They inspire, they amuse, they connect. The personal moments and insights gathered by Kristi Multhaup’s students for the Life Stories Project form a bridge from the current generation to generations before, and help the people telling the stories flesh out who they are in the telling. The project stems from Multhaup’s advanced seminar on life stories and pairs students with people in the community.
“There’s value in collecting and telling these stories,” says Multhaup, who is Vail Family Professor of Psychology. “The process helps them [the tellers]make meaning of their life. It’s a sharing, and a reminder that we’re all traveling on this journey together.”
Multhaup started matching students with community partners almost two decades ago as a way to create case studies that illustrate the concept of autobiographical memory, an abstract idea for young students who don’t have decades of memory to draw from. Most of the community partners are familiar with the college, whether through past employment or a family member. They meet their student partners in person throughout the semester, and those conversations are recorded, distilled and then featured on the project website.
While one project goal is to give students hands-on experience creating a website, Multhaup emphasizes the importance of in-person meetings at a time when communication is increasingly mediated through technology because, she says, research suggests face-to-face contact is critical to mental health at any age.
The following stories were shared with Multhaup’s students in the fall of 2017. They have been edited lightly for clarity and length.
Garfield Carr by Taylor Burey ’19
On July 10th, 1950, Garfield Carr was born on farmland outside of Mooresville, North Carolina. His family then moved to the town of Davidson when he was four years old, where he has continued to live his whole life.
Clothing stores, gas stations and the Soda Shop had a side for whites and a side for blacks. The schools were also still segregated during Mr. Carr’s childhood.
Mr. Carr reflected back on his experiences with segregation. He stressed that black people were “judged a lot by people without them getting to know who you are, but we had to fight through that.”
Below are a couple of sayings that Mr. Carr has passed down to his children from his own childhood and life experiences.
Eleanor Adams by Breanna Davidson ’18
Eleanor’s life started out rocky. When she was just two years old, she got polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. The doctor’s advice to Eleanor’s family was that she should not move her legs at all. However, Eleanor’s father went against this and put her on a tricycle and put rubber bands on her feet to make her legs move as he pushed her tricycle throughout the house. Eleanor’s mother administered the Kinney Treatment of putting hot packs on Eleanor’s legs and stretching out the muscles. Eventually, the paralysis subsided. She believes that maybe her father disregarding the doctor’s orders, and all of the prayers for her recovery, saved her legs.
Sometimes she was even able to go with her father when he was out measuring buildings to determine heating requirements; Eleanor got to carry his ruler and feel special. She credits this part of her life as the reason that she is able to interact with a variety of people.
Eleanor worked hard to be chosen for the 1960 All-States Wilderness Encampment held in Deschutes National Forest, Oregon. This opportunity consisted of two girls that were selected from each state plus some girls from other countries. When the Girl Scouts arrived at the national forest, they were separated into patrols of nine. The girls were trained and sent into the wilderness with compasses and maps. They carried a week’s supply of food, clothing, and camping supplies on their backs. They were completely on their own in the wilderness; there were no adults with them.
Children often times hit a plateau when learning to play piano, but Eleanor taught them how to have patience and also to have humor in difficult situations.
Roberto Molinary by Savannah Shivers ’18
Roberto’s father’s side of the family was Italian and his mother’s side was Spanish. His mother, Concepcion Martinez, was a registered nurse and his father, Domingo Molinary, was a musician and a firefighter. His parents divorced when he was two years old. Roberto says he is “the byproduct of a single mother in the 1930s, which was unheard of. And I guess I turned out okay.”
Roberto went to Catholic school for all of elementary school until middle school. The nuns and he did not get along or see eye to eye. He was a free spirit and did not do what they wanted him to do, so he spent a lot of time on his knees praying at the altar outside as punishment.
He joined the Civil Air Patrol as part of his after-school activities until he joined the Air Force. He also went through Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs. This is why he says: “I have been in uniform all of my life.”
One of the lessons he learned in college and graduate school was: “No matter what you do, you can’t please everyone.”
Roberto’s first language was Spanish, although now he says his primary language is English.
In the army in the 1970s, Roberto was selected for the Equal Opportunities Race Relations school in order to be an instructor and specialist in helping to create equalities in the military field.
He wore a giant black wig during chemo and watched pretty fish in a giant fish tank. He said it made the experience more pleasant and took his mind off of the chemo. He would rather think of fish than chemo.
Toni Sirois by Mary Walters ’18
I did not have a happy childhood. Then again, how many of us can honestly say we have? As I grow older I have come to believe that an unhappy childhood may be a blessing.
I am proud to write that all of my fears have been dealt with fairly successfully, but for many years they played a huge, unhealthy part in my life.
There were not enough beds for the family and all the visitors. It was decided that the women and children would sleep on the floor and the beds would be for the men. As a young child, I did not question the merits of this plan. I was already being programmed that in Italian households, men’s needs and comfort came first. As I grew older, my rebellion against this decree grew.
I psychologically braced myself for what my mother was about to say and I was about to hear.
“When you were born, I already had too many children.” (I was number six of seven.)…
Upon hearing the expanded version of my mother’s failed attempt to give me away my emotions were in turmoil, but by this time they are very ambiguous.
Several years after my mother passed on at the age of 93, I was reading a historical perspective regarding the first half of the 20th century… the Great Depression and its aftermath. The perspective stated that it was not uncommon for families with more children than they could afford or manage to give a child to people they believed could give the child a better life. Families who were childless and/or better able to care for children, prayed for these offerings. Reading those words was like receiving an electric shock treatment. My emotional self had always been so full of pain whenever I unwittingly recalled my mother telling me of how she tried to give me away, that I had never allowed myself to think about her possible reasons for wanting to do this…. I wish that I had reached this understanding before her death. I would have told her, “Ma, I understand.”