Listen: Muriel Mackie patrolled Pawtucket in a white helmet and whistle during World War II. She died three years ago at the age of 86. Last Saturday, Mackie's sturdy voice sounded from radios across Rhode Island, recounting her time as an air-raid warden.
Mackie's story was one of 100 recorded in an Airstream trailer that docked at Kennedy Plaza four years ago as part of the national storytelling initiative StoryCorps. The interviews are housed at the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University.
Now, some are finding new life on Rhode Island's public radio station, WRNI, which did not have the resources for the project in 2007.
Two years after the interviews were recorded, a Brown University graduate student, Shana Weinberg, was asked to listen to the stories and think about ways to share them. Weinberg spent seven months listening, then held a brown-bag lunch in April 2010 to discuss the future of the stories. WRNI reporter Megan Hall attended and the two later collaborated to bring the tales to Rhode Island public radio.
The collaboration launched last Saturday with Mackie's story. Hers was the first of about 12 that will air on lazy Saturday mornings —at 8:34 am and 10:34 am — this summer.
There is the story of a Southern-raised mother coming to terms with the fact that her children — both of them — are gay. One man recalls his mysterious rejection from the Army during the Vietnam War. A woman admits she lied about her age to the man she later married.
There is a story from Cambodian immigrant Makna Men.
Listen: The Khmer Rouge systematically killed about two million people in Cambodia. Men saw death, starvation, and torture. He came to Providence with his family as a refugee. On his first day at Central High School in 1982, some students spat on his head.
"It bothered me a great deal," Men said in his StoryCorps interview in 2007, recalling the laughter and ridicule. "But I keep saying that, you know, I lived through worse than this in my life."
Men was interviewed in the Airstream trailer by Lindsay French, an anthropology professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. French said she had forgotten the story of Men's first day of school by the time it was selected for the radio.
"There have been lots of dramatic events in Makna's life, and I was a little bit more focused on what had been going on in Cambodia before he came," she said in a phone interview.
But Weinberg chose the story about his arrival.
"There were a lot of Cambodian refugees that came to Rhode Island, so it's important for that reason," Weinberg said over coffee recently. The story also spoke to the more general experience of immigration, she added.
"It's a really simple story of a first day of school and this thing that happens, but I think it's really powerful the way he tells it," said Weinberg.
Still, there are details left out of the chosen clip. For example, when Men arrived at T.F. Green Airport in December with his mother and four brothers, they were wearing flip-flops. There was snow everywhere. He had never seen snow. His father was dead. He lost 48 other relatives under the Khmer Rouge reign.