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“All There Is”: Love Stories from the StoryCorps Oral History Project with Founder Dave Isay

StoryFebruary 14, 2012
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Image Credit: storycorps.org/animation/danny-and-annie

On this Valentine’s Day, we turn now to the voices of ordinary Americans talking about love. They are collected in a new book from the award-winning national social history project, StoryCorps. The book, “All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps,” showcases the most memorable narratives from nearly 40,000 recorded interviews where love is the central theme interweaving two lives together. “I think one of the messages of StoryCorps is to remember to say the things to the people who you love today, and not to wait,” says StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. We also air some of Isay’s favorite recordings about love, including this message from a husband to a wife as they look back on their life together in his final days with terminal cancer: “My dearest wife: This is a very special day. It is a day on which we share our love, which still grows after all these years. Now, that love is being used by us to sustain us through these hard times. All my love, all my days, and more. Happy Valentine’s Day.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On this Valentine’s Day, we turn to the voices of ordinary Americans speaking about love. They’re collected in a new book from the award-winning national social history project, StoryCorps.

Since 2003, people across the United States have entered StoryCorps recording booths to tell their stories to each another. The conversations are recorded onto a CD for the storytellers and then preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Millions of people have listened to the stories online and on public radio. Over the past nine years, more than 40,000 interviews have been recorded, making StoryCorps one of the largest oral history projects in U.S. history.

Well, StoryCorps has just come out with a new book showcasing its most memorable stories on a topic that’s a constant presence through all of them: that’s love. The book is called All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. But first let’s turn to one of the stories featured in All There Is. Here, 93-year-old Paul Wilson tells his daughter Marty Smith about meeting her mother at the building where he worked in the early 1940s.

PAUL WILSON: One day I was waiting in the lobby for the elevator. The door slid aside, and there she stood, the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She was the operator. There were three or four other people on the elevator, and I was the last one, on floor number 10. And she opened the door, and I said, “Thank you.” And she said, “You’re welcome.” That was the total conversation that first contact.

Course, in the next few days, I saw her, but I was so backward and bashful that I didn’t say anything to her, except “10.” She said, “Yes, I know.” Thank goodness she broke the ice. She said, “Do you know where you can get some good chop suey?” How about that for an opening line? I said, “Sure. The cafe across the street is a Chinese cafe. They serve chop suey.”

MARTY SMITH: I sense that she set that up.

PAUL WILSON: I realized later she did. When I said I eat there every day, she said, “Oh?” I realized I had an opening. And we had chop suey, and we got acquainted. I found out her name was Wilma. She found out my name was Paul. I found out that she was divorced and had a two-year-old girl. She found out I was about to be drafted. Well, that wasn’t good. Well, do you know what? I think it was two days later she brought that little girl downtown.

MARTY SMITH: This is Barbara.

PAUL WILSON: This was Barbara.

MARTY SMITH: She was my older sister.

PAUL WILSON: That’s right. Barbara was two years old. She had a little red snowsuit, white fur hat, white fur muff that she was proud of. And when her mother introduced me to her, she held her arms out to me. And I was done for.

Well, I did go away to war. Your mother waited for me three years. We got married right there in my mother’s living room. And we had a 63-year honeymoon. And as you often say to me when we part company, you say, “Life is good.” And I have to think, yeah, life is good, even though I’ve lost my sweetheart.

MARTY SMITH: Who was it that said the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother?

PAUL WILSON: I did my best.


PAUL WILSON: We were real lovers. And every day is a memorial for her.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Paul Wilson, talking to his daughter Marty Smith, one of the conversations featured in the new book, All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps.

Well, we’re joined now by Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps. Dave, it’s great to have you with us on Valentine’s Day.

DAVE ISAY: Hi, Amy. Good to see you, always.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this project that you’ve been doing.

