When Beryl Moser’s daughter Paula presented her with a most original gift—the chance to tell her life story to a professional interviewer and preserve it for future generations—she was delighted.
Being the first client of a new venture, Big Tree Life Stories, created by oral historian Sharon Gubbay Helfer, Moser didn’t quite know what to expect. “I thought of it like an experiment, that it would take a half an hour. Since Sharon didn’t know me, I made an outline of my life.”
One of Dawson College’s founding librarians, Moser loved to tell stories about her life to her twin grandsons and has written in the past. But she has never embarked on such a definitive project.
The experiment turned into a joyful adventure over two Friday afternoons, with the interviews recorded on DVD.
“Now it’s all in one place and I was able to put it on the Internet,” Moser said. The first part of the project focuses on Moser’s grandparents, who came to Canada from Russia in the early 1900s.
There were the “basic questions,” which Moser had expected, but there were surprises as well.
“I was asked, ‘How did your husband propose to you?’” Moser recalled. “I had never even told this to my children.”
Images came drifting back that Moser hadn’t thought of in years. “My whole life flashed before my eyes, I kept remembering things as they started to come back to me.”
Moser described the experience as very pleasant. “How can you not enjoy talking about yourself?”
When people begin telling their stories, there is often a magical feeling in the listener as the stories within the story emerge. Helfer calls life stories her passion.
“I always loved oral history, before I had any idea there was such a thing,” the researcher with the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia told Manoir Westmount residents at a presentation recently.
In her academic work, oral history was always a component, she said. “By calling myself an oral historian, I got some interesting work.”
Gubbay Helfer’s experience in creating oral history projects includes studies of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal and of Montreal’s Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Paul, and chronicling disappearing small Jewish communities for the Ontario Jewish Archives.
When telling her story, Moser says she did not dwell on life’s difficulties.
For six years, she was primary caregiver to her husband of 56 years, Willy, whom she calls “an angel.” He had had a stroke and has since died.
“I talked about the fun times,” she said. “That’s what I remember the best.”
Contact Helfer at 514-983-9677; visit bigtreelifestories.com.