NPR StoryCorps

Matt Peters farmed corn and soybeans in Iowa for more than 35 years. The farm had been in his family for generations, and though he had gone to college to study law enforcement, Matt decided to make a life as a farmer.

"Matt just felt that that was where he needed to be," his wife, Ginnie, says in a StoryCorps conversation recorded in August 2017. "Maybe not where he wanted to be, but it was where he needed to be."

Kittie Weston-Knauer, on the cusp of 70 years old, is the oldest female BMX bicycle racer in the U.S.

When she started competing in the late 1980s, she was often the only woman on the track. It was her son, Max Knauer, a champion BMX rider, who introduced her to the sport when he was 10.

Max, now 40, explains that he planted the racing seed after a frustrating day of his mom playing coach.

Ten years ago, Tracia Kraemer wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday by trying something new.

So she mustered her courage and visited Indian Hills, a nudist park in Louisiana.

At the very least, she figured she'd return home with a good story. "I thought I'd go to Indian Hills, get naked, get dressed and drive off," she says.

But the people she met were so nice and welcoming, she says, that she decided to stay longer that day. "Soon after, I got a membership."

Two years after that first visit, she met her husband-to-be, Patrick Kraemer, at the park.

Charisse Spencer, 64, grew up in southeast Virginia during the 1960s civil rights movement.

Back then, the area of Portsmouth, Va., where her family lived — Cavalier Manor — was one of the largest black suburbs in the country.

"I could stand in my backyard and listen to Ku Klux Klan meetings," Charisse tells her son, Myles Spencer-Watson, in a StoryCorps conversation recorded in 2009. "And in my young mind, I'd imagine these ghostly demons in white sheets with their eyes being black holes and —"

For much of Abby Gagliardo's childhood, her dad had been in and out of jail and prison. "People would ask me, they'd be like, 'Oh, where's your dad?' " Abby recalls in a StoryCorps conversation recorded last year, when she was 16.

She knew he was incarcerated, but she was never given a clear picture why. "I didn't understand any of it," she says.

Roxanne and Dennis Simmonds knew their son as fearless and strong from the day he was born.

"D.J. came out with shoulders of a linebacker," Roxanne says. "He was the first baby I saw that had muscles."

"He wasn't really afraid of anything," Dennis says.

At night, young D.J. would take the dog with him and circle the entire house, to "make sure there's nobody on the grounds," Dennis says, laughing. "I used to say, 'D.J. where you going? It's late.' He would say 'I'm doing a perimeter search, Dad.' "

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

Good things come in small packages — it's a proverbial truth that, for one veteran, holds up even in the middle of war.

At 20 years old, Pfc. Roman Coley Davis found himself 7,000 miles from home. Born in Douglas, Ga., he'd joined the military after high school, and was now living in one of the most remote U.S. outposts in Afghanistan.

Brothers Russell, 28, and Remmick Wadsworth, 27, have autism. As kids, they had trouble with social interactions, so they often relied on each other for support during tough situations. Now, as the siblings navigate the working world, they're still looking out for each other.

Remmick remembers his first job, working with his older brother in a coffee shop. "You would always have my back, talking to customers for me, handle them for me while I make their drinks," he tells Russell during a StoryCorps conversation.

There's no crying in baseball. But for Kay Johnston, there's crying when you can't play.

In the spring of 1950, in upstate New York, 13-year-old Kay Johnston wanted nothing more than to play Little League baseball. But in those days, that was out of the question. Girls weren't encouraged to swing bats and throw balls.

As families around the country search for answers in the wake of school shootings in Parkland, Fla. and elsewhere, parents and children are having conversations that would've been almost unfathomable a generation ago.

Dezmond Floyd is a 10-year-old student in Houston. At StoryCorps, he and his mother, Tanai Benard, 34, talk about the active shooter drills in his fifth-grade classroom.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Mohammad Ashraf Faridi left Pakistan for the U.S. in the 1980s. He settled in New York City, and his wife and three children joined him almost a decade later. By then, he was earning his living behind the wheel of a taxicab.

Faridi came to StoryCorps with his son — named Muhammad — who talked about growing up with a dad who's a livery taxi driver.

Climate scientists Zoe Courville, 42, and Lora Koenig, 40, met more than a decade ago in the middle of the Greenland ice sheet where they were colleagues — before either of them had kids.

Now, Koenig, who lives in Colorado, has two sons, and Courville, who lives in Vermont, has one son.

