he said, maam, Im not supposed to tell you this, but he was dead at the scene. Hell never know what that meant to me because one of the things that was the hardest for me was what if he was suffering and I wasnt there for him, you know?
And the worst part is when you realize youre going to live, because you just want to die. I thought I wouldnt live 10 minutes, and I was astonished when Id lived 10 days - and mortified when Id lived 10 months, and not even grateful yet when I had lived 10 years. I was just mostly surprised. And there was no one more astonished that I'd survived it than myself.
SIMON: You know, I think this is the - we probably shouldnt weigh these things on a scale, but I think this is the deepest grief that we human beings know, a mother who loses her child.
Mr. ISAY: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I know it was, you know, it was important for Myra to be able to come in and talk about it, and share her story with her friend and with the world.
SIMON: Another excerpt we want to play - Jerry Johnson's mother raised six children...
Mr. ISAY: As a single mom. Yeah.
SIMON: Let's listen to her.
(Soundbite of StoryCorps recording)
Mr. JERRY JOHNSON: We always loved Christmas. And I cannot remember one Christmas that I didnt feel like I was the luckiest kid in the world, even though now I realize we hardly had anything in terms of money. Howd you hold that together?
Ms. KERRY CONOLLY: Well, you know, we got one sick day a month. And if I was sick, I would still go to work. I was saving those days for Christmas. And at Christmastime, then they would pay me for those days. And you know, around the first of December, all the rich people, they would clear out their childrens toy chests, and they would take all these nice toys to the Salvation Army. And I would go there and I would get me a huge box, and I would go around and pick out nice toys, and I would get that for a couple of dollars. And then I would use the other for fruit and for food. And so it seemed like we had a big Christmas.
Mr. JOHNSON: Mm-hmm.
CONOLLY: But I never did tell you it was Santa Claus because I said that I cannot give no man credit for what...
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: I wonder what you think you may have learned, or some of what you may have learned through listening to and reading over some of these vignettes of a relationship, really, that are in "Mom."
Mr. ISAY: What happens in StoryCorps, as I've said, is this transmission of wisdom. And I think that not only do you realize how much moms share in common and how much we all share in common than divides us, I mean these stories come from all over, all over the nation. And I talked to the facilitators who've recorded all of these interviews and asked them, you know, what's it like when youre out on the road and you do these days of really intense interviews about moms with moms and dads? And they said that, you know, when they get out of the booth at the end of the day, exhausted, they invariably call up their mom or call up their dad and say, you know, I love you and I'm thinking of you, and that's kind of the feeling that I was left reading this book. It reminds you to appreciate and to remember.
SIMON: Dave, thanks so much.
Mr. ISAY: Scott, it's great to talk to you.
SIMON: His book, "Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from Storycorps," edited by Dave Isay.
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