Carol Burke and Kate Christensen

Recorded January 13, 2020 Archived January 13, 2020 40:15 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019560


Mother, Carol Burke (69), and daughter, Kate Christensen (40), remember Carol's late father, discuss her unique small town upbringing and her hopes for the future.

Subject Log / Time Code

KC asks CB to describe her relationship to her father who passed away when she was young.
CB recalls asking her grandmother to tell stories.
CB recalls how her town moved.
CB describes her mother's relationship to their hometown.
KC asks CB to describe her father's passing.
CB discusses how her father's passing influenced her career in collecting stories.
CB discusses her military experience.


  • Carol Burke
  • Kate Christensen

Recording Location

Downtown Santa Monica


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00:04 I'm Carol Burke and I'm 69 years old. Today's date is Monday January 13th, 2020. We're at in Santa Monica, California. I'm here with my daughter Kate Christensen, and he went to introduce yourself. My name is Kate Christensen. My age is 40 today's date is Monday, January 13th, 2020. We're in Santa Monica, California. And I'm with Carol Burke and she is my mother. I've known her since the beginning.

00:46 Okay, I guess we can start so I've known you since the beginning and I've known you and and dad and I guess part of me is always wondered. I haven't heard that much about what your father meant to you. I know.

01:06 You know that is maybe more myth than actual knowledge. But I'd love to just hear you. Sure. My father died when I was 20 months old and we were living in this remote mining community in the Adirondack Mountains and he was killed in a mining accident and my mother and my sister and I would have been made to move way because the mining company which was National lead company owned all of the residences that people lived in the single houses were owned by staff at not by step their own by the company, but they were lived in by the staff and the engineers who were there and most of them

02:06 Located on a street which had a name but I don't I can't tell you the name of the street. We all called. It's Nob Hill and then we would have we lived in an apartment building and my mother was very fond of the place and I guess my sister was I was just an infant and so she got to stay because she was a teacher and they needed teachers in the little Elementary School in this community. Now, what a my father mean to me, he was a bit of a shadow Wii character and for me he lived on in stories some of them my mother told but mostly my extended family told my grandparents. He had lots of Brothers they all told stories about him and most of their stories were about him.

03:06 As a Storyteller and for example when he fought in World War II when he came back from the war like a lot of young men. He was married to a hides. My older sister was born while he was off at the war and he came back and had to find work and one of the places he work they were building the st. Lawrence Seaway on the st. Lawrence River that opened up the lane between the Atlantic Ocean and the great lakes and my other Uncle who two other uncles worked on there and when Uncle tells me that well when the foreman came and he couldn't find the workers, he would always listen for my dad because they were taking a break and he was telling him stories. And so that was it was a kind of Rich past although

04:06 It was not the kind of real relationship you have with a parent. It was in many ways a fantastic one, but they were all stories about him and his life. And and so I mean, why did I become a folklorist? Why was I interested in storytelling? It's because I grew up with a father who existed in stories.

04:29 And you would make us stories to tell us to

04:34 I did. Yes, I and my grandmother my father's mother when we would go there would come out of the mountains and we would drive these three miles almost every weekend when I was really little and we would go to not to my mother's parents house. They lived on a farm but to do my father's mother's house and my aunts and and it was a place where all of the extended Irish Catholic Family would gather every Sunday after church and my grandmother Burke was she had everybody in that house had their own chair and she had the biggest soft rocking chair. And the one thing I most loved to do was get in that chair with her and I would say oh, could you tell me that story about the berry girl again? Could you tell me this?

05:34 Story that story because she told these stories that she had learned as a young girl from her Irish family. So the IRS family was Define kind of bite storytelling and also by lost maybe yes, but you know, there was an actually the storytelling was I think for all of them.

06:01 A way of connecting with each other and discovering a kind of family life and it was something that when I I would go to see my mother's family who just live 6 Mi away and sometimes I would stay with her mother. They are just overnight visiting they lived on a farm in that was interesting, but they weren't storytellers. And so you'd sit around at night eating dinner and it was quiet and if you were at the Berks, it was just chatter chatter chatter and I was little I think I was even in a 3267. I was making up stories of my own and they sort stories that I sang and some of them were just narrating my life.

