Partial Transcript: Tape three of interview with Harry Siler, continued on February 9th, 2005, Peace Corps Oral History Project, interviewer Jack Wilson.
Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Siler what it was like to come back to the U.S. after living in South Africa. Siler responds by explaining the Close of Service (COS) process that the Peace Corps undertakes when volunteers leave their assignments. Siler explains that volunteers reconvene with each other before returning home and changes the topic to discuss the initial training that his volunteer group went through when first arriving in South Africa. He mentions how the volunteers were sworn in for service in the U.S. and how the volunteers were dispersed after their training. After this brief interlude, Siler returns to the topic of COS by stating the volunteers assembled in Pretoria at Peace Corps headquarters so that the Peace Corps could inform volunteers about services available to them in getting home and to summarize the work volunteers did while on assignment and help them prepare for jobs when returning to the U.S. Siler explains that the last three or four days in before a volunteer's departure are spent filling out paperwork in preparation for their return to the U.S. Siler states that there isn't a choice of what flight you take back because the Peace Corps gets you the ticket and you return home. Siler discusses the route he took in his attempt to return to Williamsburg, Kentucky before he became ill and diverted his trip to Florida to be with his son. Siler discusses the illness he acquired before leaving South Africa and his sadness to be leaving a place he had been so happy in. Siler describes the various experiences that he had in the days leading to his departure.
Keywords: Close of Service (COS); Completion of Service (COS); Flights; Peace Corps; Peace Corps headquarters; Peace Corps narratives; Peace Corps services; Peace Corps volunteers; South Africa; Volunteer training; Williamsburg (Ky.)
Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.
Partial Transcript: So you came straight back to Knoxville?
Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Siler if he came straight back to Knoxville, Tennessee from South Africa. Siler answers that he arrived in Tampa first before deciding to visit his son and daughter in Florida. Siler discusses his family and the relationship he has with his son-in-law. He talks more about his health and the weight loss he experienced from his time in the Peace Corps. Siler mentions the Two Oceans Marathon and the Soweto Marathon, which he wanted to participate in before he left South Africa. He adds that he has recovered from his illness in the fact that he can walk and talk normally, but he can't run like he used to. Siler discusses the training he did to prepare himself for the marathons.
Keywords: Family life; Florida; Health conditions; Illnesses; Marathon training; Marathons; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Running; South Africa; Soweto Marathon; Two Oceans Marathon; Weight loss; Williamsburg (Ky.)
Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.
Partial Transcript: So you came back, you're with your family in Florida. What got you back to Williamsburg?
Segment Synopsis: Siler recounts a story about going out on a walk with his son while in Florida and talks about how this experience highlighted the differences in the ways people think about security in South Africa and the U.S. Siler discusses the hardships and dangers facing many South Africans and states that he is thankful that the U.S. has managed to organize itself in a way where people don't have to be overly concerned with their safety. Siler returns to a previous question Wilson asked him about how he got home from Florida. Siler explains that he bought a truck from his son, since he had given his previous vehicle to a friend, and drove it all the way back to Williamsburg, Kentucky. Siler discusses Williamsburg's downtown and how it has changed for the worse since his days as a child.
Keywords: Domestic security; Feelings of safety; Feelings of security; Home security; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Safety; Security; South Africa; Travel; United States; Williamsburg (Ky.)
Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.
Partial Transcript: Uh, but, um, I, I got home and there were three people in Williamsburg, two of them live in Williamsburg, Bob and Sue Bird.
Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Siler talks at great length about the three people in Williamsburg who he had a close connection with: his construction manager, agent, and agent's wife. He talks about working with a friend he grew up with and both of them helping each other with managing taxes. Siler discusses his younger sister and the wisdom he thinks his mother had in naming his aunt as executor of her estate. Siler talks about visiting his mother in Williamsburg in the years before her death and readdresses the topic of moving her house once the Corps of Engineers started a flood wall project that would result in the house being submerged. Siler goes into great detail about the background of his father and describes how his father and mother met each other. Siler explains that his agent and construction manager took care of his house while he was gone. Siler states that he is forever thankful to these three people for the care they took of his childhood home while he was gone. Siler provides further extensive backgrounds on his agent and construction manager.
