NPR StoryCorps

Joanna Ebenstein is founder of the Morbid Anatomy Museum, which features a human skeleton, a pickled possum and a two-headed duckling, among other things. It's in Brooklyn's Gowanus neighborhood.

Ebenstein and her father, Bob, recalled during a recent visit to StoryCorps how ever since childhood, she's been fascinated with things that make most of us squirm, including black widow spiders.

"I used to catch them, and I'd put them in jars," says Joanna, 42.

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lance Cpl. Brian Parrello was the only member of his platoon who didn't make it home from Iraq. They were patrolling near the Haditha dam when Brian was killed by an IED, at the age of 19.

In the decade since Brian's death, his platoon has grown close to his family. One of those Marines, Sgt. Kevin Powell, recently sat down with Brian's mother, Shirley Parrello, for a StoryCorps interview in West Milford, N.J.

In 1997, Darius Clark Monroe was a high school honor student in Houston, Texas. He had never been in serious trouble with the law.

But soon after he turned 16, he robbed a bank at gunpoint with two of his friends.

Now, 17 years later, he sat down at StoryCorps with David Ned, a customer who was in the bank during the robbery.

Ned asked him, "How did you get to that point where you said, 'I'm gonna rob a bank?' "

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Braun is a sergeant with the 34th Military Police Company in the Minnesota Army National Guard. In 2009, when he was serving near Basra, his company was assigned an Iraqi interpreter they called Philip.

Phil Mortillaro and his son, Philip Jr., run Greenwich Locksmiths in Manhattan. The elder Mortillaro has been practicing the trade since he dropped out of school after eighth grade.

"I was one of those kids who would show up when school first started," Phil tells his son on a visit to StoryCorps in New York. "Then they would see me again around Christmastime. And then they would see me in June to tell me that I had to do the grade over again. So dropping out of school was — it was inevitable."

Anne Purfield and Michelle Dynes are epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They spent the past several weeks responding to the Ebola epidemic in the Kenema district of Sierra Leone, and recently returned to Atlanta.

One of the many difficult aspects of working around the disease is not being able to comfort people who are grieving, Purfield and Dynes explain during a visit to StoryCorps in Atlanta. (Ebola is spread through contact with bodily fluids.)

"You can't touch anyone," says Purfield, 37. "You can't comfort them."

Sonia Vasquez raised her daughter, Tina, just outside New York City. And when money was tight, Sonia would take on multiple jobs to pay the bills.

"I was a day care provider. I work at the gym in the deli. I take care of the elderly," Sonia, now 63, told her daughter, now 29, during a recent visit with StoryCorps.

One night, while going home, she was so exhausted that she fell asleep at the wheel. Luckily, it was at a red light.

At times, she says, she feared it was taking a toll on her ability to be a good mom.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Thousands of immigrants have died crossing the southern U.S. border. Many are never identified, leaving their loved ones to speculate about their fate.

Until recently, some students in the Spring Branch Independent School District in the Houston area dreaded lunchtime. The cafeteria meant humiliation, because their parents couldn't afford a hot lunch.

The alternative for these kids was a cold cheese sandwich; anyone seen leaving the lunch line with one was marked as being poor.

Until school volunteer Kenny Thompson saw it happen.

Sekou Siby was supposed to be inside the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Siby, an immigrant from Ivory Coast, worked in the kitchen at Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top of the north tower. But on that day, he had switched shifts with another kitchen worker, Moises Rivas.

In the mid-1950s, Alton Yates was preparing to graduate from high school. His mother had recently passed away, and his father was struggling to raise seven kids on his own.

"I knew that as soon as I finished high school I was going to have to help with taking care of the family," Yates tells his daughter, Toni, on a visit to StoryCorps in Jacksonville, Fla.

Most of the jobs available to him wouldn't pay well, so he decided to join the Air Force. They were looking for volunteers to help test the effects of space travel on the human body.

When Darnell Moore was a teenager in the late 1980s, living in Camden, N.J., he didn't know he was gay — but he did know he was an outcast.

"At 13 I was a nerd," Moore tells his friend Bryan Epps, during a visit to StoryCorps OutLoud in New York. "I took such great pride in wearing dress pants and button-up shirts, unfortunate white socks like I was a preacher."