07:01 On this happened and out in and we spent all summer there. So I got to know the place and one place out by the driveway in front of the house in this little village in Upstate New York. They had cut down a big maple tree and the all of the bushes have grown up around the maple tree and so I would get in there and I would just start I don't know if it was because I was I was upset about something and I would rant and Rave about it Injustice and you know, somebody somebody didn't like me or I didn't like what somebody had done and I would just go on and on and on and my aunt lived with my grandmother would come home from work every day. She would walk home to work to The Sawmill and she was a bookkeeper and she would walk home from The Sawmill and she would come by there and she would never disturb me.

08:01 She said I was always in there telling stories. And so it was just a way of I think bringing life that substitute in some way for a sense of loss.

08:19 Yeah.

08:23 You I remember you asking me these pictures of the Town moving via. Can you tell me about what that was like where you there? Cuz I think it was the first town to do was the only time a town has ever move. Well, it was they had apparently moved other towns that was written about in The New York Times this little tiny town of a thousand people and they moved it down this Mountain Road for 13 miles and it was the longest move of an entire Village and in North America, I think and what they did is like our five apartment family dwelling they jacked up they put it on big tractor trailers and move that they moved individual houses and there were all these stories everybody's fascinated with it because nobody had seen anything like

09:22 That before and and also it was fun because we were in school after 4th grade you went to school. That was again 13 14 miles down the road in Newcomb where there they were moving all the dwellings there and that's where we went to school and we were bus there's a half an hour bus ride and every time they had a big building to move like a big church, we would get out of school early or we would start late and that was always exciting and it was just the whole phenomenon and then there were stories that came out of the move. Like, I remember one of them just people claiming they went into their individual house that was moved and put on a new foundation and

10:20 They went in the house and they'd forgotten that they'd left water and dog food out for their dog. The dog wasn't in there, but they left that out and they'd forgotten to pick it up and nothing it's built you always just this up phenomenon that how could this engineering feat happen? But it was it was more than that. It was trying to fuse two different communities together one working-class Union my father and all the people worked in the mines unless they were supervisors were members of Union and they came from all over and so it was much more diverse lot of French Canadians and then you moved to this old. What seemed to me often kind of backwards down and bought sounds female didn't have more than a few hundred people.

11:20 They were Cosmopolitan anyway, but they did seem that seem we just thought we were much more urban than they were and even though we all went to the same school together. They were the the yokels and and we were the sophisticates and he knows silly because we were we were Backwoods people we were email miners families, but we had a sense that we knew more about the world because we were our population was so much more diverse Daenerys.

12:00 So I thought I saw some pictures of this houses and I was just wondering when you mentioned, you know, getting the day off of school to see if Church move. How long did that parade today? I mean, it seems like a parade of it just lasted 4 days. Was it like that though? It did last a long time. It was I would say the whole move probably took a couple of months and because they had to jack up these buildings put each one on a big semi tractor trailer and then they would go by Hathaway and there was a clearing and so they could move it into that clearing and then let all the traffic going back and forth because the mines are still being operated. Let all the workers come and go and then the next day they would come back pick it up and move it to the next Village and so it

13:00 There was it was prom night was high drama and we were. Dehaas people were at the center of that drama. Not the Beatles sleepy old Newcomb people really wrong, but it was a sense that you know, we they thought we were Riff Raff and they didn't really want us to move in their Community. But you know every email every different Community has its way of feeling proud of who they are.

13:41 Why did the town have to move and how old were you I was 13 and the town had to move because the mine decided at least they said one thing they said that they had switched from mining iron ore to mining titanium and titanium was there cash crop for cash metal and they said that they were Richard deposits of titanium under the houses, but the suspicion was and I think it was probably true that they were just tired of being landlords and because they had a whole crew to they would repair anything in your house cuz everything was rented and they would come in a national ad company owns Dutch boy paints and they mine titanium and titanium.

