Thursday, April 22, 2010

A tale of two trees

There I was in a local historical society waiting to talk to them about how to interview when I realized this was a preaching to the choir moment. They had already published several excellent booklets about some people in their community, so what I needed to do was connect my experiences with theirs. I shared my methods and techniques with them and they shared with me.

We started down in the dumps. The item ahead of me on their agenda was about locating past landfills and although their discussion had nothing to do with interviewing, it gave me a chance to talk about the importance of interviewing. Years ago I interviewed a lady who told me the story about two magnolia trees. We could see them outside the window where we were talking. She said that her father planted them both at the same time, yet one was almost double the size of the other. She pointed at me and said, "Someone needs to know the truth about those trees and I'm going to tell you." It seems that when the road was originally paved in the early thirties, there were barrels of leftover creosote the workers buried in the field. Her father planted one tree over the creosote dump and one further away. Over seventy-five years later, the creosote tree barely survived while the other thrived.

That simple story strikes at the core of interviewing. The past does matter and if the truth dies with the older generations, what are we leaving for the future generations?


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