DAVE ISAY: Sure. Well, you describe StoryCorps very well. It’s this massive oral history project. We’ve done 40,000 interviews with about 80,000 everyday people across the country. We hold—

AMY GOODMAN: But then, of course, it’s not you doing the interviews.

DAVE ISAY: No. So these are everyday people who come to the booth together and are met by a facilitator, who’s—they think of themselves as bearing witness to these interviews. They sit during the interviews. This conversation is had. Many people think of it as, if I had 40 minutes left to live, what would I say to this person who means so much to me? At the end of the 40 minutes, as you said, two CDs have been burned: one stays with you, the other goes to the Library of Congress, so your great-great-great-great-grandkids can someday get to know your grandmother through her voice and story.

And this book, as you said, is—these are 40 of the most remarkable stories of the 40,000 interviews we’ve recorded, although I have to say that, you know, we look at each interview as potentially a sacred experience in people’s lives. Every interview is equally valuable. Some just have this kind of universal quality that make it appropriate to share, like that story we just heard from Wichita, Kansas, which is very much kind of a meat-and-potatoes StoryCorps story, but you hear the grace and the poetry and the wisdom in the words of regular people. So that’s what this project is all about.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dave, one of the couples who has so inspired you through the years—I’ve been to your various events as you launch your books and StoryCorps—are Danny and Annie. And I think a lot of people have followed them over time. And I wanted to play this clip. And if you could start off by saying what you’ve done. Now, for our radio audience, they will hear these two wondrous voices, Danny and Annie. But for the TV audience, you’ve taken another step.

DAVE ISAY: So, we started animating StoryCorps stories about two years ago. And what happened is, one of these facilitators, who’s one of these people who gathers the wisdom of humanity, came into my office one day, and he said, “You know, I’m a facilitator, but I’m also an animator. And my brother, who teaches swim class at the Y, is also an animator. And we started animating StoryCorps stories.” And I tried to toss him out of my office. I know you’ve tossed people out of your office before. Before he could—before I could get him out, he slammed a DVD into my computer, and this wondrous thing showed up. And StoryCorps animation was born.

So, you know, I am a radio purist. You’ve known me since the day I started in radio many, many years ago. But I thought that what these young men had done was to add a layer of magic to the magic that happens just between the two people and the voices. So—and we’re also doing a big push into schools now. So I think of this kind of as a gateway drug to get kids to engage with the video and then listen to the audio. So this is Danny and Annie.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is Danny and Annie. They’re Brooklyn residents, looking back on their—

DAVE ISAY: First date, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —life together, from their first date to Danny’s final days with terminal cancer. This story released with animation. Go ahead.

DANNY PERASA: She started to talk. And I said, “Listen, I’m going to deliver a speech.” I said, “At the end, you’re going to want to go home.” I said, “You represent a dirty four-letter word.” I said, “That word is 'love.'” I says, “If we’re going anywhere, we’re going down the aisle, because I’m too tired, too sick and too sore to do any other damn thing.” And she turned around, and she said, “Of course I’ll marry you.” Then, the next morning I called her as early as I possibly could.

ANNIE PERASA: And he always gets up early.

DANNY PERASA: To make sure she hadn’t changed her mind. And she hadn’t. And every year on April 22nd, around 3:00, I call her and ask her, if it was today, would she do it again? And so far, the answer has been the same.

ANNIE PERASA: Yeah, 25 times, yes.

DANNY PERASA: You see, the thing of it is, I always feel guilty when I say “I love you” to you, and I say it so often. I say it to remind you that, as dumpy as I am, it’s coming from me. It’s like hearing a beautiful song from a busted old radio, and it’s nice of you to keep the radio around the house.

ANNIE PERASA: If I don’t have a note on the kitchen table, I think there’s something wrong. You write a love letter to me every morning.

DANNY PERASA: Well, the only thing that could possibly be wrong is I couldn’t find a silly pen.

ANNIE PERASA: “To my princess, the weather out today is extremely rainy. I’ll call you at 11:20 in the morning.”

