NPR StoryCorps

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.

It was Christmas Eve in 1967. William Lynn Weaver, 18 at the time, was walking in Mechanicsville, the neighborhood he grew up in in Knoxville, Tenn., when he saw a boy gliding down the street on a bicycle.

"Boy, that looks like my brother's bike," he mused.

When he got home, he asked his younger brother Wayne where that bicycle was. "It was down on the steps," he replied. But it wasn't.

The Weaver brothers tracked down where the boy lived — an unlit shack in an alley — and planned to confront him.

Editor's note: This StoryCorps conversation was difficult to have, and may be hard for some listeners to hear and read.

Greg Gibson and Wayne Lo recently spoke for the first time in person at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, a medium-security level prison for male inmates, but the story behind their meeting — how their lives collided and subsequently crumbled — began decades ago.

They acknowledged this at the beginning of their StoryCorps conversation at the prison.

Christopher Harris was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s. At the time, there was only one drug approved for treatment, and the diagnosis often meant a death sentence.

For Christopher, it led him to become an early member of the Atlanta Buyers Club, which distributed unapproved drugs to treat AIDS patients.

The diagnosis came not long after he began seeing Jim.

"He was so good looking," Christopher tells StoryCorps. "It was the first time that I had fallen in love, and we were together until the day he died."

When patients are near death, and don't have loved ones to be with them, David Wynn and Carolyn Lyon rush to the hospital.

"They have no one for various reasons, you know, they've outlived family, they've never married," Lyon says.

For about six years, Lyon has been comforting patients in their final hours at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif.; for Wynn, it's been about nine years.

Editor's Note: This story comes from a special holiday installment of StoryCorps. It's derived from a recording that comes from The Great Thanksgiving Listen. Every year, StoryCorps asks people to interview each other over the long weekend using their phones. For more information on how to participate, visit Storycorps.

Mike Kochar's grandfather only lasted one day as a mailman.

With enough divisive topics to go around the Thanksgiving table this year, dinner debates can easily steal our attention away from loved ones. StoryCorps suggests using its app to have a meaningful, one-on-one conversation, as part of its Great Thanksgiving Listen project, where kids interview their elders about their lives. But anyone with a smartphone can participate.

When Adam Shay overdosed on heroin at 21 in 2014, his kidney and pancreas went to Karen Goodwin, a recovering addict herself. That unintended consequence of the opioid epidemic brought Goodwin together with Adam's mom, Marlene Shay.

At StoryCorps in Beachwood, Ohio, Shay recalls the day she got the call that every mother dreads.

Adam "had been in and out of rehab over the last three years, but he had been sober for a year and seemingly had it all together," she says. "And that day, we got a call from his fiancée that he overdosed and was slipping away."

In the late 1960s, Karen Offutt was a teenager and considered herself very patriotic. She got chills whenever she heard "The Star-Spangled Banner." At 18, she dropped out of nursing school and enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Vietnam.

"I felt real proud to have the uniform on," Offutt, 68, told her 42-year-old daughter Kristin Glasgow at StoryCorps.

Josh Stepakoff was 6 years old in 1999, when a white supremacist opened fire on his day camp at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles.

Josh was shot in his leg and hip. The gunman wounded four others, and shot and killed another man a few miles away. The shooting was ruled a federal hate crime, and the gunman is serving life in prison.

Updated at 6:05 p.m. on Friday

Brian Peterson didn't know what he had in common with Matt Faris when he went out of his way to meet his Santa Ana, Calif., neighbor.

Every day, Peterson would pass by Faris, who has been homeless for more than a decade. But it took some guts, Peterson admits, to finally walk up to him.

"It was like butterflies in my stomach," he says. "I introduced myself, and I think I apologized to you. I remember saying, 'I'm sorry for like, driving by you a hundred times and never saying Hi,' 'cause you were always outside my building."

Lynne and Greg Houston met 25 years ago, when Greg placed an order over the phone for some lunch. Lynne was working at a restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y. Greg was working across the street — as a mortician at a funeral home.

"The door was unlocked, so I came in with meatballs marinara, and you were doing some kind of autopsy or something. And I remember I just stood there staring at you in your white gown with blood all over it," says Lynne, 55.

Greg didn't think anything of it. But Lynne sure did.

Maggie Marquez and Jessi Silva grew up in the desert town of Marfa, Texas, in the 1950s, when schools were segregated. Latino children were sent to Blackwell Elementary School, and for many of them, Spanish was their first language.

Maggie, 73, and Jessi, 69, were students there, and at StoryCorps, they remember the day their school banned students from speaking Spanish — in a ceremony called the "burial of Mr. Spanish."

When he was younger, Ronald Clark lived in the library.

Literally.

Decades ago, custodians who worked in the New York Public Library often lived in the buildings with their families. Clark's father, Raymond, was one of those custodians, and he and his family lived on the top floor of the Washington Heights branch in upper Manhattan. They moved there in 1949, when Ronald was 15 years old. In the 1970s, he raised his daughter, Jamilah, in the same apartment until she was 5.

In the 1990s, Johnny Holmes was head of security at a high school in Blue Island, Ill., when he met Christian Picciolini, a teenage student who was the leader of a local neo-Nazi group.

"I put you through hell," 43-year-old Picciolini said to Holmes during a recent visit to StoryCorps. It was the first time in 18 years the two had sat down with each other to talk. "I mean there were fights, there were words that we had those years that I was there."

Holmes, who is 71 and a school board member now, agreed, describing Picciolini as rough at the time.

William Lynn Weaver was one of the first black football players on the team at his Knoxville, Tenn., high school when it integrated in 1964.

The mascot for the West High School Rebels back then was a Confederate colonel.

"At football games, when you came out on the field, the crowd would be hollering and the 'Dixie' would be playing and they'd hold the paper flag up and the team would burst out through the Confederate flag," he tells StoryCorps in Fayetteville, N.C. "The black players made a decision to run around the flag."

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