The Voice: Summer 2003

The Voice

Good stories are everywhere. We just have to find them.

By: Andrew De Jong

At least, that’s what Dr. James Schaap told us—me and four of my classmates—at the beginning of this semester. He had recently asked us to help him with a new book project of his and had gathered us for our first group meeting in the cluster of offices in the classroom building known as the “English pod.”

Dr. Schaap described the details of the project to us—we were going to find interesting people from all different backgrounds and locations in Sioux County, interview them, and then write about them. The way he said it made it sound so easy—probably, I thought, because he’s done this kind of thing many times before.

“Everybody’s got a story,” he said. “And most people love to share their stories.”

I can’t speak for my four classmates, but I wasn’t feeling quite as confident as Schaap was. Maybe it was because I, a college sophomore, was working on a book with a published writer, or maybe it was because the “interview” assignment was the one I didn’t do well on in Advanced Expository Writing—in any case, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do the job I was being given.

I was the most nervous about the interviews themselves. Schaap made it seem like people would be dying to tell me their stories, but I thought that nobody would want to talk to me, that they would feel I was being nosy. Schaap seemed to have faith in us, though, so I put my concern aside and got started on my first profile.

My first subject was Kathy De Groot, co-owner of Casey’s Bakery in Sioux Center. I wrote her a letter informing her of the details of our project, then I called her a few days later to set up the interview. I went to Wal-Mart and bought a tape recorder and plenty of extra batteries and blank tapes and returned to my dorm to compile a huge list of possible questions in case I ran stuck. I was nervous—I didn’t know if a college student and a bakery owner would have anything to talk about, or if Kathy would want to talk to me at all.

Turns out, I had no reason to be nervous. The interview went great, and I abandoned my list of questions halfway through. Kathy was so eager to talk that I barely even had to ask questions—for the most part, all I did was nod, smile, and say “mmm hmm” every now and then. She covered almost everything in those two short hours: childhood, family, the ins and outs of the bakery business, and even God, grace, and Providence.

Each interview that followed has lived up to that first one. A group of retirees who volunteer at Justice For All, a Venezuelan veterinarian who works at Trans Ova Genetics—all have shared their lives with me eagerly. They like to tell their stories, I think, because it makes them feel special. Looking back on their lives like that makes them feel that it’s all been worthwhile—the twists and turns, the triumphs, and the failures. Telling me their story makes them realize something they may have known all along: that their lives have meaning. And I realize something too: that interviewing these people is an act of love.

My classmates, I think, realize it too. We still meet every so often—at Schaap’s house this time—to eat together and talk about our experiences with the people we’ve interviewed. Many of my classmates talk about their subjects with a sense of awe; just like me, they feel that they are serving these people by telling their stories, not invading their privacy. And just like me, they feel amazed and blessed by the stories they have heard.