In my history projects I get to talk to a lot of retirees about their memories. In addition to important facts and clarifications that do not appear in the written record, these are the details that give any story texture, like what kind of cigars a man smoked, how he dressed, or the real reason a family moved. Even though an interview might result in only half a sentence, the rest of the information reinforces other evidence or discounts it. Better to learn a fact is wrong than to see the error in print.
One interviewee was a woman in Longview, Washington. Her name was passed along to me in the context of the paper mill project as, “She knows everyone and everything.” She was also 90 years old so I had to move fast.
I called the number and she picked up on the third ring. She proved bright and cheerful and full of details about the families who founded the mill. She also knew my family. “I remember Dick and Sally,” she remarked. “She was a real pistol. They liked to party.”
Whoa. Dad grew up in Kelso and Mom lived there a few years in the early 40s before going away to school. When they got married in 1945, they moved to California where I was born. We moved back to Longview for a couple years, then back to California. But the lady knew them and even remembered the block we lived on and what my dad did for a living. That was all 65 years ago!
As with all investigative and research projects it is important to find the right neighbor lady. What stories.