Keywords: Construction managers; Corps of Engineers; Dikes; Flood walls; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Personal backgrounds; Personal connections; Relocation of houses; Williamsburg (Ky.)
Partial Transcript: ...but I'm back in that world and then, a year and a half back from the Peace Corps which would have made from October, maybe, October of 2004, I, I, I started--I came to realize I'm--there's some sort of lid off of me, some pressure either self-imposed or, or whatever, I'm, I'm coming out. I'm coming alive. I'm, I'm not hiding.
Segment Synopsis: Siler talks about how he felt a lid of pressure be released from him after returning home and how this led to him getting into Appalachian literature. Siler discusses how he has a manic need to write and is immersed in Appalachian culture for the first time in his life. Siler describes how he learned to write emails and to use computers after having had no interest in such things during his architectural career. Wilson asks Siler if his experience in the Peace Corps somehow released this newfound interest when he returned from Africa. Siler thinks so, but states that all of these things are interwoven in some way. He explains that he didn't know what he wanted to do when he left for South Africa, but how he found himself along the way at this late stage in his life. He mentions that the Peace Corps associate director demanded for volunteers to keep journals.
Keywords: Appalachia; Appalachian heritage; Appalachian literature; Computer usage; Email writing; Interests; Journals; Literature; Peace Corps; Peace Corps journals; Peace Corps volunteers; Williamsburg (Ky.); Writing
Partial Transcript: There's a, a writer named Annie Lamont who, who I have a tape of a, a workshop, a writers workshop and I hear the question come about, um, question comes that she doesn't know what to do about that question and she says, "I don't know about that."
Segment Synopsis: Siler describes the experience of writing letters to both his family and a fifth grade class while he was gone on assignment for the Peace Corps. He discusses how he learned that writing was a way to find out about things inside you that you weren't consciously aware of. Siler mentions corresponding with the Courier Journal about his experience in writing, but was rejected because the journal didn't accept unsolicited writings. Siler talks about courses he is taking at a college in Cumberland, Kentucky and about writers that have been a great joy learning about. He mentions his inspiration and technique for writing poetry.
Keywords: College courses; College writing courses; Colleges; Community colleges; Courier Journal; Cumberland (Ky.); Letter writing; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Poetry; South Africa; Williamsburg (Ky.); Writing
Partial Transcript: So how, how has the Peace Corps experience, uh, affected your view of the rest of the world? If at all?
Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Siler how his Peace Corps experience affected his view of the rest of the world. Siler replies that his experience taught him about what it means to an American and explains that he didn't really know what that had meant until his interactions with people in South Africa. He mentions being invited to talk at a Sons of the American Revolution meeting by acquaintances in Williamsburg. Siler describes the impact that the death of his veteran brother played in his own development of his identity as an American patriot. Siler discusses Wendell Berry and why he enjoys his writing, going into great detail about the experience of meeting him with his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild. Siler discusses issues about agribusiness and why he thinks that Wendell Berry has the solutions to its problems. Siler discusses with Wilson how he wants to be cremated after his death, but wants a tombstone that compares his work with that of Abraham Lincoln's. Siler explains the reasoning for this and expresses his admiration for what he considers to be model Kentuckians. He reiterates that he is proud of being a Peace Corps volunteer and proud of all of the things he has learned since being a volunteer.
Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; Agribusiness; Cultural presentation; Family life; Patriotism; Peace Corps; Peace Corps impact; Peace Corps volunteers; Sons of the American Revolution; Wendell Berry; Williamsburg (Ky.); Worldview
Partial Transcript: Have you--that makes me think of I guess, it's out of sequence but the, sort of the last question, um, that I've got for you which is, have you maintained contact?
Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Siler if he has maintained contact with anyone he met while in South Africa. Siler responds that he has and sends presents to people every now and then. He describes the on-going connection he has with one of the schools he worked with in South Africa and how he still sends books to the school. Siler discusses how he is encouraging the principal of the school to continue working towards her master's degree. Siler, again, goes into great detail about poetry he likes. Siler addresses several other random topics before the interview ends.
Keywords: Benjamin Franklin; Book donations; Langston Hughes; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Poetry; Ponani School; Post Peace Corps contacts; Post-Peace Corps contacts; School book donations; Williamsburg (Ky.)
