Personal Narrative

From the Editor

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has been the inspiration for my work in public sector folklife for some 30 years….Some 10 years later, in the mid nineties, AFC helped create my home base, the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library


In Chinese, there is a phrase, (chi ku). It means “to eat bitterness,” to endure hardship, to carry on, to persevere. My great-grandparents, Kao Tsao-Yuan and Loh Mei-Chun fled Shanghai for Hong Kong in 1949, before settling in the Bronx in 1960. They crossed through Ellis Island amid intense immigration restrictions from Asian countries. Leaving Shanghai was their bitterness to eat, as was navigating a new country.

Our Story Bridge:

On September 6, 2019, internationally acclaimed
author Russell Banks recorded his own true story about a singular afternoon he experienced 25 years ago in Keene, New York….This oral story, with its bullish, charming conclusion, is titled “Refugee Crisis in Keene” and can be heard among the many three-to-five-minute stories being recorded and collected as part of a grassroots oral history project, Adirondack Community: Capturing, Retaining, and Communicating the Stories of Who We Are (

The Poetry of Everyday Life

Fred was once described as “a master jeweler in the timeless language of the pitch.” He was fond of stating the pitchman’s credo: “Never, never use one word when four will suffice.” The medicine shows were always presented “free, gratis, and for nothing.” A sucker for alliteration, he presented “glittering galaxies of gorgeously gowned girls” and featured, among others, “Tillie Tashman, that teasing, tantalizing, tormenting, tempestuous, tall, tan torsotwister from Texas.” I certainly consider him one of the most inspiring, incandescent, irreplaceable, inventive, and absolutely inimitable (as Fred might say) collaborators in my life.


You need to read this book [Annie Lanzillotto’s L Is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir} because it’s the most powerful depiction I have ever read of how a human being can draw on her folk culture, her humor, and her poetic insight to pull life-affirming meaning out of the gutter like a lost Spaldeen.

The Spy Who Snubbed Me

Lake George? Ian Fleming famously wrote about places he had actually been. My antihero had been to Lake George? How much time Fleming spent here I have not been able to ascertain,but clearly, he was here. He sets The Spy Who Loved Me somewhere between Glens Falls and Lake George, in the Dreamy Pines Motor Court, where our heroine tries to hold off but is unable to escape the thugs until James Bond shows up. The “Spy” is Bond himself, not a Russian woman Bond gets mixed up with, as in the movie.


Ned took to the sea as a teenager, first to Gulf
Coast ports, later to California, where he found
work as a caulker in San Francisco Bay shipyards
by day, moonlighting as a singer, accompanying
himself with the banjo. Eventually, and with
strong support from many maritime trades workers
there, he became a full-time entertainer. Back
in New York as a well-established performer,
Harrigan began to stretch vaudeville skits into
full-length plays. They were anything but static
pieces. He refined, added to, and reintroduced
them frequently.


For one long-awaited weekend, beginning
May 30th, they came—from Albuquerque and
Albany, Boise and Brooklyn, Wiscasset and
Watertown. Those travelling farthest flew in
from Alsace, the Channel Islands, and Alaska;
others are as close as Potsdam, Madrid, and
Canton. The 50th reunion for St. Lawrence
University’s Class of 1963, my own class, was
a great homecoming.

A Staten Island Education

The author shares a memoir of her days at PS22R in Staten Island, when wearing a peace button was controversial, and how she navigated the political culture in the fifth and sixth grades, learning about civil disobedience.

Remembering My Grandfather’s Left-Wing Bungalow Colony in Dutchess County

There’s a common perception that all of the old-time Jewish bungalow colonies in New York State were in the Catskills. Maybe the majority were, but not all. Off NY State Route 9D, in Dutchess County, at the foot of a mountain, lies a large parcel of land with several modern houses on it. If you went back 50 years, during the era of my childhood, however, you would have found one medium-sized house and a group of wooden bungalows, painted white with red roofs; a swimming pool; two see-saws and a jungle gym for kids; and a social hall (called the “casino”).night, and waiting cars and trucks quickly collected the barrels and boxes of imported liquor. The bungalow colony was where my
Belarusian-born maternal grandfather,
Harry Rothstein, and his friends held
forth every summer.

How I Spent My Summer (1967)

So now I had a job as a showroom model. I had to wear a black dress, heels, makeup, and my hair put up. Quite a change from jeans and sweatshirts. I took the subway from 116th Street to 34th Street and walked to the Brooklyn & New York Fur Manufacturers on 29th Street. When a buyer came—say from a department store in St. Louis or Des Moines—I would slip into a fur coat and walk across the show room, turn, pause, hold the coat open, then closed, and then leave the room. Unless the buyer had a question or wanted to look some more, I would not speak except to say the model number.

In Her Own Words

These stories were told by Alice Testrake at her home in Ripley, NY, in the winter of 2013–2014. Family members were sometimes present. Her memories were collected and illustrated by Art Facilitator Valerie Walawender, MA, as part of Hospice of Chautauqua County’s Art Enrichment Program.

From the Waterfront

Beginning in the 1960’s, water taxis were at work, ferrying people to locations within the harbors and ports of Long Island. Captains and crew share their occupational experiences in this column.