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“Grandparents tell the best stories”: Get ready for the Great Thanksgiving Listen

Kara Masteller, 21, says that her grandfather James Kennicott always intimidated her when she was young. When she told him that in their StoryCorps interview, however, he laughed and said, “I’m a pretty soft guy.” Photo: Courtesy of StoryCorps

James Kennicott’s life advice for his granddaughter: “Just roll with it.” The two recorded an interview using the StoryCorps app while sitting in an Applebee’s parking lot. StoryCorps’ Dave Isay, the winner of the 2015 TED Prize, wants hundreds of thousands to interview a grandparent over Thanksgiving weekend. Photo: Courtesy of StoryCorps

When James Kennicott, now 86, was young, he loved ice-skating on the river near his home in Waterloo, Iowa. One day, the ice cracked under his feet and he plunged into the water below. He didn’t have hot water at home. So he broke into his school to take a hot shower.

“I think that says a lot about his childhood, that there was really no one there to help him get out of the water or keep him warm,” says his granddaughter Kara Masteller, 21.

Kara heard this story for the first time when she used the StoryCorps app — launched by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay with the 2015 TED Prize — to interview her grandfather. Because James didn’t want to talk at the senior community where he lives, the two drove to a local mall and recorded their interview while sitting in an Applebee’s parking lot. NPR highlighted their interview on Friday’s Morning Edition — the first interview recorded on the app to be broadcast in the weekly StoryCorps segment.

The interview serves an appetizer for the Great Thanksgiving Listen, StoryCorps’ mass movement to record the stories of a generation of elders over the coming holiday weekend. StoryCorps hopes that as many as 250,000 people will participate and ask a grandparent or family friend questions to unlock their experience.

On Google today, these words appear underneath the search bar: “Grandparents have the best stories. Record your grandparents’ story this Thanksgiving.” The thought links to an animation about the Great Thanksgiving Listen narrated by David Hyde Pierce of Frasier. “We can find wisdom and poetry all around us,” he says. “Help us make history.”

A new TED-Ed lesson released today also shows how taking part in the Great Thanksgiving Listen will add a fresh, first-person dimension to what exists in history books.

What if Anne Frank hadn’t kept a diary? What if no one could listen to Martin Luther King’s Mountaintop speech?” the lesson asks. “You can make history by recording it.”

Everyone is invited to participate in the Great Thanksgiving Listen. Download the StoryCorps app, choose your questions and follow the prompts. Then upload your interview at the Library of Congress, using the hashtag #TheGreatListen.