14:41 When was the Whitener in the fichtner that was used in paint? And so this was a big paint company. And so every three years they will be coming to every apartment and every house they give you a paint chart and they would say okay what caught you pick the colors and I remember that my mother had no sense of color and very little interest in in decorating or anything. I choose a teacher and she was busy with two little kids raising them on her own and so my sister

15:20 Is 6 years older than I am. She would always out all of these things about rooms and she thought she was going to be an interior designer when she grew up and she became like me a professor and got her PhD and then only after she retired went back to get her degree in interior design, but she loved all of this and so I am she tells that one year when they came around with the paint colors. My mother just didn't have the time to do it and she gave it to my sister and said okay you pick out the colors. And so I remember for three years. We had a forest green living room with a pink ceiling and some of the people I did, you know, I was working I do that project.

16:20 For Museum in which I interviewed a lot of the workers in ra type must have retired in this Village and I interviewed some of the painters and I was telling them this story about my family and this one painter said to me. Well, that's nothing. He said, you know, I'd go to some of these people and they were so excited. They never had they never lived in a house where they could choose what color but some of them didn't know what to do and what colors to choose. So for example, they would do their living room with every wall being a different color that somehow you we were all working class, but it felt like we were metal clasp.

17:20 And my mother didn't. She didn't bother her that we had forest green Walls in it and a pink ceiling.

17:35 And you talk about all of that all of that amazing activities they had for you, I guess.

17:42 I was wondering after you left you mentioned that there was some issue about where you guys could live. Can you talk about that when my mother was after my father died? And he died when he was 36. He was young. She was 37 and what she found was that the entire Community came round and kind of put their arms around her and supported her and she was the only Widow in the whole Community. I was beat and my sister and I were the only people who didn't have a father who was working in the mines and to two-parent family, so we were not in that sense, but it was a very warm and supportive Community. She loved it there and she loved her job teaching and

18:42 Again, she was really important was only the first three grades at the school and she was kind of like the local principal there and she loved her job. And so when they move the town what they did was they sold off all the individual houses and they started with the hierarchy. We know the superintendent of the minds and his assistants and then the four of the end of the engineers and then the foreman they got all the first choices and my mother wanted

19:22 She knew she might not get the choice of a house that they were moving over, but they were also selling lots and what she wanted was a lot so that she could build a little house for the three of us there and she could live with a community that had been relocated and it was very important to her and one person and Briggs who was head of a superintendent of Mines the time and he said, oh no, no, no, we can't have somebody who's not an employee.

19:58 Student putting aside the fact that

20:02 You know, my father's death was the result not of anything he did and it was something that never would have happened had OSHA laws been in place and regulations about safety and and all of the safety that came about in the mines came about after my father's death and so my mother never ever expressed any bitterness, but I feel it today. I just feel it was too shabby the way and it was only one person's decision and she had very close friends were also close friends my dad and then Marshall Decker and they said well we'll get cuz they were offered one of it has been a two-family house semi-detached house.

21:02 They were offered that and they said oh, we'll take it. You don't have to do anything cuz they were remaking them into single-family dwellings. You don't have to do anything inside. We will keep it as two separate dwellings and Grace and her daughters will live on one side and their children had grown up and except for one of them and and he was just about ready to graduate from high school and we'll live on the other side and they wouldn't even allow that and so we rented a house on a lake there. It was beautiful and it was just being completed at the time. So there was construction going on we moved in and then let's see that was I was 13 when I was 16 the first one of the houses that was built in this little relocate.

22:02 Community with salt and my mother bought it for cash. She had saved up everything she had bought it for cash a me and my mother never bought anything with a mortgage or on time or anything and she moved in and she was two houses down from Alton Marshall Decker. So she knew I loved being on lake and 16 two years. I was going to wait at college and and she wanted to be back with people she loved and and felt supported by

22:42 How did your dad die?