DANNY PERASA: It’s a romantic weather report.

ANNIE PERASA: “And I love you. I love you. I love you.”

DANNY PERASA: When a guy is happily married, no matter what happens at work, no matter what happens in the rest of the day, there’s a shelter when you get home. There’s a knowledge, knowing that you can hug somebody without them throwing you down the stairs and saying, “Get your hands off me!” And being married is like having a color television set. You never want to go back to black-and-white.

DAVE ISAY: So, Amy, this is—on the animation now, it says, “Danny and Annie spent 27 happy years together. In January of 2006, Danny was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A few weeks later, Danny and Annie recorded one last interview together from their living room in their home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.”

ANNIE PERASA: The illness is not hard on me. It’s just, you know, the finality of it. And him, he goes along like a trooper.

DANNY PERASA: Listen, even downhill a car doesn’t roll unless it’s pushed. And you’re giving me a great push. The deal of it is, we try to give each other hope—and not hope that I’ll live; hope that you’ll do well after I pass, hope that people will support her, hope that if she meets somebody and likes him, she marries him.

ANNIE PERASA: Yeah, he has everything planned. You know.

DANNY PERASA: I’m working on her. She said—it was her call—she wants to walk out behind the casket alone. I guess that’s the way to do it, because when we were married, you know how your brother takes you down, your father takes you down? She said, “Well, I don’t know which of my brothers to walk in with. I don’t want to offend anybody.” I says, “I got a solution.” I said, “You walk in with me. You walk out with me.” And the other day, I said, “Who’s going to walk down the aisle with you behind the casket?” You know, to support her. And she said, “Nobody. I walked in with you alone. I’m walking out with you alone.”


DANNY PERASA: There’s a thing in life, where you have to come to terms with dying. Well, I haven’t come to terms with dying yet. I want to come to terms with being sure that you understand that my love for you up to this point was as much here as it could be, and it will be as much as it could be for eternity. I always said the only thing I have to give you is a poor gift and it’s myself. And I always gave it. And if there’s a way to come back and give it, I’ll do that, too. Do you have the Valentine’s Day letter there?

ANNIE PERASA: Yeah. “My dearest wife: This is a very special day. It is a day on which we share our love, which still grows after all these years. Now that love is being used by us to sustain us through these hard times. All my love, all my days, and more. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

DANNY PERASA: I could write on and on about her. She lights up the room in the morning when she tells me to put both hands on her shoulders so she can support me. She lights up my life when she says to me at night, “Wouldn’t you like a little ice cream?” or “Would you please drink more water?” I mean, those aren’t very romantic things to say, but they stir my heart. In my mind, in my heart, there has never been, there is not now, and never will be, another Annie.

DAVE ISAY: So, Amy, then, in the animation, it tells us that Danny and Annie recorded that on a Thursday. The next Friday, it aired on public radio, and Danny died about two hours after the broadcast. Annie got thousands of letters from public radio listeners. She carried one with—she buried one with Danny. She carried one with her behind the casket, one copy of the letters. And still to this day, she reads a letter a day, instead of the letter she would have gotten from [Danny]. So, you know, Danny and Annie, they—that first interview was recorded within the first weeks after we opened the StoryCorps booth. And, you know, I—

AMY GOODMAN: How did they discover it? This was at Grand Central?

DAVE ISAY: They—yeah, they came to the booth.

AMY GOODMAN: Grand Central in New York City.

DAVE ISAY: Grand Central Terminal.

AMY GOODMAN: You had a little kind of a camper—

DAVE ISAY: Yeah, well, no, the—

AMY GOODMAN: —set up there, a booth.

DAVE ISAY: It was a little booth, and then we started—we launched these Airstream trailers that travel the country. And, you know, they came back over and over again. Danny brought every character he had ever met—Major League umpires and undercover narcotics detectives, everybody. And they read their love letters to each other over and over again. And we ended up naming the booth for them.

