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  • Martha Rasche

Telling Mary's Story

Sometimes I forget how much I love the writing part of telling people's life stories. After the interviews are substantially complete and transcribed, I generally study my notes and order them in some fashion. Then I sit down and have a wonderful time turning notes into story. That is what I've been doing the past couple of days, feeling all the more productive because I started the interviews in January, got waylaid by cancer in Februarey, resumed work in July and then got waylaid by a bad cough for the past two-plus weeks. (Chemo killed my immune system.)

Mary is 90. She met her late husband, Sam, in the early 1940s in a war plant that was turning out aircraft wings. If they worked past midnight, when the city's buses no longer ran, Sam would take Mary and some of the other workers home. Before long, Mary's apartment became the last stop, prolonging the couple's time together. On Sunday afternoons, they would go to the two o'clock tea dance at Club Trocadero, where the smooth marble floors made it all the easier to glide across the room in each other's arms...

I love Mary's story, and that she and her family are trusting me to tell it. I love that her great-grandchildren who otherwise never would have heard of Club Trocadero now will. They also will learn about Mary's childhood as the daughter of a sharecropper who was always on the move, looking for a kinder boss and a more financially productive crop. They will learn about Mary's beloved mother, who died of tuberculosis when Mary was 7. ("One shot of penicillin probably would have saved her," Mary surmises — but that antibiotic had been discovered only a few years earlier and wasn't yet in widespread use.) I've even written a short chapter about Mary's lifelong love of chickens.

These stories — we must write them down before they are gone. How else will her progeny learn that the reason Mary is a staunch Democrat is that she believes President Franklin Roosevelt saved her poor family's life with the food relief programs of the 1930s and that, although she is not Catholic, she greatly admires Pope Francis? ("I could go to breakfast with him," she says, and you just know that the pope would enjoy it every bit as much as Mary would.) If Mary were your mother or grandmother or great-grandmother, how lucky would you feel to know things like that?

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