Oral History project in Elk Rapids Schools – Day One

Posted on January 22, 2008

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A dozen students from Cherryland Middle School gathered after school on Monday to begin work on an oral history project directed by poet Terry Wooten and sponsored by the Elk Rapids Area Historical Society.  For the next week they’ll interview community elders on tape, transcribe the conversations, and learn to craft narrative poems from the material.  “These tapes are important,” Wooten told them.  “They’ll be put on disk and archived at the Historical Society.”  The poems will be published, too, in a book that Wooten will edit. 

On this first day, the students practiced their skills by interviewing Wooten.  “Where did you go to school?”  (Marion.)  “Were you a good kid or a bad kid?”  (A little of both.) “Do you have any scars?”  (Yes, five, and each one has a story.)  Gradually the group relaxed, and the questions flowed naturally. 

On Tuesday they’ll meet the community elders – who, it turns out, are a little apprehensive themselves.  When I called Marie Veliquette to talk about picking her up, she had some questions.  “What are they going to ask?  Is there something I should be thinking about?”  Then she laughed.  “I guess they just want to hear about the old days. I can certainly tell them how it was!”  She said that in her childhood there was no water in the house – they carried it from a spring.  Her father died when she was small, and her older brothers – 8 and 10 years old – helped the hired man (who was all of 16) to keep the farm going.  “It was hard,” Marie remembers, “but we didn’t know that.  We always had a roof over our heads and food on the table.  We thought it was normal to have these responsibilities.” 

I can hardly wait for her to meet the bright 7th and 8th graders – and for them to meet her, as well as the others who have agreed to be interviewed.  Stay tuned!