22:45 She was there was he worked in was called The Mill and the mill was where they crushed the stone into smaller stones and they extracted the titanium from the or the ilmenite scald from the the other stones and they used both crushing apparatus and they also use chemicals and had a lot of conveyor belts and it was about three stories high and they had conveyor belts that would go all the way to the ceiling and everything was very complicated and he was a pipefitter.

23:28 And you know, he'd been to war he'd seen lots of tragedy and any was he know he was a nice guy and apparently well liked by everyone and he was somebody would kind of jump in and Stay Awhile do it. And so they had an issue with one of the pipes that was really high up. And so he chose to go up and repair. It's Unfortunately they had forgotten to tell the crane operator who had this was a building that was all open and big enough that big cranes inside that he was working up there and the crane or the bucket from the crane knocked him off, but he fell down and died not quite immediately but soon and but he had there was one moment of Lucidity when

24:28 Godfather Ray Donahue came over because he was a foreman there and Ray said and my father's name is Ray. He said Ray, you know, can you feel anything are you? Okay, and he said just don't tell Grace.

24:49 Oh and then he passed away.

25:00 But my family the burg side of family and you know it can they were Irish they were superstitious everything and they all had this belief that bad things come in threes. And so it turned out that and November is a bad month and my father died November 1st and then every November after that there was a subsequent death in the fan to close family, but I don't know why it was that you know, and if that time you have a wake with the corpse in the casket was in your living room and it was at my grandmother's and meaning of people came from all over and it was like a party and you know, the Ritz blow drinking going on and fork.

26:00 Kent little kid, you know, I'm sure everybody was you know, quite solicitous to me and I don't know if it was because the last time I was somehow where that my father was in this box and there was a funeral in a church, but my mother said that I guess I was a lot I was a big talker in an early talker and that for an entire year after that every Sunday when we would go to church I would say where's Daddy and she said he know it. She said, sometimes it would bother me, but I would look around and people would be tearing up and would be sad and so it was the community that knew who he was he had actually helped build that church that as did a lot of the young workers there. So it was

27:00 You know, I think it was must be though. I somehow Associated going to church with him or that somehow it made sense. I don't know why but you said if every Sunday for a year I asked for him and so something in registered my sister, obviously, I mean she was 7 and 1/2. She she missed a real person and you know, maybe I did maybe I didn't I don't know but I think she her grieving was of a different sort and probably more familiar to most people.

27:45 Yeah, it's interesting. When you mention the town moving the only building you mention was the church now, it's the biggest building. They moved the store, which was also big we have in this was the biggest lost in those little tiny Community. We had a YMCA and you know double does ymca-ywca, everybody went there and they that was a cement building so they didn't move that and that was a huge loss because there's a place where plays were performed to two nights a week. We had first-run movies there and you knows basketball courts, there was bowling alley in Bowling leagues kids leagues everything there were tons of things that went on there that was the center of the community and then when it moved its sort of shifted but not in the same way, too.

28:45 And the school became a kind of thing only send her that there was in that Village, but nothing replace the Y.

28:57 As a center social activate my mother had craft classes there and and you know, it was it was all ages were there it was active every day and every night.

29:11 So if we go ahead you mentioned storytelling as something that you took from your father and some way we were drawn to

29:26 Now that happen when you're not even 2 and now you're almost 70 next month. And so I guess I'm wondering when you look back. How is that changed or how do you think that affected you as a person and how does it affect you now? Well, I think that

29:53 It did determined even my academic focus and do you know I do Western graphic work. I've done collecting people stories for 30 years and I teach students how to do that and I did in I did three years of field work in maximum security women's prisons to correct it to collect their stories. I've done work with soldiers and people have gone to war to collect their stories and it just seems to me that

30:36 What listening to somebody else's stories does is it makes you know a rich human Culture Connection that doesn't exist through any other way and you know when I would go into the women's prison and I was I was I was interviewing women who had long sentences many of them for murder or attempted murder and

31:11 And but I'd always collect a life story and in it. I kind of looked it. How were they can reconstructing their life. What did they want to say about their life and what what I would discover after the stories and didn't take very long didn't even take a few months. I realized once you hear somebody stories, what you do is you kind of say there but for the grace of God go I and he know and I'd ask these women, you know, what was the first time did he know you were rested and I remember this one woman telling me lucious was her name. She wanted me to call her her nickname lucious and she was so such a sweetheart and she loved to talk and but one day she told me that when she was 5 years old, her mom was was unfortunate.