WILSON: Tape three of interview with Harry Siler, continued on February9th, 2005, Peace Corps Oral History Project, interviewer Jack Wilson.
WILSON: Harry, so what was it like coming back to the United States?
SILER: Well, like that TV show and ----------(??) very interesting,hahaha. I, as you know and all Peace Corps people know but perhaps the oral history buffs of Kentucky don't know, the Peace Corps has a very formal program of getting you ready to leave.
WILSON: To go overseas?00:01:00
SILER: No, to leave overseas and to come home--
WILSON: Oh, I see.
SILER: The COS, Close of Service--
SILER: Program, where you leave your, in my case, village and youreconvene with all of these young people, young and a few old, that constituted your group. My group, SA 6, we came together several times during our two years to train further and do stuff as a Peace Corps kind of formal, formally called conference among ourselves and this last one in December when we were to COS as we call it in--
WILSON: Completion of Service
SILER: Completion of Service at the end of March, March 31st would havebeen, I think it was 29th was, you know, that turns out to be my, my grandson's birthday if it was the 31st. He was born a year after I got 00:02:00back--Son of a gun! That day!
WILSON: And that was 200--?
SILER: 3, 2003, I started, hit the ground in South Africa the same dayMr. George W. Bush raised his hand and said I do or the equivalent, the 20th of January. Went through ten weeks or so of the most rigorous training, stressful training, only exceeded by architectural school at the University of Kentucky. There's never been anything that put that in the shade but the training period got us to, and we only lost two or three people of our twenty-one or two that we started with in Philadelphia in staging. I think it was the 31st of March, we all 00:03:00raised our hand and said we would sign up for two years and luck, and by the strangest coincidence, the man who swore us in wanted to came from, from Pretoria or wherever, from Pretoria where they, where the ambassador's place is. A man named Delano Lewis, ambassador to the United States, wanted to come and swear us in because he had worked somewhere in his history, not as a volunteer but as a, as a Peace Corp in-country director somewhere in Africa. He wanted to do this but he was in fact a neighbor of mine. Lived about a hundred yards away from where I lived in Washington. I went to his yard sales and he went 00:04:00to mine and we knew each other in that we had children that knew each other and, but we weren't buddies by any means but we knew the faces were part of it and I, you ask what was it like coming back and I'll no doubt get to that sooner or later but he came to swear us in and his wife and I knew them both and she, of course, knew me because she was around the neighborhood a lot better. My office was in my home so I was a fixture in this neighborhood in a peculiar kind of way as a practicing architect and employed person theoretically around the house a lot and so he wanted to meet us as a group an hour or two before the services started and in fact, swear us in. I believe we were sworn 00:05:00in separately from this sort of festive thing of, of meeting, having our host families be at the, at the training site where we were having this kind of dispersal out into Limpopo Province and, and would not see each other as Peace, as, as a group, as SA 6 anymore. We'd been together since we started those ten weeks all the way from Philadelphia two, three, four days before we flew to Johannesburg but Delano Lewis, Del Lewis, I think his name is known in circles, is in the room when we sort of arrive or he comes in and we're to shake hands with him as 00:06:00a sort of a reception line and he sees me coming and his wife sees me coming and he says and he didn't know my name of course and he knew I was way the hell out of context. What are you doing here? And I said I'm one of the kids. And we had the chance to talk about what this was about and, and, but at the end of service, the COS and I got to be sort of a government talker so I could say COS and it meant what it meant without kind of what do those letters mean like I can say RPCV. It was easy as PCV. I got so I could do that and that by the way is very hard for me, was very hard for me because PVC, polyvinylchloride 00:07:00is my historical jargon being an architect and I had, I have to pause. I had to pause to say PCV a long time but we, we assembled three weeks, three months or so before the end at a place outside Pretoria, near where the Peace Corps in-country headquarters is in Pretoria and we were there quite often during our two years but we had a three or four day meeting where the Peace Corps conducted how to go home kind of services and also kind of summarized what have you done, kind of get these young people ready to go home and get a job. What, you know, get yourself ready in the kindest and gentlest way, our employer, the Peace 00:08:00Corps, was doing what generally was important to Peace Corps volunteers because they were young and going to do something else. In my case, this was the cherry, I thought, on, on a life's doing and the, the revisiting as I'm sure these first three hours talked to of things not done in my youth that now I had in some approximate fashion available to me done. This