November 6, 2006

Deepening Relationships by Archiving Memories

Maria Brown Fogelman writes in the Washington Post, Dear Dad: I'll Be Hearing You.    How her project to record some of her father's memories of World War II was a "process that moved our relationship, like a time-travel vehicle, to a completely different dimension."

Standing next to his bed, I think about how the preservation of memory has shaped our relationship. Throughout my childhood, Dad regaled me with stories of his stint in the Navy during World War II. The effect was so strong that I chose "The Caine Mutiny" by Herman Wouk as one of my favorite eighth-grade reads along with teen-romance novels by Betty Cavanna.

But it wasn't until more than four decades later that I decided to preserve his wartime memories in a more concrete way.

"I'd like to tape you," I had told him, explaining that this would be an "official" interview: I would be armed with a packet of questions from the Library of Congress's Veterans History Project.

On the drive from my home in Silver Spring to my parents' home in Wilmington, however, I started to worry that my father's initial receptiveness might dissolve into reticence or, even worse, the inability to take the whole idea seriously. Even as a 50-plus-year-old adult, I was still afraid of feeling like the little girl who would cry loudly and pitifully whenever her father teased her.

But as soon as I arrived, my parents welcomed me with stacks of photo albums, V-mail -- letters written on a special form that would be microfilmed to save shipping space, then enlarged at an overseas destination before delivery as a facsimile -- and a copy of a discharge document from the Navy Personnel Separation Center in Bainbridge, Md., for my father, Louis Brown.

While he signed the release form for the Library of Congress project, I set up the tape recorder.

"Just wait," I teased him, "you're going to be featured in a Smithsonian exhibit."
In the ICU just nine months later, I think about how fortuitous it was that my father and I embarked on the oral history project. In all, I made three trips and filled three 90-minute tapes with his recollections of the war years.

Posted by Jill Fallon at November 6, 2006 1:37 PM | TrackBack | Permalink