32:11 Town drug, she had no idea where Dad was and she grew up in Baltimore and she was five and she was hungry and so she went down to the local market and she was only five fish didn't even know how to steal and get away with it. And so they they wanted to impress this this little thief so they called the police and he know it doesn't take too many stories like that before you say. Yeah, I would have done the same thing if I was hungry and there was no adult around it would have been what I would have done and I tell my students to when I when I teach them journalism and how to go out is that you've got to get past the difference and you've got to really listen to the story that somebody tells you because that

33:11 I think the greatest gift that somebody can give you.

33:16 And it's you need to cherish and it might be something that has nothing to do with the way you live. But the spirit behind it is a human and it connects you with the rest of the world.

33:35 I wanted to ask about

33:39 How you decided to join the military?

33:43 I don't know if there's time but I'm curious cuz you are at how old were you? Well I never got my first teaching job was at the US Naval Academy and the late 1980s and I was in my late 30s and I was there I was ten year there for seven years and then I went to Johns Hopkins University to teach but I was always writing about this Rich culture that very few other people writing about and I have for years and and one book that I did was on Military culture and particularly on gender and the the problems of integration of the Armed Forces and butt

34:37 You know, there comes a point at which suddenly you realize that your nation is at War at two Wars going on simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so I went to a rock and I wanted to in a rock I went to the journalist and then I went to Afghanistan as a cultural advisor actually working for the Army and I realized that I brought skills that most of the people didn't bring and I could teach them to my little team and we could go out and we could find things out from the local population and what their needs were with their struggles were that people in uniform could not or didn't know how to they wanted to get the information they wanted to help these people.

35:37 But didn't know how to ask. And so you know that was you know, you bring back information and everybody was hungry for it. And for an academic it takes years, you know, you eventually publishing a few people read it and but this was insights that they really valued and I saw a good commanders and bad commanders and as I think everybody does in the military and but you know, and I've just been spent the last five months in India investigating the Indian army and the way in which they do counter-insurgency and the lessons that we beg, you know, military powerful sophisticated American Military might even be able to learn from the Indian army.

36:37 So

36:39 I think Kurt to wrap things up. I wanted to I was wanted to ask you about the next piece of your story.

36:50 You mentioned you've told the story of your childhood and a little bit about why you decided to join the military, even though I'm not sure I totally understand but I was wondering you're about to be 70 one day if we're lucky. You'll be a hundred.

37:11 You finished more than two-thirds of your life.

37:17 Is there anything it would 100 that you would like to look back and see for these next 30 Years?

37:26 I think I'm already starting that process of looking back and you know, maybe it's just getting older but

37:38 I feel really satisfied with what I've done and as you get older you realize

37:48 Do you know how precious things were and and you see the patterns in time that you don't see when you're younger and you see how things connect and you look back and you do see.

38:04 I guess you might call it the magic of connections among things among people and you know, I feel incredibly proud of you and Elizabeth and you know, I don't have a lot of doubts and regrets if I were to die tomorrow, I think I have lived a really rich life.

38:35 And you know how to get a few more years would be great.

38:42 If your mom was still here, is there anything you'd like to say?

38:46 Yes, I miss you terribly. I do I so too and you know, it is not a day that goes by that I don't think about her and and

39:03 You know it she was not somebody for whom communication was easy.

39:10 And she in order to get on with her life and to do everything she had to do she had to be announced during stiff. What kind of you know, my father was the Irish flamboyant one. She was thus turning this one and I think that she just there were not a lot of times that she could let down and you know, I just like to put my arms around her and say, thank you.

39:47 I know and she she gave me I know all that she could.

39:59 Thank you. Sure.

40:12 How many of your interviews end in t