The most important take-away I have on the 10-year anniversary of voicesofoklahoma.com is not about the famous Oklahomans who have sat down behind a microphone with me. Nor is it from the not-as-well-known Oklahomans who shared remarkable stories.
There is no doubt that important takeaways came from both groups, including stories of:
•A father who was forced to walk from Nebraska to Oklahoma by the Indian Removal Act;
•A man born in Germany who came to Oklahoma to enlist in the Army to return to Germany to fight the Nazis;
•A Muskogee baseball player who talked about the Negro League and how Jackie Robinson came to his house; and
•The downtown Tulsa department store frequented by J. Paul Getty.
I well remember the sister of Woody Guthrie talking about her big brother and his love at an early age of writing and singing.
And hearing about a place for Tulsans to enjoy their milkshakes and malts while buying the latest magazines and best-selling books.
All of those stories are from the more than 200 interviews on our website and podcasts (several of those stories are included in our Voices of Oklahoma book), and all of them were told by people who are no longer with us. As a matter of fact, 65 of the people we have interviewed have died since we recorded them.
And that leads me to my most important takeaway: Record your family’s stories. Now. Don’t wait. No excuses.
Don’t wait. Fathers’ Day is a perfect opportunity. Sit down after the family brunch or lunch with a recording device and capture your family history.
Need a place to start? Just ask “What was it like when you were growing up?”
No excuses. Once this could be a cumbersome task with either a reel-to-reel tape recorder, or a tape cassette that always jammed at the wrong time. Today, there are apps for your phone (or your phone may already have the capability) and inexpensive hand-held digital recorders (office supply stores carry a variety). These can be connected to your computer, downloaded as voice files and then turned into CDs. It’s that simple.
Most people have pictures of mothers and fathers. But if you record your mom and dad, you will also have an aural record to remember them. A friend told me about his son who died at age 45. Every night my friend’s wife listens to her son’s voice left on a voicemail. Another person told me, “I have albums of photos, but I simply cannot remember what my mother and father sounded like.”
By starting a family oral history, you will not only remember but will take comfort in remembering the sound of their voice.
My son, David, was a freshman at Jenks High School when he was assigned to record a member of his family. Fortunately, my father was in town, and David took out his cassette recorder. Today I have a copy of that recording, and it is a pleasure to hear his voice. It keeps my father’s memory close.
Record your family’s stories. Now. Don’t wait. No excuses.
John Erling is the founder and host of voicesofoklahoma.com and co-author with John Hamill of the book, Voices of Oklahoma —stories from the oral history website.