I don't need any presents this year. No fancy wrapping or bows, please. I already received my gifts and I'll treasure them. Treasure them because I had the opportunity to witness some things money cannot buy.
All in one trip. A trip to New Mexico.
The story begins last year. An old friend from my childhood, Ron Graham contacted me about helping him conduct an oral history interview with his uncle. You see, his uncle, also named Ron, is a Vietnam War Veteran. A pilot who flew many, many missions in numerous aircraft during the conflict. Ron's uncle survived. He married his love and the two raised a family. My friend, Ron wanted to get those stories that he had heard all during his life recorded for posterity, so he called on me.
We set a date for the end of 2021, hoping that by then, Covid would have diminished. That date was last week and after having two shots and a booster, I felt it would be safe to make the trip. So we proceeded.
We recorded Ron's uncle over two days. Ron being the questioner and his uncle releasing old stories, some of which he hadn't talked about in years. Conducting an interview is an emotional rollercoaster for both those asking and those answering. Some stories made you laugh uncontrollably, while others made you feel like crying. I always have felt that when you listen to someone's story you are being given a gift. It's like they open the drawer of an old, antique chest and pull out pieces of clothing that they once wore. Most would never fit today. But, they are held safely packed away. And with every piece, there is a story. It is personal and it helps you, as the listener understand life to another level not understood before the words started flowing.
In between our interviews, Ron and I would take breaks and walk along a pathway that parallels the Rio Grande River. It was just a short walk down into the valley from his uncle and aunt's home. These intermissions gave us all a breather. For Ron and I, it was a chance to reminisce about our childhood, about the people and places both of us had known. By the time I left to head home last Monday afternoon, I felt as though I had connected with a family member. I feel like Ron and I became true friends again. Like we were back in Delafield, Wisconsin. Back at McDowell Subdivision where we sled down seemingly giant hills in the winter and fished at the peat bog during the summer. We talked about all those who were no longer with us and paused as we thought about the shared innocence of our youth. When it was time to board the plane, we gave each other a bear hug and I hoped we'd be able to spend more time together again...soon. Our connection was a true gift.
For this project, my main concern was to make sure the light was right, the audio was clear and the composition was good. Ron conducted the interview, giving me room to keep my concern focused on the technical aspect of the project. Which I did. But, unlike other interviews I have been involved with, I spent almost every day of my 4-day trip there at this lovely couple's home. We'd cook together, dine together, laugh together, talk about family, traditions, love, and history. I had warm flashbacks of sitting at my parent's table for meals. Ron's Aunt Thelma and Uncle Ron gave me that feeling of being with my parents again. Before 911, before Covid, before school shootings...I could close my eyes, feel the morning sun coming in the window, smell the sausage and eggs...I was back if only for a few minutes at a time. But I was back.
I know what love is. But what I witnessed with Ron's aunt and uncle was...well, truly beautiful. Aunt Thelma is from Guatemala and speaks with a very thick Spanish accent. She sings in Spanish and at one point during our second night there, she turned to her husband and sang a beautiful love song. They both danced in the kitchen together. Clasping hands and waltzing between the stove and cabinets. This same song was one she had sung to her husband many times before when they both were much younger and he was about to go off to fly another mission. The song was Spanish and is one of longing and returning - to not leave her alone and to come back to her. Seeing two people this deeply in love after decades of life together was good for my heart and my soul.
When I left on Monday, I felt good about what we had accomplished. A wonderful story had been preserved and in between, I had been given gifts that no money could ever buy.