The Telling Takes Us Home

A Celebration of American Family Stories

1  Bebs Chorak / The Tea Party

This funny story about a most unusual pre-wedding party on a remote island in South Carolina is told by Bebs Chorak.

2  James Farris / The Smartest Man I Ever Knew

When I first met James Farris, he was serving as a juvenile judge in Beaumont, Texas. Here are two short stories that I culled from a longer interview in which Judge Farris talked about his family and his memories of his father.

3  Maria Gillan / The Yearbook

Maira Mazziotti Gillan is an award-winning poet and the founding director of the Paterson Poetry Center in Paterson, New Jersey, the city where I did most of my growing up. Paterson was, and continues to be, a community of immigrants, a place people come to hoping to improve their lot in life. Here Maria talks about her Italian-born mother and her enthusiasm for this experiment we call America.

Stan Miller was the principal of the elementary school that my daughter Emily attended from 1st  grade to 3rd grade. Stan had a slew of great family stories and this one is about what turned out to be a fortunate mistake.

4  Stan Miller / The Reunion

Les Purce is an African-American who grew up in Pocatello, Idaho. When I met Les and recorded his family stories, he was serving as president of the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Here he tells a story about a fortune teller who helped his grandmother Birdie prepare for what Fate had in store for her.

5  Les Purce / The Fortune Teller

This remarkable story is told by Beth Goodwin who I met and recorded when I visited Nelson County, Virginia, in 2001. It is a story about a deadly disease and the determination to find a cure for a loved one.

6  Beth Goodwin / Do Whatever It Takes

The citizens of the United States have never felt the need for straight talk and bold action from our political leaders as keenly as we do now. This story is told by a son about his father. The teller, Richard Bausch, is a writer who I interviewed when we were both presenters at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2001.

7  Richard Bausch / My Dad the Car Salesman

8  Laurie Lewis / The Light

This story is told by award-winning songwriter Laurie Lewis and concerns her efforts to write a song about her grandmother.

9  Pete Seeger / I Have a Rendezvous With Death

10  Robert Butcher / Far Too Many Chickens

Robert Butcher was born and raised in Gilmer County, West Virginia. He tells a story about how his father's efforts to save a little money during the Great Depression caused far more trouble than it was worth.

The late Pete Seeger tells this story about his uncle who volunteered to fight for the French Army in the early years of WWI. He was a poet and wrote a poem that both captured the essence of that terrible conflict and foretold his own death.

11  Jo Lakota / The New Coat

Jo Lakota grew up in Peoria, Illinois. Both her parents were American Indian and she tells a story about her father and the powerful lesson he taught her about generosity.

12  Jim Hightower / Aunt Yula

Jim Hightower is a political commentator and former secretary of agriculture for the state of Texas. He grew up in the "Lone Star State" and has fond memories of visiting his aunt and uncle when he was young.

13  Izzy Martin / Get Me to the Chuch on Time

Izzy Martin tells the story of her parents' rather remarkable courtship and marriage during WWII. Izzy was serving as one of the county commissioners of Nevada County, California, when she agreed to record this story for me.

14  Olga Andreyev Carlisle / The Prison Storyteller

A noted author who grew up in a Russia family, Olga talks about how her grandfather became the chief rival of Lenin and the Bolsheviks following the revolution in 1917. As a result her grandmother spent time in prison where she entertained the other women prisoners with her stories.

Single Stories

15  James Houston / Thoughts on the Importance of Family Stories

Maybe you have considered writing down your family stories But then think that nobody will publish your stories, so why bother. As a writer myself, I find the act of writing deeply satisfying whether I believe that what I am writing will get published or not. It’s a journey, the writing, a great way to develop the reflective powers of my brain and mind. James Houston was a writer who died in 2009. He was also my friend. His fiction and non-fiction books chronicled the history of the West and the Pacific Rim. When I was going around recording people telling their family stories I asked him to share his thoughts on the subject of family stories and why we sometimes feel compelled to tell them. So take his advice and start writing.