by NOHA member Susan King, owner of Tales on Tape in Sea Ranch, California
As those involved in capturing oral histories know, the subjects chronicled can span from the personal life events of an individual to the experiences of many united by a common circumstance.
Over the years I have had the honor of participating in capturing the life stories of a wide variety of individuals. I have just completed my most moving chronicle yet. My project is summarized here in order to share the project content, interview style, and product delivery used in hopes new and experienced storycatchers may find my approach of interest or at minimum confirm for us all the process continues in all shapes and sizes.
My storyteller is a woman in her early 70s who is limited in her time remaining on the planet. Over a six-month span we met weekly for an hour or two. Our intent was to record, for her family and future generations, her life’s remembrances and experiences as a citizen of Germany during World War II.
Throughout our weekly interviews we were able to capture her experiences beginning in 1945 when she recalls, as a 5 year-old, her family life in war-torn Germany and moves through her remembrances of the bombing of Dresden and its aftermath. As her story continues, she recalls the harshness of living and growing up in East Germany under the Russian occupancy, and her solo escape from East Germany to the West at age seventeen. Her story reveals the early activities of a refugee in West Germany and the fears, uncertainty and struggles of establishing a new life in what at times seemed to be a foreign location. Eventually, she immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York the night of the great 1965 blackout to start her new life. Our story concludes as she is heading to California with her employer’s family after surviving her first year as a nanny in New York.
Through a conversational style interview we were able to capture not only the facts of her actions but, at times, the emotions within and behind her experiences. The interview structure itself was fluid, often based on my storyteller’s energy and focus…..sometimes linear in nature and sometimes subject area driven. The objective wasn’t to capture each step in her life but more to reveal what situations have contributed to creating the woman she has become.
With special packaging produced on a desktop home computer, the final product was presented in a fourteen CD Set with each CD insert displaying actual family pictures of the time period covered or archival pictures representing the story being told.
Throughout my years interviewing, as I am sure throughout yours, each project we take on creates its own unique experiences for both the storycatcher and storyteller. For me, this particular interaction has resulted in not only a slice of history to be honored and remembered within the family but also in a dear friendship so surprising it’s hard to explain. Interesting….maybe that’s why I’m the storycatcher and not the storyteller. Either way, we both have been rewarded by the experience.