But, you know, Danny really personifies so much of what StoryCorps stands for. Here was a guy—and actually, they prettied him up in this animation. He was five-feet tall. He was bald. He had one snaggletooth and crossed eyes. But he had more romance in his little pinky than all of Hollywood’s leading men put together. And this is—you know, and Annie used to say that people would make fun of Danny. They’d look at him. They’d roll their eyes. And all he wanted to do was be heard. And this is the kind of beauty and, as I said before, and poetry we find when we take the time to listen. That’s what StoryCorps is about. It’s what Democracy Now! is about. I mean, this is—I think, at its core, what StoryCorps says, you know, underneath it all, is that every life matters equally. And what I hope we do is create a country that—or help move the country a little bit in the direction towards recognizing the value in everybody’s story, the importance of listening.

AMY GOODMAN: Like David Wilson’s story.


AMY GOODMAN: He’s a plaintiff in the 2004 court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. He remembers the death of his first partner.

DAVID WILSON: EMTs arrived within minutes, and they called the police, because they saw me standing in the driveway, you know, an African-American man in a white neighborhood. And when the police arrived, they wanted to arrest me for assault and battery and breaking and entering. And when I got to the hospital, I found out that they were not going to give me any information, because I had no relationship to Ron. As far as they were concerned, I was a stranger. They called Ron’s family in Vermont and said, “Can you give permission for us to talk to David?” And his 75-year-old mom said, “Of course. They’re partners.” So they came out, and they said that he was dead on arrival.

My whole world just kind of fell apart, and I felt pretty broken. You know, where do I go from here? So, I joined a support group. One meeting, in walked a man. That man’s name was Rob Compton. Three years later, we had a commitment ceremony. Lots of people came, and they thought it was our wedding. And we said, “No, this isn’t a wedding, because we don’t have the right to get married.”

So, it was amazing to become a plaintiff in a major lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts. Part of the decision to be part of the case was to talk with my family. My dad wasn’t sure. All of a sudden his only son is going to become this prominent, out, gay black man. So I talk with Dad about some of the issues. Couple hours later, Dad said, “You’re doing the right thing.” May 17th, 2004, was the first weddings. Dad said, “Well, you’re going to City Hall, and you’re going to be part of all this excitement. What about me?” I said, “Dad, I’m sending a limo to pick you up.” My dad had never been in a limo. He got a new suit, came down, and a limo took him down, and he was in the front row. And when we walked down the aisle, both his arms were in the air. He was 89 at that point. And he didn’t see it just for gay people, he saw it for, you know, all people that had been discriminated against. And his whole life, he had been discriminated against. So I think, for Dad, it was just a victory that he could be a part of. He could not have been more proud. It was a great day.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s David Wilson in Massachusetts. How about Studs Terkel? You actually took StoryCorps to Studs?

DAVE ISAY: Yeah. So, we have these booths that travel the country and go in very prominent places. We’ve been in all 50 states and hundreds of cities. One time, we pulled into someone’s driveway. And that was for Studs Terkel. And we’re going to show an animation, and people can hear the story.

AMY GOODMAN: But one second.


AMY GOODMAN: For young people who might not be familiar with Studs?

DAVE ISAY: So, Studs was the—America’s great oral historian. He was from Chicago and had a radio show. He wrote a number of—many, many books of oral histories and was certainly an inspiration for StoryCorps. You know, he cut the ribbon on our first booth in Grand Central Terminal. He was in his nineties, and he came to New York to do this. And that day, you know, he looked at us, and he said, “You know, we know who the architect was of Grand Central Terminal. But who laid these floors? Who built these walls? You know, that’s—those are the stories that you must get.” And we’ve worked hard to live up to his mandate after all these years.

AMY GOODMAN: So, here we go to perhaps StoryCorps’s most famous interviewee—

DAVE ISAY: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Studs Terkel, the late oral historian, the radio broadcaster, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. This is Studs Terkel.

