This is Bill Thomas at Prairie Public. Where I'm From is a sort of a poetic template to encourage recollection and recording, recording of meaningful things from someone's life. The North Dakota Council on the Arts hired Maureen McDonald-Hins and Matthew Musacchia to help elders create these poems. And when the pandemic hit, they were able to keep on going because it could be done remotely. Here is Matthew Musacchia reading one.
Matthew Musacchia: I Am From Wood Cook Stove by Laverna Gores.
I am from a wood cookstove, and homemade lye soap
(big for clothes and little for hands).
I am from the two-story house, with the basement used to store food before electricity,
and I am from smells of baked bread and cinnamon rolls,
and pea soup after school.
I am from the geraniums, red and white,
and the purple lilacs, light and dark,
planted in a row, where we’d chase butterflies-
we couldn’t wait for them to bloom to pick them,
and make a bouquet for the house.
I’m from reading the Bible after supper, and from working hard.
From Edward and Elda,
and from six boys and six girls.
I’m from playing on the snowbank in winter
(when we were supposed to be getting wood),
and from feeding bottle lambs.
I’m from saying your prayers before you go to sleep,
and from making Christmas decorations stringing popcorn, some colored.
I am from “Sweet Adeline.”
I’m from the hospital in Rolla, and from Germany.
From home-fried chicken and biscuits every Sunday, and potato dumplings.
I’m from stories my brothers in the service told me.
From many family pictures,
and my Dad’s sister’s painting of my house where I lived in Rolla,
hanging on the wall in the front room.
This was from my first group of projects and I did two poems or I did the full process of two poems, including the interviews and this was from Rugby. So this was the, this is from the pilot project. The first time we had done this in North Dakota, really. And that was a pretty good one.
Bill Thomas: I'd agree. Pretty good. And now it may seem obvious what the people who are the objects of the process get out of it. They get some stimulation and enjoyment of working on it, and in the end they get a poetic keepsake. But I asked Matthew Musacchia, what does he is a facilitator of the project get out of it.
Matthew Musacchia: Probably a lot similar to what their relatives are getting out of it. I just have the added happiness in that I'm helping them or I'm helping making felt the project. But I think there's a lot to be said from looking people who are older. And one of the things about a lot of these people were doing is they aren't people who ever really went out and let's say, looked for the spotlight or ever expected it. So giving a little bit of that is important. Their lives are important and where, what, how they live should be known a little more. In a lot of ways I'm very happy that they like it. And I don't think I've had someone who didn't like yet, as far as I know.
Again I'm also happy that I can kind of give that to the family. Because I think it's sort of a snapshot of how people lived and how things change. And I think it's important to know how people lived and where you're from, to take the exact title of the project, and where you're going to. I also did it with my relatives too, or a good portion of them. And you of course learn about it. Having some amount of pride or knowledge of your family is important. And if you have to summarize someone's life, it's kind of at least a good snapshot. It's pretty hard for everyone to write a complete authorized biography of a relative, but this is a good way to at least get an idea someone lived. And it changes a lot.
I unfortunately wasn't doing this project when most of my grandparents were alive. When I did it with some of my aunts and uncle I learned quite a bit more about what they did and a little bit of how my dad grew up. And then they reminded each other of other things that they had forgotten. So what I get out of it, I guess I'm very happy to spotlight people who I think are quite important. And I'm also very happy that I can do something for their family and I'm happy that I make them happy.
Bill Thomas: And this would be a good place to mention that this whole process was developed by a woman named George Ella Lyon. And you don't have to pay a fee or be licensed or anything to do it. And if you are interested in pursuing Where I'm From, if you have access to the internet, search it there and it'll come right up. And while you're looking that up, here's another one.
Matthew Musacchia: This one's been suggested to me by one or two people, so it seems that a lot of people have liked it.
“I Am From An Iron and Ironing Board”
By Lucyle Fossum
I am from an iron and ironing board,
spray starch and sizing.
I am from the large ranch style house, and the Swedish Ivy.
I am from spruce tree in the yard,
in memory of my deceased husband Ron.
I am from visiting at Christmas,
and from Hannah and Fred.
I’m from wit, and from laughing at each other.
I’m from “Go out to play” and “Weed the garden,”
and ‘Does eat oats, Marzy doats and dozy doats, and little lambs eat ivy,”
and from “You Are My Sunshine.”
I’m from Bottineau, and France and Norway,
from chicken dumpling soup and fresh bread.
From Mom’s hardships to raise five alone, being very poor realized the kindness
Christian hearts to give to us.
My diamond that I received from my husband
wearing on my hand and in my heart.
Bill Thomas: The where I'm from poem by Lucyle Fossum read by Matthew Musacchia who worked with her on developing it. And here's a nice little Coda to that story.
Matthew Musacchia: That was also, I should say one of the ones that came from Rugby, that was one of the first ones. And I remember when I was doing it with her I remember she gave me the draft and she said something like, "I don't think it's good," or something close to that. And I looked at it and I read the last line and I said, "No, this is a very good deal. It'll go well." And it did. I know they used that... It was either her funeral or memorial service, but I think they actually put it on an ironing board. Can't remember if that's true, but they at least put it on display and they put the poem next to I believe the urn and I think there was a picture of her as well. So it was on display. And I was very sad to hear she had died, but I was kind of happy that at least it helped a little bit with her memorial.
Bill Thomas: Matthew Musacchia talking about the useful outcome of one instance of the Where I'm From project, pursued by the North Dakota Council On the Arts. And you can find a couple of other reports about the Where I'm From project at prairiepublic.org, just search it up. And you can find out much, much more about the arts and arts activity in North Dakota at nd.arts.gov. That's the arts council website, nd.arts.gov. I'm Bill Thomas.