I had this silly idea: Wendy and I should do StoryCorps!!! It is the NPR and National Archive Project that allows for loved ones to interview each other on any topic they choose. Some are chosen for the Friday morning slot on NPR, and all of them have the opportunity to be housed in the National Archives. As a historian, I love this for a number of reasons. Wendy and I would have our voices in the National Archives. She could take her grand kids to hear it someday. And, if you had the chance to hear your grandmother’s voice again, wouldn’t you take it?
I also thought it would be a good chance for us to connect and talk about her illness…..You know, the thing she’s been living with for the past nine years. We often talk around the subject, or it’s a part of our lives like the furniture, but we don’t often just open it up and examine it.
I knew we were going to be in Vermont during the last weekend of August, after Camp Sunshine, to see my father in a dinner theater/murder mystery/town library fundraiser that was being held in the North East Kingdom. For those of you who don’t know, the North East Kingdom is the northeastern region of Vermont, which has its own eccentricities, a thicker than usual Vermont accent, and a distinct mix of French Canadian customs. My parents live a few miles from the Canada border. I love it there for all of the above reasons and many, many more.
The thing about StoryCorps is that you need to register ahead of time and put down a deposit, which I did. I chose a time the day after my father’s event in Burlington, Vermont. When I did, I wrote to Wendy, who was away at Diabetes Camp, to tell her. She misread the email from me and kept calling it “StoryCrops” instead.
So here I had this opportunity that I didn’t want to waste, and I wondered what we would talk about. I didn’t want it to just be about her illness, I also wanted it to be about her resilience, how the illness is just a part of her, not the whole her.
As per the StoryCorps website, we wrote down our questions ahead of time. We agreed that we would ask each other three questions, with follow ups. My questions were:
- What do you already know about your illness?
- How often do you think about your illness?
- What do you want people to know about you when they meet you now?
Wendy had written down her questions, and she shared them with me too. Her questions were:
- How was I different between when I was born and when I went into the hospital for my kidney transplant?
- What was it like for you guys while I was in the hospital?
- Will I ever be able to do normal things like other kids?
It was at that moment I knew that I was going to need a box of tissues to get through this interview.
The morning of the interview came, beautiful in the Northeast Kingdom, the leaves just starting to turn, the blueberries and blackberries just about finished for the season. We left my parents’ house early because it was about a two hour drive to get to Burlington. We parked right at the parking lot by the ECHO science center, right on Lake Champlain, with the ferry docks just before us. The little StoryCorps airstream camper was waiting there for us, but we grabbed lunch first, walking up to Church Street, a cobblestoned pedestrian zone, complete with graffiti that still celebrates Bernie Sander’s magnificent, iconic hair. We ate ramen and wondered if it was going to rain. I was nervous and I could tell Wendy was too. We both have a way of growing sullen before we’re about to do something that stretches us. We’re not fun to be around, but Michael and Penny continued on like nothing was the matter, making their own plans for what they were going to do while we were recording, mostly going to the lake and playing Pokemon Go.
Wendy and I had paperwork to fill in. I did most of it, having her sign at the end. We arranged our questions, and when the moderator came to get us, we were ready.
The mobile sound studio was basically a fast food booth with two good microphones. Wendy and I sat at either end and got ready.
And you know what? It was really good. We had a good conversation, a conversation I want to be recorded, one I want her to remember. We talked about her illness, and her resilience. I answered her questions as best I could. I only cried twice.
It was odd, some of the things I told her, that I had never told her before. I told her that she coded, and then asked her if she knew what that meant, and then I had to describe it. “It’s when your heart stops.” I told her about the boy who lost his life and she now has his kidney. I told her some good stories and some sad stories. I am proud to say that I held it mostly together.
We were given a CD of it when we left. I think I’m going to put it in our safety deposit box.
I’ve included the interview here in case anyone wants to listen to it. It’s roughly thirty minutes long, and it’s uncut. It’s more like a podcast, really, something to listen to while you are driving or doing other things. I could only convert it to a YouTube Video, so it just has the picture from the top of this blog post and the audio playing along with it.
But I really do love the richness of it. And I’m so glad that we did it.
I’m not sure how Wendy feels about it, or will feel about it in the future. She was glad it was done and that we went for Maple Creemees afterward (another Vermont tradition.)
If nothing else, it’s something that will always be there for her, even when I’m not.