was Marine Corps, not really. All I could do. This was Vietnam. Not really but it's all I could do and so I knew, felt like I had honored myself as best I could and then, from that time, 00:09:00December, whenever it was, to March when we were to fly. Done and the Peace Corps, whatever your COS date is, you're in town three or four days before that in Pretoria. You're doing all the paperwork and you just about go from there to the airplane. They have arranged a flight. There's no kind of what's the cheapest flight. When you're done, they get you the ticket and you go and they go, you go right back wherever you started from and, and in my case, that was, I got myself to Philadelphia by car and they flew me from Philadelphia or from New York City, where we, John F. Kennedy Airport where we moved from and Mr. Eero Saarinen has a building of TWA terminal. It's a magnificent 00:10:00building which I've been to many times but any-, but I got to fly back to, well, I was intending to fly back to Knoxville, Tennessee close enough to where people who knew me would come get me and take me all the way home to Williamsburg, Kentucky but I got sick my time between COS conference and when I actually left. I, I was working hard to do what wasn't done, ha. I got a cold that just went deeper and deeper apparently. There was some kind of perhaps emotional difficulties because I'd been so happy and felt that I was doing good stuff with my five schools and my village and then, I ran in in November before 00:11:00COS, confessed at COS, I ran into some enormous, curious, mysterious difficulty with four of those schools and the principals and all of the facilities represented by those four schools. Luckily, it was the four smallest schools so the one that had no difficulty with me was nearly half the population of students and the one nearest to where I live and so suddenly, I just was given deficiency and opportunity to, to focus which turned out to be kind of closer to what the assignment really should have been because I was too spread out trying to do for everyone more than I could do and just skimming too much. But I got sick. I got pneumonia. I got to go in my, in my last trip down through 00:12:00Pretoria from my home where I'd said goodbye to my host family and all my friends and school kids and had the ceremony that honored me in a way that warms me still. I, I got sick and I was so sick with, with what was a cold and I guess an African cold and the first one I had had and I was, I was feeling terrible with all the nose running, stuffed and feeling terrible too but fighting to work with some carpenters and get some computer tables built so that the computers that were going to be donated had a place. When they came, there'd be a place and, 00:13:00and I did it by taking a piece of the store room in the building we had built and doing my architectural magic so that this thing continued to do everything in sight including be the receptor, clear and simple for these four computers that were coming and not lose anything essential in the storage aspect of it. Got that done and the way this thing works is somebody, some person you arrange with delivers you from your home, where you've been at home for two years in their vehicle with all your junk, much more than you could plane and get on the khombi and get to Pretoria with and the Peace Corps reimburses that person. I mean, it, I, I can't say enough about what the Peace Corps did to take the generals that they were presented with of all these diverse 00:14:00people arriving to be volunteers and get, train them and send them out to God knows actually where and what they're going to run into. They had investigated where I was going live, the schools I would work with, the toilet, the outhouse that I was going to use. They, in fact, made my whole family build another one because they wouldn't approve of the other, of the one I would have found and so the host family did. The village did. A lot of stuff I didn't know for a long, long time. They didn't know my host mother and father; he's in his middle eighties. She's in her late sixties, that they got out of their best bedroom in the house, moved into the next best to give me the best. I'm ashamed to say it took me two years to kind of come to know what they had done and that goes on and on. The village, the chief, on and on but I was 00:15:00sick and I got to Pretoria ready to and eager to go home, wanting to go home and then, having realized I got changed here. I ran into some people that have become family. I didn't, I wasn't looking for that. That wasn't any part of my plan but I came to know them and love them and they certainly did me so here I am leaving with no idea that I was ever going to come back. It wasn't part of my plan to plan on coming back and I'm sick and there's these four schools and all of people that, that many of them were friends and people I spent time with as friends and as colleagues and just dumbfounded by what had happened 00:16:00and, and couldn't find my own guilt in it in a way that justified any part of it really but here I had it. It was saddled bagged on me whether I wanted it or not, that was the way it was and I had worked away since the November of my discovery of my sinful nature to the time I left in March and I had plenty of work because, thank God, Shalati, the principal of