Listening to Family Can Be Most Priceless Gift of All

Photo: A gift from one generation to another: a family conversation captured on audiotape to live forever.

It's a gift from one generation to another: a family conversation captured on audiotape to live forever.

At her home in Vorhees, N.J., 66-year-old Jacqueline Poppalardo "interviewed" her granddaughter, Gabrielle Barrila, 17. They talked about "Nana," Poppalardo's mother, and her and Barilla's memories of her.

"There wasn't a time with her when I wasn't happy," Barrila said remembering her great-grandmother.

Two years ago, Poppalardo did the same thing with her mother, Marie. She recorded a series of conversations as part of the the StoryCorps project.

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For the past six years, StoryCorps has been helping people share and record their personal stories. Last year, the group declared the day after Thanksgiving a "National Day of Listening." Since families are typically together over the holidays, the organization encourages people to listen to each other, recording conversations with loved ones to treasure.

"I said, 'Mom, I want to interview you. I think you've had a very interesting life,'" Poppalardo remembered.

Her mother talked about her childhood, her eight decades working as a beautician and her long marriage. Her memories, reflections and wisdom were captured on an audio tape. Not long after their conversation was recorded, Poppalardo's mother passed away at age 88. But she lives today on the tape they made together.

"What kind of advice would you give to younger people today?" Poppalardo asked her mother on the recording. "Education. Education," Marie Poppalardo answered earnestly.

"I like hearing her voice on the tape because it just kind of brings her touch back to me. She was so delicate and strong at the same time," Jacqueline Poppalardo said.

"And I treated everybody fair and square. I never cheated anybody," Marie Poppalardo said of her job in the beauty salon during one of the recorded story sessions. "I might have overcharged them," she said with a laugh.

Soul Is in the Voice

StoryCorps' mission is to help people "honor one another" through talking and listening. More than 50,000 people have taken part in the StoryCorps project nationwide. Stories are collected and archived by the organization's MobileBooth, which travels the country, and at their StoryBooth locations in New York City, San Francisco and Atlanta. But the group emphasizes that professional recording equipment isn't necessary to listen to one other. Memories can be recorded using cell phones, tape recorders, computers, and even pen and paper.

"The voice is so powerful. The soul is kind of contained in the voice," explained Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps.

"What's been the hardest part about losing her?" Jacqueline Poppalardo asked her granddaughter during their session. "I miss her chicken soup. I miss the way that her house smells -- everything. It's the little things," Barrila said. "I could have used her help a couple times."

Poppalardo said, smiling, "She would have had the right answer."

For Barrila, it's important that she record her memories of her great-grandmother for younger relatives who weren't lucky enough to spend as much time with her. "Hopefully when my cousins are older, they'll hear it. They'll take a little piece of me with them and a piece of her and light that they hadn't seen before," she said.

This holiday season, Poppalardo and Barrila have shared a priceless gift with each other, their stories.

For more information, please visit their sites: StoryCorps http://www.storycorps.org/, National Day of Listening http://www.nationaldayoflistening.org/, Record Your Story Instructions http://www.nationaldayoflistening.org/participate/

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