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December 16, 2014

By Ennis Barbery in collaboration with Merle Goldman

Since childhood, storytelling has always been something of great importance to me. At family gatherings, I was the kid who would gladly forego playing a game in order to listen to my aunts and uncles tell stories from their childhoods. My love of stories and storytelling has stayed with me.

In fact, it has intensified. I have become fascinated with memory: why do some experiences fall away and others just seem to stick in our minds? More than ever, I am interested in how people narrate their lives: the rises and falls of tension, the exciting moments of decision or indecision when they took actions that shaped the rest of their stories, the quiet reflection on things that they wish had gone differently.

To ask a person to tell you his or her life story is a powerful thing. It is a way to say very sincerely, “I value your memories, your wisdom, your experiences, your life.” That is just what volunteers at the Museum of Chincoteague Island and the Chincoteague Island Library have been doing this past month. We have been planning, learning new technology, making lists of Chincoteaguers we would love to interview, and beginning to record video interviews that will be available through both the Museum and the Library.

Our very first interview was with Betty Jester and her daughter Joan Buchanan. John Nelson Jester, a board member and dedicated volunteer at the Museum of Chincoteague Island, worked with me to interview Betty on November 22, 2014.

It was a sunny but cold Saturday in Chincoteague, the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the electricity flickered on and off at the Museum. After a power outage left us in the dark, we had to move the location of the interview to the front room beside the large windows to continue.

Even with this interruption, Betty Jester continued sharing her memories and stories with enthusiasm. I loved many things about this interview: the way that Betty and her daughter Joan added details and laughter to each other’s’ stories, the way Betty spoke so highly of her neighbors and other Chincoteaguers, and (perhaps most of all) the way Betty looked back and laughed at herself. At one point, she tells a story in which she ends up picking her teeth with poison ivy and creating quite a mess for herself, but she chuckles all the way through it.

Betty and her daughter Joan have a lot of knowledge to share. I hope you will follow this link and watch their interview. We will be adding new interviews all the time so check back here regularly and watch our Facebook and Twitter feeds to announcements of new interviews.

Merle Goldman, who recently started volunteering for the Museum, has created the following list of highlights from Betty Jester and Joan Buchanan’s interview. 

Mrs. Joan Buchanan (Left) and Mrs. Betty Jester (Right)

Interview Highlights (click here to watch for yourself!)

Part I

Mrs. Betty Jester was born 12/30/1925 at home on Clark Street in Chincoteague Island, Va. 

Part II

4:11 – 6:20 -  Mrs. Jester talks about how she and her husband opened the Inlet Drive-In, in the 50s. It was a hamburger stand located on the only beach on the south end of Chincoteague, and there was no running water or electricity. In order to  access the  stand, patrons had  to go through a horse corral. Onions were cooked on the grill; a fan was directed toward the beach so the beachgoers would smell the aroma of the cooking hamburgers.

8:00 – 11:26 - Mrs. Jester meets famous actress Kim Novak who was visiting the Island. Mrs. Jester describes roasting oysters with friends and finding out later that she was picking her teeth with poison ivy.

Part III

00:01-1:10 - Mrs. Jester describes WWII experiences on the home front, including seeing ships at sea on fire.

1:13-3:10 - Mrs. Jester discusses wearing cloths made from chicken feedbags

3:18- 9:30- Mrs. Jester and Mrs. Buchanan discuss the 1962 storm in great detail

Part IV

00:40 - Mrs. Jester reports that  when growing up, she only visited Assateague Island to attend church picnics; there was no bridge to the island at that time, and they were transported by boat

3:40 – Pre-WWII, Mrs. Jester talks about the many merchants and retail stores that used to be located  in downtown Chincoteague

9:13-14:03 - Mrs. Jester describes in detail trips to Philadelphia via train, including a sensitive discussion about racial issues in Philadelphia and the history of race relations on Chincoteague. Please use your own discretion and preview this section of video before sharing it with younger viewers. 

Part V

00:00 - Mrs. Jester discusses the various neighborhoods on the Island, the many shops located in each section of the town, and the fact that people not only lived but basically socialized and congregated in their own neighborhoods. She talks about the names given to specific sections on the island (i.e. Up the Neck, Down the Marsh, Dodge City etc.).

3:20-5:00- Mrs. Buchanan tells a story about her family and buried treasure on Assateague

6:08 -9:00 – Mrs. Buchanan describes events related to the War of 1812. Four sailors, all brothers in the Birch family who hailed from Great Britain, deserted a ship while it was in Baltimore. Two disappeared, and their whereabouts were unknown. Two came to live in Chincoteague. Mrs. Buchanan passes on a story about a farmer who was kidnapped and taken onto a British ship while walking on Assateague beach. 

Part VI

00:35-4:40 - WWII stories: Mrs. Buchanan retells a story about Maurice (pronounced "Morris") Jester, who was her uncle. He was the commander of the US Coast Guard Cutter Icarus, posted off the shore of North Carolina when it engaged in a conflict with a German U-boat (submarine). Buchanan tells this suspenseful story, and it was featured in Life Magazine

4:39- Betty Jester recalls the dishes served on Thanksgiving when she was growing up on Chincoteague.