"My grandmother would send us to the store, and I hated going to the store because I know that somewhere between my grandmama's house and the store there would be somebody wanting to pick on me for some reason."

About a decade ago, Kris Kalberer left her job as a retail manager to raise her kids and care for her elderly mother. For a while, the family did well on her husband's income. Then he lost his job.

Their finances spiraled out of control. They lost their house in March 2011, and since then, their lives have become transient. They stayed in motels, or with friends. Currently they live in their car.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story contains graphic descriptions and offensive language.

Alex Landau, who is African-American, was adopted by a white couple as a child and grew up in largely white, middle-class suburbs of Denver.

Still, "we never talked about race growing up," Landau tells his mother, Patsy Hathaway, on a visit to StoryCorps. "I just don't think that was ever a conversation."

"I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn't matter," Hathaway says. "I had to learn the really hard way when they almost killed you."

In the late 1980s, Mytokia Fair was working as a Baltimore police officer. But at home, her then-husband, Tyree Friend, beat her.

One night, she recalls, something had upset him. "And it got to a point where he was hitting me, I mean repeatedly, and he spat in my face," Fair tells her current husband, Thomas Fair, on a visit to StoryCorps.

Fair says she knew she couldn't get out of the relationship. "I knew he would follow me," she tells Thomas.

When Barbara Moore started working as a bricklayer in 1973, the 21-year-old was the only woman in Baltimore doing the job.

It wasn't the first job she'd tried, but a desk job, she says, just wasn't the right fit. "Right out of high school I worked in a[n] office, but a couple hours behind a desk and I was falling asleep," Moore tells her daughter, Olivia Fite, on a visit to StoryCorps in Baltimore. "So I became a bricklayer."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For the past month, county clerks in Colorado have been challenging a ban on same-sex marriage by issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

The Colorado Supreme Court is expected to rule on their actions any day now.

But few know that this is history repeating itself.

Back in 1975, when Clela Rorex was the newly elected county clerk in Boulder, she began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Kai Leigh Harriott, 14, is paralyzed from the chest down, the result of a stray bullet that hit her when she was 3. She was sitting outside on her porch in Boston with her older sister, Aja David, who was baby-sitting her at the time.

It was around the Fourth of July, when the sound of fireworks is common. "All of a sudden that was the sound, although it was different. It was a gunshot," says Aja, now 25, on a visit to StoryCorps. "Someone was shooting. Not at us, but in our direction. I just was thinking about my little sister."

When Dekalb Walcott III was just 8 years old, his father, a Chicago fire chief, let him tag along on a call.

Dekalb says a lot of kids idolized basketball player Michael Jordan when he was growing up in Chicago in the 1990s. Not him.

"I wanted to be like Dekalb Walcott Jr.," he says of his father.

So when his dad asked if he wanted to go on that call with him when he was 8, Dekalb was ecstatic. "I'm jumping up and down, saying, "Mom, can I go? Can I go?' "

OutLoud, a new StoryCorps project, records and amplifies the voices of the LGBTQ community.

Now 70, Patty Woods looks back to the late 1970s, when she met a woman who would become her partner — and leave a long-lasting mark on her life, despite the fact they were not able to be open about their relationship.

"I was working in a restaurant and she would come in every day for lunch. I was like, 'Oh my God, I want to know her,' " Woods tells her friend, 22-year-old Cedar Lay.

This conversation was recorded as part of OutLoud — StoryCorps's initiative to collect LGBTQ stories across America.

In the 1950s in rural Washington, a teenage boy learned an important lesson about self-acceptance. Patrick Haggerty, now 70, didn't know he was gay at the time, but says his father knew what direction he was headed.

People with vitiligo gradually lose pigment in their skin, often in patches that appear randomly and grow over time.

But that wasn't the case for Cheri Lindsay. The white pigment on her skin spread rapidly across her body and around her eyes, "like a mask," over the past four years, she says.

She imagines that she's dealt with it better than most, in part because of the example set by her father.

On June 18, 1964, black and white protesters jumped into the whites-only pool at the Monson Motor Lodge in St. Augustine, Fla. In an attempt to force them out, the owner of the hotel poured acid into the pool.

Martin Luther King Jr. had planned the sit-in during the St. Augustine Movement, a part of the larger civil rights movement. The protest — and the owner's acidic response — is largely forgotten today, but it played a role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act, now celebrating its 50th anniversary.

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