The working moms are often away from home for weeks at a time studying the impacts of climate change in remote areas of the world. It was especially hard at first to be thousands of miles away from their families, the researchers say in a StoryCorps conversation.

Vince Cantu and Joe Galloway, both aged 76, have been friends since they met as third graders in the tiny town of Refugio, Texas.

After their high school graduation in 1959, Joe left town to become a journalist. Vince stuck around Refugio where he fronted a local band, until he was drafted into the Army in 1963. Naturally, the two lost track of each other over the years.

But the two reunited in a most unexpected place: in South Vietnam, where the U.S. was ratcheting up its involvement in the war. Joe and Vince recounted the moment during a StoryCorps interview.

Ashley Judd was one of the first women to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment.

New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, La., opened in the early 1970s as a religious reform school for, as its founder said, "the incorrigible, unwanted rejects" who "haven't been loved and haven't had a chance in life."

Over the next three decades, law enforcement officials repeatedly investigated claims of physical and psychological child abuse at the school.

Cousins James Ransom and Cherie Johnson spent much of their childhood at their grandparents' house in Bradenton, Fla.

At StoryCorps, they remember Lizzy Devine, the neighbor and Sunday school teacher who taught and took care of two generations of the family.

When John Banvard, 100, met Gerard "Jerry" Nadeau, 72, in 1993, neither of them had been openly gay.

"When we met, we were sort of in the closet, and I'd never had a real relationship. Now, we've been together almost 25 years," Jerry tells John during a StoryCorps interview.

"What would it have been like if you didn't meet me?" Jerry asks John.

"I would have continued being lonely," John says. "I'd been absolutely lost."

Lan Cao was just 7 years old when military forces launched an attack in her city outside of Saigon, Vietnam, in 1968. But she still remembers the chaos: the sound of automatic gunfire, the fighting near her house, how the sky lit up at night from explosions.

Sharon Brangman knew at a young age — around 10 years old — that she wanted to be a doctor one day.

So when a school guidance counselor put her in typing and home economics classes, her mother, Ruby Brangman, wouldn't have it. Ruby made a trip to her daughter's school to address the matter.

"Grandmother was like, 'Oh, no way,' " Sharon tells her daughter, Jenna Lester, in a StoryCorps interview in New York City. "I remember she went up to the school and said, 'I want my daughter transferred so she could go to college.' "

A favorite pastime for April Gibson and her teenage son, Gregory Bess, is simply talking to one another.

"I think I learn more from those conversations than school," says Gregory, who turned 17 on Thursday.

But during a recent StoryCorps conversation in St. Paul, Minn., April, 33, knew he wanted to talk about a subject the two hadn't really explored.

April invited her son to ask about what that time was like for her, as a young black mother. "Now you can ask me the hard question," April says.

"What did you feel like when I was born?" Gregory asks.

Dion Diamond was sitting at a "whites only" lunch counter in Arlington, Va., in 1960 when a crowd started gathering around him. At the time, he was a young black man participating in a sit-in at a local five-and-dime store with a group of black and white university students, and they were drawing some attention from people who didn't want them protesting.

At one point, a white boy — maybe 12 or 13 — pointed his finger at Dion. He seemed to say, " 'Get out, you know you are not wanted here,' " Dion tells StoryCorps in Washington, D.C.

Rickey Jackson spent nearly four decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

In May of 1975, when a shopkeeper at a small Cleveland grocery store was slain during a robbery, Eddie Vernon, then 12 years old, served as the main witness in the case. Eddie — who, in fact, hadn't seen anything — says he was pressured into testifying by police.

It seems like a simple question: If you could ask me anything in the world, what would it be? Anna Freeman poses this to her 8-year-old daughter, Brianna.

"Do you like unicorns?" Brianna asks.

"I do," says Anna, chuckling.

Brianna is obsessed with unicorns. She knows "they're not technically real," but they're real in her mind.

When her mom asks just why Brianna likes them so much, though, the answer isn't what she expected.

"They're cute. And they have horns, so they could attack their bullies," she says during their StoryCorps interview in Chicago.

It was Christmas of 2001, and Thompson Williams' family was struggling financially. "That year we used all our money just before Christmas so that we could pay the bills and buy groceries — at least we'd have something to eat," he tells his son, Kiamichi-tet at StoryCorps.

Thompson was teaching students with special needs, and his wife was selling handmade Christmas ornaments. They lived in Edmond, Okla., with Kiamichi-tet, then 11, and their daughter AuNane, 14.

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