The Things We Carry

Driving down a long stretch of the 15 freeway from San Diego, my wife asked “what are you thinking about?” I guess I had phased out of conversation and drifted away into thought. In my head, I was thinking about my grandfather’s remembrance the next day; who would show up, what I would say, how emotional I would get. Still driving, I just replied “its just the voice in my head.” I didn’t expand beyond that, I didn’t know how, but with some reflection here’s an attempt.

A few weeks before my grandfathers passing, a year today, I decided to conduct a life-history interview. We had a three hour conversation about a host topics; life in Guatemala, socialist revolutions in Central America, immigrating to the US, setting roots in Anaheim, and what was to come for the family after his passing. As we were driving home from SD, those conversations with my grandfather unfolded in my head. I remembered I had recorded the conversations and planned to edit them. I haven’t listened to them, lacking courage to hear his voice in the fragile state of his last days.

Although his words are most vivid today, I feel like I carry a piece of every conversation I’ve ever had. I remember the people, the room arrangements, the conversations, and sound-bites, like a line from my favorite movie. Sometimes I think its just the way my memory works; a reminder of why I chose to study history. I can remember dates and facts, but more importantly I can easily recall experiences, memories, and conversations from years past.

My first “official” interview was with Connie G., it was part of an Oral History course collecting stories on Women’s roles in Great Britain during WWII for CSUF’s Center for Public Oral History in 2003. Who can forget their first interview? I remember studying the interview protocol for a week, triple checking that the recorder worked, and that I was cued up to flip the cassette when we reached 45 minutes. I also remember rearranging “the interview site” to mimic the guide provide (See below).


Image from the CSUF’s COPH Student Interview Guide

From the first conversation to ones held two weeks ago, they stay ever present. Something about people giving of themselves and sharing their experiences with me. Descriptions of  war, alienation on college campuses, the struggles of being undocumented, and living in communities where they feel robbed of an education, an opportunity. Across years, contexts, and campuses, these voices resonate with me. Remembering their stories, struggles, and triumphs is only one way to pay homage to their experiences.

I assume others have similar experiences. Especially those who are drawn to oral histories, narratives, storytelling, and interviews as research tools. As a researcher, its like being selected the Receiver of Memory in The Giver. Having the ability (responsibility) to retain and recall the memories of those you’ve engaged with. Maybe that’s going to far, but I don’t think so. From the day we meet, from the conversations we have, those stories and experiences shared, they become part of the things we carry.


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