NPR StoryCorps

For three generations, Tanya James' family has worked the coal mines of West Virginia. James is no different. She began working in the mines in 1979, when only about 1 in 100 coal miners were women — and she didn't begin under the happiest of circumstances.

Her father died when she was 17, leaving her mother to take care of the family. Out of necessity, Tanya's mother took a mining class, and Tanya would go down with her every day — so the instructor invited Tanya to join the class.

Six months later, Tanya was working in the mines as well.

His is not just a gentle voice; for many people, it's a very familiar one, too. For 25 years, Francois Clemmons played a role on the beloved children's program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Clemmons joined the cast of the show in 1968, becoming the first African-American to have a recurring role on a kids TV series.

And, as it happens, it was Clemmons' voice that Fred Rogers noticed, too, when he heard Clemmons singing in church.

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When the military opens front-line combat roles to women soldiers — across all branches — in April, it will mark the culmination of a years-long process, which was often subject both to consternation and controversy. It will also mark a historic first for a female service members, many of whom enlisted decades ago in a very different kind of military.

Among those women is Capt. Margie Finlay, who first enlisted in 1973.

Just days away from the Oscars, Hollywood continues to face down questions over its lack of diversity — particularly among the nominees for its top prize. The controversy has helped prompt a viral hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, and has led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to pledge to diversify in years to come.

Joshua Myers, 29, has Down syndrome. These days, he considers it a gift — but he didn't always.

"At first," he says, "I thought it was a curse."

In fact, the condition proved so overwhelming for Myers that, once, he even walked out into the middle of a busy intersection, hoping that a car would hit him and end his life. But a stranger stopped for him. She brought him into her car to talk things through.

Myers hasn't seen her since.

Last spring, Benny Smith began having epileptic seizures. In his fifth-grade English class, he fell out of his chair and found he couldn't move. It soon got so bad for the 11-year-old, in fact, that his falls even led to several concussions.

And when he'd wake up, he'd feel terrible, too — "a bit like a hangover," Benny tells his mother, Christine Ristaino, on a recent visit to StoryCorps.

Just don't ask him what a hangover feels like.

"You told it to me!" he tells her.

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"I remember taking the gun out," says Sean Smith. "My sister was off to the side of the room."

Smith, now 36, was just 10 years old at the time. He had arrived home after school with his 8-year-old sister, Erin. Their parents weren't home yet, so they'd gone searching for hidden video games in their father's dresser drawer.

That's when Sean Smith found a .38 revolver.

Andy Goodling met his boyfriend, Bryan, at college in Pennsylvania. Six years ago, they started dating — but for years, they kept their relationship hidden.

"Bryan was my best friend, but we were both very much in the closet," Goodling tells his father, Scott, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "You know, we knew who we were. We just didn't want to actually say it."

When Marine Cpl. Zach Skiles returned from Iraq, he couldn't sleep, hold down a job or pay rent. Earlier this year, he and his father sat down to talk for the first time about his life after the war.

In the mid-1960s, Tom Houck left high school to join the civil rights movement. After meeting Martin Luther King Jr. at an event, Houck decided to volunteer for King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

So, Houck made his way to Atlanta.

"I was standing outside waiting for somebody to come pick me up," Houck says, remembering the day he arrived in Atlanta. "All of a sudden, Dr. King drove down the street. He said, 'Tom, you're here.' "

At around 10 in the morning, five years ago, Emma McMahon pulled up in the parking lot of a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. The high schooler was there with her mother, Mary Reed, excited to attend an event held by then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

There was a line, probably 15 people ahead of them, but luckily, McMahon already had some work to keep her busy — a clipboard stacked with college applications, Reed recalls on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

In 2014, Charlotte Wheelock and her husband, Nick Hodges, were hoping to find a new start. Struggling to raise their two young children, they left their home in Albuquerque, N.M., and struck out for Seattle to find better jobs.

But before they could get established there, Nick was hospitalized with spinal stenosis — a condition that left him temporarily paralyzed below the waist. Soon, they found themselves without a place to live.

Octavius Humphries' and Seth Smiley's story began on Christmas Eve 2010.

They'd met online and, despite a 19-year age difference, agreed to a first date on Christmas Eve.

Octavius describes it as an "amazing" first date.

