Sunday, May 10, 2009

One Big Story

It’s all one big story.

Life, that is.

In rare transcendent moments of immense joy or pain, we know it. But in the ordinary moments – when the babysitter is late or the tire blows out on the interstate or the line at the grocery store is held up because the woman with three children can’t find her debit card in the duffel bag she calls a purse – we tend to lose sight of that truth.

Which is why this story, the one I am about to tell you, needs telling.

In January, I drove to Savannah with Daddy to keep an appointment I’d made with the StoryCorps bus. He wasn’t all that keen on the idea of sitting inside an Airstream trailer for 45 minutes while I asked him questions about his childhood, but I reminded him that his is the last generation who grew up as the children of sharecroppers and that that way of life needed to be remembered and appreciated. It didn’t hurt that I am his only daughter and, except for mouse-trap emptying, I generally don’t ask for much.

Last Thursday each of us got a call from a nice young lady at StoryCorps in New York City. She called to tell us that a portion of the interview as going to be broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition on Friday morning. I don’t know how Daddy reacted, but when I hung up the phone I went running up and down the halls of the office in my high heels screaming, "My daddy is going to be on NPR!!! Oh, my gosh, my daddy is going to be on NPR!!!"

It is unfortunate, but not necessarily germane to the story, that Georgia Public Broadcasting pre-empted Friday’s StoryCorps segment for a fund-raising plea, a programming faux pas which meant that friends and family who had turned their dials to 91.1 FM (a station that at least some of them, prior to Friday, didn’t know existed) heard only two men engaged in a slightly goofy conversation about pledges and thank-you gifts. However, those in Atlanta, South Carolina and Maryland all heard the segment and were as delighted as I with the result. And all day on Friday I got phone calls and e-mails from people who had managed to find the web link and listen on their computers. It was a glorious day.

Five days later I got an e-mail from my high school friend Francie. We don’t see each other much. Francie is a professor at a university in Virginia and her parents don’t live in Statesboro anymore so her visits here are rare. E-mail is our way of remaining a part of each other’s lives.

It happened that Francie was in New York City on Friday to deliver a lecture and was staying with a friend who has a 30th-floor apartment overlooking the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center. She wrote: As I was blow-drying my hair the bathroom door was cracked so I could hear the radio which had NPR on, and so when I heard the strong southern accent (which I never hear anywhere, but certainly not in New York) I, as always, tried to place from which state the speaker must be. THEN I heard the female interviewer and thought, ‘That sure sounds like Kathy Bradley.’ When they reintroduced the speakers at the end of the piece, I came shooting out of that bathroom screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘Tony, I know those people! They’re from home!’

I cried, of course. Cried because after all this time and in such odd circumstances she recognized our voices. Cried because for Francie this will always be home and because she still understands what it means to be ‘from’ somewhere. Cried because, as I said, it’s all one story.

Once, when I was at Wesleyan, Mama and Daddy came up to hear some speaker and at the end of the program, which must not have impressed him much, Daddy said to me, "I wish somebody would give me that opportunity. If they would let me, I’d stand on the White House steps and speak to the entire nation. And I’d tell them the truth."

Well, Daddy, it wasn’t the White House steps and it took about 30 years, but the entire nation did hear you. Not bad for a country boy.

Copyright 2009

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