STUDS TERKEL: What has happened to the human voice, vox humana — hollering, shouting, quiet talking, buzz? I was leaving the airport—this is in Atlanta. You know, you leave the gate, you take a train that took you to the concourse of your choice. And I get into this train. Dead silence. A few people are seated or standing. Up above, you hear a voice, that once was a human voice, but no longer. Now it talks like a machine. “Concourse 1, Fort Worth, Dallas, Lubbock.” That kind of voice.

Just then, the doors are about to close, pneumatic doors, when a young couple rush in and push open the doors and get in. Without missing a beat, that voice above says, “Because of late entry, we’re delayed 30 seconds.” The people looked at that couple as if that couple had just committed mass murder, you know. And the couple is shrinking like this, you know?

Now, I’m known for my talking. I’m gabby. And so I say, “George Orwell, your time has come and gone!” I expect a laugh. Dead silence. And now they look at me.

And I’m with the couple, the three of us, at the head of Calvary on Good Friday. And then I say, “My god, where is the human voice?”

And just then, there’s a little baby. Maybe the baby’s about a year old or something. And I say, “Sir or Madam,” to the baby, “what is your opinion of the human species?” Well, what does a baby do? Baby starts giggling! I say, “Thank God! The sound of a human voice.”

AMY GOODMAN: There you have it, Studs Terkel. And for our radio listeners, you can go to democracynow.org or StoryCorps.org, and you can see the animated Studs Terkel. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

I want to talk about the mom and her son. In early 2006, 12-year-old Joshua Littman, who has Asperger syndrome, interviewed his mother. Where were they? Sarah?

DAVE ISAY: This was also Grand Central.

AMY GOODMAN: At Grand Central Station. Imagine it, folks: a little booth with thousands of people racing by. This is Joshua and his mom Sarah.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: From a scale of one to 10, do you think your life would be different without animals?

SARAH LITTMAN: I think it would be an eight without animals, because they add so much pleasure to life.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: How else do think your life would be different without them?

SARAH LITTMAN: I could do without things like cockroaches and snakes.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Well, I’m OK with snakes, as long as they’re not venomous or can constrict you or anything.

SARAH LITTMAN: Well, yeah, I’m not a big snake person.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: But cockroach is just the insect we love to hate.

SARAH LITTMAN: Yeah, it really is.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Have you ever felt like life is hopeless?

SARAH LITTMAN: When I was a teenager, I was very depressed. And I think that can be quite common with teenagers who think a lot, you know, when they’re perceptive.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Am I like that?

SARAH LITTMAN: You are very much like that.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Do you have any mortal enemies?

SARAH LITTMAN: I would say my worst enemy is sometimes myself, but I don’t think I have any mortal enemies.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Have you ever lied to me?

SARAH LITTMAN: Hmm. I probably have, but I try not to lie to you, even though sometimes the questions you ask make me uncomfortable.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Like when we go on our walks, some of the questions I might ask?

SARAH LITTMAN: Yeah. But you know what? I feel it’s really special that you and I can have those kind of talks, even if sometimes I feel myself blushing a little bit.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Have you ever thought you couldn’t cope with having a child?

SARAH LITTMAN: I remember when you were a baby, you had really bad colic, so you would just cry and cry, and I didn’t know what—

JOSHUA LITTMAN: What’s colic?

SARAH LITTMAN: It’s when you get this stomach ache, and all you do is scream, for like four hours a night.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: You mean, louder than Amy does?

SARAH LITTMAN: You were pretty loud, but Amy’s was more high-pitched.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: I think it feels that everyone seems to like Amy more, like she’s like the perfect little angel.

SARAH LITTMAN: Well, I can understand why you think that people like Amy more. And I’m not saying it’s because of your Asperger syndrome, but being friendly comes easily to Amy, whereas I think for you it’s more difficult.