And then Seth told him his mother was expecting the two of them for Christmas dinner. "I just thought, nobody really should be alone on Christmas," Seth says.

"Me being black and you being white and the age difference," Octavius says, "I thought that this was just going to be a recipe for disaster."

When Henry Jimenez got to the airport, shortly before flying from his home in Mexico to the U.S., he says, the goodbyes got difficult.

"My little brother was crying and I tried to act tough on him, but I gave him a hug," Jimenez recalls. "I've never gave him a hug like that before, and I started crying, too."

"She had red hair — it was red hair out of a bottle, but it was still red hair. And she was a spitfire," Chloe Longfellow begins. "If you messed with her and she didn't think it was right, she would tell you."

Longfellow is speaking here of her grandmother, Doris Louise Rolison, on a recent visit to StoryCorps. When Longfellow was just a child, her father died and her mother took up multiple jobs in order to support the family. That left Longfellow with a lot of time to spend at her grandparents' house in Arizona.

John Graziano, a second-grader in 1986, was diagnosed with HIV in a Chicago suburb called Wilmette. He had contracted the disease from his biological mother, but he had been adopted by the Graziano family.

"John was one of the first children in the state of Illinois to be diagnosed as HIV-positive," his adoptive father, Tom, remembers. Tom Graziano recently spoke with John's elementary school principal, Paul Nilsen, on a visit with StoryCorps.

Marge Klindera spent decades teaching home economics to kids in Illinois. But in the early 1980s, after she had retired, she was looking for another way to pass along her knowledge.

That's when she decided to join a Thanksgiving call center — where thousands of panicked home cooks call every year, hoping for last-minute guidance in cooking their dinner.

"We like to say we kind of deal with turkey trauma," Klindera, now 79, tells her longtime coworker, Carol Miller, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

Each morning for the past decade, StoryCorps has been presenting interviews recorded in booths. But this year, StoryCorps created a smartphone app that gives anyone — even if they can't get to a booth — the ability to interview someone and save that recorded interview at the Library of Congress.

These interviews can be recorded anywhere, even in the parking lot of an Applebee's. That's where Kara Masteller sat with her grandfather, James Kennicott, and talked about life and love in Waterloo, Iowa — in Masteller's 1994 Buick.

StoryCorps' Memory Loss Initiative supports and encourages people with various forms of memory loss to share their stories with loved ones and future generations.

Teresa Valko lives in California, and her mother, 80-year-old Evelyn Wilson, lives in Georgia. They keep in touch with regular phone conversations.

Eight years ago, Wilson began to show symptoms of memory loss.

As the youngest in his family, Barry Romo grew up with nephews his age. In fact, one of them, Robert Romo, was just a month younger than him. Barry says that he and Robert were raised like brothers.

Both of them served in the Army during the Vietnam War. But only one of them made it home.

"I enlisted in the Army, to go to Vietnam, that was my intention. And he didn't want to go in the military but he got drafted anyway," Barry recalls on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "They sent him to Vietnam, and he ended up being in my brigade."

In September 1975, Time magazine featured decorated Vietnam veteran Leonard Matlovich on the cover. His name was clearly visible on his Air Force uniform, and the headline read: "I Am a Homosexual."

Matlovich — who had come out in a letter to his commanding officer before the cover ran — was challenging the military ban on gay service members.

Twenty years ago, and just days before Halloween, Janette Fennell and her husband returned home from a night out with friends, only to find an unpleasant surprise waiting for them. When they pulled into the garage of their San Francisco home, two armed men appeared, forced the couple into the trunk of their car — then drove away.

And the last that Janette knew, their 9-month-old son, Alex, was still sitting in his car seat.

Erik Booker is a seventh-grade teacher in Sumter, S.C. He also happens to be an Army veteran who served in Iraq — just like the father of one of his students last year, Jenna Power.

So, when Jenna and Erik visited with StoryCorps, Jenna wanted to know more about his experiences — including the most difficult thing he experienced there.

"Being separated from my family for that long — you can't even begin to explain that to someone who hasn't experienced something like that," Erik answers. "Were you ever afraid when your dad was deployed?"

StoryCorps has an assignment as generations gather this Thanksgiving: Document the stories and voices of a grandparent or elder.

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