this school was who she was and her teachers were and her kids were and my neighbors were and all the rest so it's not like I, I was any more than wounded and redirected by what had transpired but I think it contributed to my worn out state and my work too and 00:17:00my cold, when I got to the Peace Corps office, I, I went to see Dr. Myra and stationed physician right there, Kenyan, but wonderful lady even though she didn't know South Africa's ways. She was insightful into Peace Corps people and African things and had been helpful the few times I'd seen her and she took kind of one look at me and said you indeed are sick and there was this sort of South African holiday coming up and so she wouldn't be there the next day. She'd be back Monday but she says she's going to be working in the office and come see her even though the, I mean, the facility is open. You can get through the guard and she'd be there. Well, I stayed in a backpacker place a block away which I, it became another home anytime I was in 00:18:00Pretoria so I could have gone over to see her and she probably clearly told me that but I didn't clearly hear it so I just laid sick in this bed for several, for the several days until Monday came and I could go see her again and she did give me some medicine that seemed to have very little effect but when I went back to see her on Monday and was ready to be part of the COSing process, signing the papers, get the blood test and the physical and the so on, she says "You sick, you'd better go see so and so" and I'd been seeing a pulmonologist because I don't know if I told you last time in my discussion of life but I had, thought I was dying once while I was at my village. My throat 00:19:00closed. I couldn't breathe and I was, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't, I couldn't moderate it. I couldn't get around it and it, I'd been coughing a little bit, maybe prior to that but not anything like I hadn't coughed before in my life but, and I think I was going to the new outhouses as a matter of fact so I remember quite clearly where it happened and I'm on my way walking behind the house to get to the outhouse and this coughing fit comes on me, goes on for ten, fifteen, thirty seconds maybe and then, suddenly, I cannot breathe and I don't mean to say I couldn't breathe very well. I mean, as totally as I can say it, I realized I couldn't breathe and I couldn't, you can't force, 00:20:00something was shut down and I said to myself in that moment I am so, so happy that when I, that I've had these three years since I was sixty, I think it was, that I finally lived to get to be sixty after having promised myself for what seemed like a lifetime, when I get this done, when I get that done, when I get the other thing. I'm going to, I, I never did that. I never got to where, it was my turn and I honored it. I behaved in a way that all the world could recognize. This guy is selfish and he is conscious of it and, and you can talk about it and 00:21:00you can talk with him about it but he's going to be. And so I said as I surely didn't know I wasn't dying, thought I might be, right then and there, Manana was going to come out and step on me and, and then, then they'd all figure out what to do with me because I wouldn't be participating in any of the discussion but I didn't die after a long time, not being able to breathe, I don't remember that I, that I did any more than sort of recognize the moment and kneel down and kind of get myself braced or supported in some way that I didn't have to stand up and try to, know I wasn't breathing and I was as close to, to simplifying the physical requirement while I was trying to breathe 00:22:00as I could and then, after a second or two or how ever long I couldn't breathe and I surely didn't go on for minutes because I, I really one hundred percent could not breathe. Then, I started to but there's a coughing fit associated coming up on it and following it but there's a time there where the future is not known but the past flashed in front of me and I was happy about how I had behaved recently and so when I, when I call the Peace Corps and said well, I didn't die but I thought I was going to and they take a real keen interest in, in the 00:23:00volunteer's health and well-being and so Dr. Myra said and, and I went. The next, next Mon, that happened a weekend. The next Monday, I went to Tzaneen, the neighboring town, and I went to a doctor that another volunteer had gone to, another SA 6 lady who recommended this guy and he gave me a shot. He examined me, heard all of this, gave me some pills and gave me a shot and wondered aloud that it might be asthma, it might be this, it might be that, might be an allergy to something in my environment which was obviously new and strange to me although I'd been two years here. And I didn't, this was happening in the last, I don't know, months of my time there but I, I went to see 00:24:00this guy and he treated me the first time and then, I told the Peace Corps that, early, just as early as I could that this had happened and, and Dr. Myra says get to Pretoria right away and we will have set up an appointment with a pulmonologist and with a, somebody, an ear, nose and throat guy. Anybody they could think of that had some barring on this and she's a real good thinker so she, she doesn't spare any doctor expense