SARAH LITTMAN: But the people who take the time to get to know you love you so much.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Like Ben or Eric or Carlos?


JOSHUA LITTMAN: And like I have better-quality friends, but less quantity?

SARAH LITTMAN: I wouldn’t judge the quality, but I think—

JOSHUA LITTMAN: I mean, like, first it was like Amy loved Claudia, then she hated Claudia. She loved Claudia, then she hated Claudia.

SARAH LITTMAN: Yeah, you know what? Part of that’s a girl thing, honey. The important thing for you is that you have a few very good friends, and really that’s what you need in life.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Did I turn out to be the son you wanted when I was born? Like, did I meet your expectations and…

SARAH LITTMAN: You’ve exceeded my expectations, sweetie, because—you know, sure, you have these fantasies of what your child’s going to be like, but you have made me grow so much as a parent, because you think—

JOSHUA LITTMAN: Well, I was the one who made you a parent.

SARAH LITTMAN: You were the one who made me a parent. That’s a good point. But also, because you think differently from, you know, what they tell you in the parenting books.


SARAH LITTMAN: I really had to learn to think out of the box with you. And it’s made me much more creative as a parent and as a person. And I’ll always thank you for that.

JOSHUA LITTMAN: And that helped when Amy was born?

SARAH LITTMAN: And that helped when Amy was born. But you are just so incredibly special to me, and I’m so lucky to have you as my son.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s a story of love: Sarah and her son, 12-year-old Joshua Littman.

This is Democracy Now! We’re bringing you a StoryCorps Valentine’s gift today. We’re here with StoryCorps founder, Dave Isay. And Dave, I was wondering if you could introduce this next clip. This is Mary Johnson.

DAVE ISAY: Sure. Mary Johnson came to StoryCorps. This is a recent clip. And it was from this past year in StoryCorps. Mary Johnson came with—to StoryCorps with Oshea Israel. And this is in Minnesota. When he was 16 years old, Oshea got in a fight with another gang member, her son, Laramiun Byrd, and killed him. Twelve years into his sentence, Laramiun Byrd’s mother, Mary Johnson, wanted to find out who this person was who murdered her son. Oshea got out of prison two years ago, and he came to StoryCorps with Mary, and they had this conversation.

MARY JOHNSON: You and I met at Stillwater Prison. I wanted to know if you were in the same mindset of what I remember from court, where I wanted to go over and hurt you. But you were not that 16-year-old. You were a grown man. I shared with you about my son.

OSHEA ISRAEL: And he became human to me. You know, when I met you, it was like, OK, this guy is real. And then, when it was time to go, you broke down and started shedding tears. And the initial thing to do was just try to hold you up as best I can, just hug you like I would my own mother, you know?

MARY JOHNSON: After you left the room, I began to say, “I just hugged the man that murdered my son.” And I instantly knew that all that anger and the animosity, all the stuff I had in my heart for 12 years for you, I knew it was over, that I had totally forgiven you.

OSHEA ISRAEL: As far as receiving forgiveness from you, sometimes I still don’t know how to take it, because I haven’t totally forgiven myself yet. It’s something that I’m learning from you. I won’t say that I have learned yet, because it’s still a process that I’m going through.

MARY JOHNSON: I treat you as I would treat my son. And our relationship is beyond belief. We live next door to one another.

OSHEA ISRAEL: Yeah, so you can see what I’m doing. You know, firsthand.


OSHEA ISRAEL: We actually bump into each other all the time, leaving in and out of the house. And our conversations, they come from, “Boy, how come you ain’t called over here to check on me in a couple of days? You don’t even ask me if I need my garbage to go out.”


OSHEA ISRAEL: I find those things funny, because it’s a relationship with a mother, for real.

MARY JOHNSON: Well, my natural son is no longer here. I didn’t see him graduate. Now you’re going to college. I’ll have the opportunity to see you graduate. I didn’t see him get married. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to experience that with you.

