StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.” They have professional recording equipment, and they encourage you to book some time at one of their studios so you can come down and interview a friend or family member. It’s all free, including the CD that you get at the end of the process. It’s a great idea, and they’ve been so successful that by now they have a podcast and a couple of books.
The catch, of course, is that you have to be near one of their StoryBooth studios if you want to take advantage of their service. Fortunately, these days it’s not hard to do the same thing yourself. I’ve bought a few cheap digital recorders over the years, and it was always a pain to get the data off the device. Smart phones have changed all that. I have an iPhone, and it’s now trivially easy to get a high quality recording (or a pretty good recording, anyway) of you interviewing someone or just sitting back and listening to that old story that dad tells. You can keep the recording easily enough, but even better, it’s also easy these days to get a good transcription of the recording.
Here’s what I did. You should do it too, or you’ll wish you did some day. First, use your smart phone to record that story. This is absolutely the hardest part in the whole process: going out of your way to say please please sit here where it’s quiet and tell this whole story from beginning to end without interruption. After that, it’s easy. Take the sound file and send it to CastingWords. These guys are awesome and darned cheap. They’ll send you a text version of the story. It’s like magic.
Here’s my dad talking about hitchhiking his way up to the 1939 World’s Fair.
On 220 I didn’t get much leverage, not many rides. Ended up out in the middle of the country. Night was coming on and no place to lay your head. And fine, just about dark, a couple of guys picked me up in an old car.
They had been to South Carolina to buy liquor. North Carolina was dry. They had been enjoying the fruit of the vine. I was sitting in the back seat and they kept passing the bottle to me. No thank you, I am in training for football season. But they weren’t feeling any pain.
On the way to Roanoke, back then the roads were not four lane highways. These were two lane roads through the mountains. A lot of the places you could look over the side and see where you would go if things didn’t go right.
He drove pretty casually and it began to rain; dark, slippery roads at night. He didn’t keep his eye on the road much and I was biting donut holes out of the seat. Soon as I saw the first lights of Roanoke, I said this is where I am going thank you very much for the ride.
It’s easier than you think. Be your own StoryCorps, and your kids will thank you.