As a way to sharpen oral history skills, I thought I would volunteer at the Oregon Historical Society, which has projects in that line. I would have liked to interview subjects, but funding is closed for those efforts. Still, there are hundreds of hours of interviews left to transcribe. The director gave me what appeared to be a special project to work on.
Often the interviews entail many hours on one person, done over time – and are not just about a single life but an entire community and a place. Sometimes the stories these people tell are very interesting but as you can imagine, some of it carries on a bit. And because they are so long, perhaps several people will transcribe a single interview. There may not be that sense of a complete whole for those who transcribe.
What he gave me instead was a 20 minute interview with John and Jacqueline Kennedy in 1960, when they were passing through Oregon and he was a senator, running for president.
It was so cool to hear those voices you know through this old tape! Right away I recognized the little girl inflections of Jackie, who coos and murmurs her words as much as she speaks them. The interviewer asked her about her "philosophy" on parenting, her hobbies and teased her that she read 17th and 18th century European history. Jack defended her admirably though. Still, it was a moment in time not dissimilar to "Mad Men" on TV - 1960. Here's a woman who was a journalist and a photographer (that's how she met Jack), but the journalist asks her what kind of lunch she prepares for him.
What is interesting in this line of work is that you can really compare the speech patterns. And right off the bat, I have to say that Jackie is incredibly measured next to Jack, careful and very well spoken. No grammatical errors at all. All her boarding school shines through. But with JFK, he's a mess. He is not any better than the man we have in the oval office now. But I think more people are like him than her anyway - most of us do not speak so mindfully at all and we make a mess of language.
Another glaringly obvious fact is that he's such a politician. Give him a question and he's off and running. As of this interview, it's all about the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa. Pretty interesting actually. Still, it's such a marked contrast to what they ask Jackie, or even allow her to say.
Something else - a little odd and I was almost startled when the director gave me this interview: last year I got a big booty of all kinds of things at this garage sale across the street. One of the things I bought (for 2 bucks!) was an old suitcase filled with nothing but old newspapers all centered around the assassination. Seriously, I have all the issues of the Oregonian, the Oregon Journal and the Portland Reporter dating November 23, 24 and 25th of 1962. I was just going through them last week because I am going to exchange them for some magazines to collage with at this one old magazine shop. Kinda weird coincidence.