OSHEA ISRAEL: And just to hear you say those things and to be in my life in the manner in which you are is my motivation. It motivates me to make sure that I stay on the right path. You still believe in me. And the fact that you can do it, despite how much pain I caused you, it’s amazing.

MARY JOHNSON: I know it’s not an easy thing, you know, to be able to share our story together, even with us sitting here looking at each other right now. I know it’s not an easy thing. So I admire that you can do this.

OSHEA ISRAEL: I love you, lady.

MARY JOHNSON: I love you, too, son.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Johnson speaking with Oshea Israel, who killed Mary Johnson’s son in 1993. We’re bringing you StoryCorps clips. We’re bringing you the stories of people talking to each other, recorded in booths around the country set up by StoryCorps, one of the largest oral history projects in this country. Dave Isay with us, who is founder of StoryCorps and author of All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps. Introduce Beverly to us, Dave.

DAVE ISAY: Sure. You know, we’ve done a number of special initiatives through the years at StoryCorps. We have—we were talking in the break about the Griot Project, which is now largest collection of African-American voices ever gathered. We have something called “Historias,” which is Latino voices. We have a project for families who have a loved one in hospice and palliative care, called “Legacy,” project for families who have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

And the first special initiative we did—and I’ve been on to talk about this before—is with the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, where everyone who lost a loved on September 11th is invited to come to StoryCorps and leave a record of that person’s life. And there were obviously many, many love stories told in the booth with these 9/11 families. And this is one of them. It’s Beverly Eckert, who ended up becoming an activist for 9/11 families. She lost her husband, Sean Rooney, on September 11th. And she came to StoryCorps to remember him and to talk about their last half-hour together on the telephone from the towers.

BEVERLY ECKERT: Sean had warm brown eyes and dark curly hair. And he was a good hugger. We met when we were only 16, at a high school dance. And when he died, we were 50. It was about 9:30 a.m. when he called, and he told me he was on the 105th floor, and he had been trying to find a way out. And he told me that he—you know, he hadn’t had any success, and now the stairwell was full of smoke. I asked if it hurt for him to breathe. And he paused for a moment and then said, “No.” He loved me enough to lie.

We stopped talking about escape routes, and then we just began talking about all the happiness we shared during our lives together. I told him that I wanted to be there with him, die with him. But he said, no, no, he wanted me to live a full life. And as the smoke got thicker, he just kept whispering, “I love you,” over and over. I just wanted to crawl through the phone lines to him to hold him one last time.

Then I heard a sharp crack, followed by the sound of an avalanche. It was the building beginning to collapse. I called his name into the phone over and over. Then I just sat there, pressing the phone to my heart.

I think about that last half-hour with Sean all the time. I remember how I didn’t want that day to end, terrible as it was. I didn’t want to go to sleep. I guess as long as I was awake, it was still a day that I had shared with Sean, you know, and he kissed me goodbye before leaving for work. I could still say that was just a little while ago. It was only this morning. And looking back on all that has happened since he died and the causes I’ve fought for and the things I’ve done, I just think of myself as living life for both of us now. And I like to think that Sean would be proud of me.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Beverly Eckert remembering her husband Sean Rooney, who died in the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. Dave Isay, tell us more about Beverly.

DAVE ISAY: So, this was a tribute to her—to Beverly’s husband Sean that she recorded five years after 9/11. And sadly, this become a tribute to Beverly, as well. She died in a Continental flight going to Buffalo on February 12th, 2009. She was on her way to celebrate Sean’s birthday with his family in Buffalo and perished in that Continental flight that crashed. So, you know, I think one of the messages of StoryCorps is to remember to say the things to the people who you love today, and not to wait.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps and author of All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps. And that does it for this Valentine’s Day special. If you’re concerned—what do you buy for someone you care about—just think of a kiss and sharing stories.

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