My dad was a wonderful storyteller. He would often regale his family with absorbing tales of his boyhood in Binghamton, N.Y., in the late 1920s and early '30s - epic snowfalls, elaborate Halloween pranks, surviving the Depression. He told about how he helped build the Norfolk & Western Railway's now-legendary steam engines in the early 1950s.
But unlike those whom Marilyn Gardner interviewed (see story, right), my dad wasn't really interested in writing down his stories.
Still, my brothers and I didn't want the chronicle of his life to be lost. So one year I bought Dad a tape recorder and a stack of blank tapes for his birthday. I asked him to record his anecdotes, and said I would be responsible for transcribing the results - typing up and distributing to the family the "chapters of his memoir."
After a few weeks of inaction, it turned out that he - not unnaturally - felt self-conscious talking to a tape recorder.
So, one day my mom and brother sat down at the kitchen table and "interviewed" my dad, with the tape recorder running.
They asked him questions to get him started, and then prompted him now and then for more details. When he'd reminisced for 45 minutes - enough to fill one side of a tape - sometimes he would stop, and they'd continue another day. Occasionally he wanted to keep going on his own.
The project was a success - especially in one way that hadn't occurred to us when we started. Because audiotapes are easy to duplicate, we each ended up with a recording of Dad's adventures in his own voice.
It would never sell a million copies, but I consider it the most valuable tape in my collection.
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