A Frustrating Week With a Happy Ending
So by Thursday of this week, I thought that I was about to lose it. It had been an entire week, and I had nothing to show for it as far as my oral history project goes. Let me back up a little bit though.
This week, I started out optimistic, excited, and energized. It had been three long weeks of getting approval for my project, three long weeks of waiting to hear back from the IRB, and three long weeks of trying to figure out how to put everything together; however, all of that preparation felt like it was finally paying off because I had a full week of interviews that I had arranged with Mr. Foxworth.
Mr. Foxworth is a history teacher at a local middle school who is good friends with Rosanne, the director of the museum. He’s a wonderful and quirky guy whose enthusiasm and verbosity can be both endearing and taxing. He’s the kind of person that you can’t start a conversation with if you have something to get done or somewhere to be, because you never know how long the conversation will last. That being said, what he lacks in succinctness, he makes up for in enthusiasm. When I told him about my project and what I wanted to do in Marion County, he lit up immediately and started telling me about all of the people that he could set me up to interview with. He knew this person with that story and that person with this story and those people with these stories and everybody in between. So we set up a time later in the week to go and meet folks to interview, and two Thursdays ago, we drove all around Marion meeting folks and setting up interview times. Before I knew it, I was booked for interviews for the next week and a half. He introduced me to his mother, his aunt, two of his old teachers, and his pastor, all of whom were older and had lived in Marion for quite some time. He was also extremely helpful for me in another regard: he provided me with much needed insight and access to the African-American community here in Marion. It had become obvious to me early on that I didn’t have enough black people to talk to, but after working with Mr. Foxworth, I had no doubt that would no longer be a problem.
All of this is to say that I was extremely excited about the week to come, full of wonderful interviews and new friends. In short, I was finally beginning to feel like a true oral historian rather than a paperwork machine.
That all came crashing down pretty much as soon as the week began. On Monday, while I was working on the farm, I got a call from a woman that I had contacted a week earlier, and she informed me that, after thinking over the project, she didn’t want to participate. Although she didn’t exactly say that, what she said is that she didn’t feel well enough to do it. I don’t know if this is wrong of me, but I was very skeptical of that. Perhaps I just don’t understand what it feels like to be old, but I can’t see how straining it can be to sit down with someone and talk. So, if she does truly not feel well enough to do an interview, I feel very sorry for her because I imagine that daily living must be extremely difficult; however, it is my suspicion that she simply didn’t want to do an interview but was too polite to say so. To me though, that sort of politeness—the kind that is derived from white lies and is all-too-southern—is much more rude than the truth. If you don’t want to participate, just tell me that you don’t want to participate, don’t blame it on your health.
I wasn’t too upset about that phone call, though, because I had an interview the next day with one of Mr. Foxworth’s old teachers, so I was still optimistic and excited for the week. Tuesday came around, and I had an interview scheduled with her at one o’clock. I called her house at ten to remind her. She wasn’t home, so I politely left a message. After not hearing back, I called her again at noon, and again at 12:30. By 12:50, I was starting to get apprehensive. By 1:00 I still heard no response, so I tried calling once more and then drove over to her house. When I arrived, I rang the doorbell repeatedly but no one answered. So I decided to call some of the other folks that I had interviews scheduled with for later in the week and see if they’d be available for an interview that day instead. I first called an old friend of Mr. Foxworth’s that I was set to interview on Saturday. A man answered the phone and informed me that not only could she not do an interview today, she was also going to be out of town on Saturday and couldn’t do an interview then either. He seemed surprised that she would even have set up an interview for Saturday. After that call, I simply gave up and went back to the museum pretty disheartened. I managed to salvage the day by calling other folks and setting up even more interviews for the coming weeks.
The process of calling people to set up interviews was both comedic and surprisingly melancholic. I called a WWII veteran who is now hard of hearing, and spent the entire conversation talking with his wife, who would pause after each thing I said to yell it to him. It went a little something like:
“Hi, my name is Jacob and I’m working at the Marion County Museum this summer doing an oral history project. I’d like to talk to your husband for the project.”
“Oh, okay, well that’s interesting. FRANK, THERE’S A GUY FROM THE MUSEUM ON THE PHONE, HE SAYS THAT HE WANTS TO TALK TO YOU FOR A PROJECT—FOR A PROJECT—YES HE’S FROM THE MUSEUM—NO, THE ONE IN MARION—OH OKAY—I’LL TELL HIM THAT—OKAY—I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME—My husband said he be glad to participate!”
And some of the people I called would be bluntly honest about the trials of getting older. One woman told me flat-out that she couldn’t remember much any more, and another woman told me that she was battling cancer and simply felt too weak to do it. I had to grumble a bit in frustration, because a part of me wanted to say, “Well I’m very sorry to hear that your health is suffering, but isn’t that even more of a reason to try to record your memories now?” I held my tongue out of respect for her decision.
Thursday was even worse. On Thursday, I was supposed to interview Mr. Foxworth’s pastor and his wife at 10:30, but when I called them at 9:30, his wife said that he wasn’t feeling up to it today. I told her that I understood, but immediately my spirits sank. It was my third scheduled interview and my second to be cancelled on the day of. I scrambled around to find someone else to talk to that day, and I remembered that a man that Rosanne knows had called me back the night before saying that he was interested. So I called him. Lo-and-behold, he was free to do an interview that day. My spirits again rose, and I headed over to his house at about 1:00. As we sat down to do the interview, I began to go through the release forms that he had to sign saying that he gave permission for his interview to be kept in the archive at the Southern Oral History Program at UNC and to be used in an exhibit in the Marion County Museum. He was very slow in reading the release forms, and I could see from his face that there was something wrong. After looking over the forms for about five minutes, he frowned and pointed to the section about putting his interview on the Internet. He went on to explain to me how concerned he was about putting his interview on the Internet, because even though he doesn’t use the Internet, he’s heard a lot of bad things about people being exploited. I tried to explain to him that that only happens with things like credit card numbers and social security numbers, but he didn’t seem to understand. I tried to explain to him that the people who would read my blog would be my friends and family, and that Internet predators wouldn’t even know how to get to the site. I tried to help him see that the kind of information he was going to disclose wouldn’t be the kind that would get him into trouble; that no one would be interested in exploiting his stories from his childhood. But all of this was to no avail. He had seen the word “Internet” and he had shut down. After two whole hours of talking with him about these issues, I simply told him that I’d call him a week or two later, gave up and went home dejected, angry, and frustrated. On my way home, I drove by Mr. Foxworth’s pastor’s house, and I saw his pastor, presumably too sick to do an interview, sitting out on the porch. Go figure.
To top off the week, on Friday, I received the following letter from the woman who had stood me up on Tuesday:
“Dear Mr. Tobias,
After checking my schedule, I found out that I will not be available for interviews. Best wishes.”
The week would have ended badly, except that also on Friday, I went to Charleston with Rosanne, Marshall, and Noelle. There are some pictures from that in my personal blog if you want to see them. Also, on Saturday when I got back from Charleston, I had an amazing interview with Mr. Foxworth’s mom, Lolabell. After an interview with Lolabell suddenly all was well. I’ll be posting her interview in the oral history blog soon enough.