A national oral history project is trying to start a new tradition for Black Friday. Instead of hunting for bargains, StoryCorps suggests families sit down together and talk about their lives on a National Day of Listening.
Amanda Rigell, a 30-year-old middle school teacher from Johnson City, interviewed her grandmother, who was 89 at the time, for the first National Day of Listening last year.
"She was reluctant at first," Rigell said. "She doesn't really talk about herself." But then she talked for more than two and a half hours.
"She talked about her early education. She went to a tiny little school, I think there was only one other person there for a while. And she talked about drinking fresh milk from a cow. I guess that shouldn't have surprised me, but it did," Rigell said.
StoryCorps is a nonprofit project that seeks to preserve the stories of ordinary people. Rigell first learned about it when she heard some of those stories broadcast on public radio during her morning commute. She had already interviewed two people at StoryCorps recording booths when she and her father decided to interview her grandmother at home.
"I'm really glad we did it last year because her health has been declining," she said. "There was a while last month when she couldn't speak."
Rigell said her grandmother, who lives in Campbell County near the Kentucky border, was around for all the "big events" of her childhood. Some of her fondest memories of her grandmother involve home cooked meals and "amazing" buttermilk biscuits. But there were a lot of things Rigell didn't know about her.
Rigell recorded the interview on her computer and plans to give copies as Christmas presents.
"She has seven kids and I'm pretty sure there's at least one story about each of them," she said.
Rigell will be with relatives in Oklahoma this Thanksgiving and is thinking of interviewing two young cousins, ages 6 and 8.
"It should be interesting to listen to when they're 18," she said.
Meredith Sullins of Nashville plans to interview her grandfather this year. The 25-year-old doesn't have children yet, but when she does she wants them to be able to know something about the man who helped raise her.
"I'm probably going to ask about his childhood, and about my dad when he was little, and about his relationship with my grandmother. They've been married almost 65 years," Sullins said.
The nursing assistant and student plans to spend Thanksgiving with her grandparents in Hendersonville, she said. She will also interview her grandmother if there's time.
Sullins said one of her earliest memories is of her grandfather jumping, fully clothed, into a swimming pool to rescue her when she was 2 years old. Another is the time he took her to buy her first car and let her drive it home, even though she didn't have her license yet.
But she doesn't know much about her 87-year-old grandfather's life before she was born.
"He doesn't talk a lot about his past," she said. "He's the quiet, happy one."
She does know that he grew up in Nashville with five siblings and left school in the eight grade during the Depression. (He later earned a GED certificate.)
Sullins said she first learned of StoryCorps, like Rigell, when she heard some of the interviews on the radio. She found out about the National Day of Listening through an e-mail and thought it sounded like the perfect opportunity to interview her grandfather.
"He's had a lot of health problems recently," she said, her voice breaking. After a pause, she added, "And he might not be around too much longer."
On the Net:
National Day of Listening: http://www.nationaldayoflistening.org