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Telling Stories of Our Lives

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

January 24 -- Parked on the Third Street Promenade, Jackie Goodrich opened the door of the silver Airstream trailer, and a pair of elderly men carefully stepped up inside.

The two men had known each other 65 years, and they had come to record their lifelong friendship.

Since early this month, Goodrich and another woman have been in Santa Monica helping scores of people like these two men preserve their true-life stories for posterity in this mobile recording studio.

It’s all part of a program called Story Corps, an oral history project that’s been collecting interviews from thousands of ordinary people all over the United States.

“I think that we all really long to be listened to and to be heard and understood,” Goodrich said, explaining the appeal of the program.

Some of these interviews are already being aired on public radio; all of them will be archived at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.

Goodrich says that the stories and what they tell us about life will touch listeners at many different levels.

“I think they will be as amazed as I was that these people are so willing to talk about something so close to their hearts,” Goodrich said. “I think people will be surprised to find that they have some kind of connection with these stories that they didn’t expect.”

Typically, two friends or family members will go into a booth in the trailer, one to interview the other. Goodrich and her partner run the recording equipment and help with the interviews.

She says the stories often take sudden turns into unplanned territory and release emotions that no one had expected -- as happened during one session when a grown man told his father for the first time how much he loved him.

Sometimes the stories are painful.

During one session, Goodrich said, she heard an older Aftrican-American man recall seeing his father’s murder.

The man telling the story was five years old when it happened, she said; his father was shot while plowing a field by a jealous white neighbor.

“His understanding was that there was a lot of resentment because he was prosperous and had a blacksmith’s shop and was able to send his children to boarding school,” Goodrich explained.

Goodrich and her coworker have been taking six to eight interviews like this in a day, five days a week, since coming to town January 9. Each recording session lasts about 40 minutes.

They expect to complete some 120 sessions before February 6, when the trailer will pull up stakes and head south to San Diego.

To schedule a time for you or someone you know to tell their story, call 800-850-4406. But don’t be surprised if they are booked up

“We have more people wanting to tell their stories than we have recording sessions,” Goodrich said.

That’s why Story Corps has available compact recording equipment that they will send to your home. To find out more visit www.storycorps.net

The trailer now on the Third Street Promenade near Wilshire Boulevard is one of two mobile units going around the country until the end of May. Cities on the tour include Miami, Raleigh/Durham, Flagstaff, Austin, Washington D.C and New Orleans.

The project has two permanent booths in New York City.

Story Corps is patterned after 1930s WPA-era oral history projects and is sponsored by National Public Radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Saturn Automobile Company.

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and NPR member stations, including KCRW Santa Monica, are partners in the project.

Some of the interviews are currently being aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, broadcast weekdays between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. on KCRW, 89.9 FM.

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