trying to snoop out what this might be but strangely enough, in some other conversation before I actually got, I mean, there's things going on and I couldn't come right away I said. I, I might be able to die right away. But I, I didn't, I couldn't come to Pretoria so I, I happened to be talking with a the nurse. There was a full 00:25:00time Peace Corps physician and a full time nurse and the nurse's name right now escapes me. She was a white African as I recall, might have been, no, she might have been German or something. She, but, she had her own accent as we all do and talking to her one time I had one of these fits right in her ear on the phone. What was her name? And she, she proceeded to name this thing at the end of it. I mean, it takes me a couple of minutes to, to, for this thing to start and me to work through it until I can, the kind of gasping begin to talk and I've done that on the phone with people at home and they thought I was dying. I have an aunt in Knoxville who's eighty plus. My daughter, my mother's 00:26:00youngest sister, the only remaining person of her generation who's scared to death that I've gone off some place they didn't want me to go and I'm going to die and, and so I was, I was kind of, I made people aware that maybe, I don't know what this is but this, this, I know, the facts I know and the facts I'm telling you and I'll find out about it but talking with this doctor, I mean the nurse, once she named it, I had the strangest, I mean, true or not, she named it correctly but I had this strange feeling because she would name it, it was all over. We had a place to put that so what I died--
WILSON: Didn't matter any more!
SILER: What I died of, she could fill in the, the, and I never quitegot over how comfortable she was with the naming and I--anyway, when I 00:27:00got to Pretoria, I did get sent to this pulmonologist who said down at the bottom of the hill where we've got this hospital and go, right now and I said well, I just came for a doctor's appointment. I don't have any clothes. I don't have any way to be in the hospital and I thought I was going to go a day or two and get some exams. Well, I was there for sixteen days with pneumonia and I'd been so sick in the, in the backpacker that I, I had people coming to see me that lived, my village people I'd known from training camp, villagers, host family in training camp, members of the villages that lived and worked in Pretoria or Johannesburg, they came to see me and I was so sick. We were supposed 00:28:00to go to the zoo, the Pretoria Zoo which is a big deal, and I had all these people coming and I wanted to take them to the zoo. Children were coming or their grandchildren of the host family but I was too sick to move. All I could do is to come out and say I'm sorry folks and they could see I was sick and they could see I was sorry. And so I just couldn't do it and, but from the time I was supposed to leave, right at the end of March, I had been prepared by my COS conference but I spent an extra two or three weeks in South Africa most of it in the hospital with, with the glad and full heart that I was in the hospital. 00:29:00I didn't want, I was sick and I was glad that whatever could be done would be done and I didn't have to do anything. They were going to do it and I got progressively better but it was identified as a fairly significant raging maybe even pneumonia that there was differences between the time they got me in the hospital and x-rayed me and then, six hours later or eight hours later, it had advanced in some sort of significant way and Dr. Kilian said in some fairly simple terms if you hadn't gotten here, you probably weren't going to get here. So I did seem like, according to him, as I understood him, nearly die from that but far-, but one of these people I went to see when I was 00:30:00having my coughing fits and claimed I was about to die and was making such poetic, romantic stuff out of it, he said no, you weren't going to die and I, you know, bust my bubble and he says right before you are going to die and you are unconscious, the body systems relax and your throat would have opened and you would have breathed. So I wasn't going to die and I, I liked it better my way. But, but he told me I really wasn't going to die and so I guess I'm glad I remembered that so there's full disclosure in this but I finally, sometime in April, got to fly day and night. It's as long to get back as it is to get there. 00:31:00Just endless, endless, endless time in an airplane and I'd, I had some residual difficulties with, with my health and so--
WILSON: So you came straight back to Knoxville?
SILER: I came to Atlanta which one's choice is to go to Atlanta or NewYork and get yourself to Knoxville but it turned out none of these arrangements had been made until just before I was released to come so it could be whatever I wanted and it turned out my daughter was going to come from her northern California home with her husband to Florida on business at a conference at, in Orlando and my son lives in Tampa so I could come to Atlanta. I could go to Tampa and be with them. My son 00:32:00came to South Africa to see me but I hadn't seen my daughter or anybody I'd ever seen before for two and a half years almost and so that wasn't any question that I was going to Tampa. There was some question about whether Peace Corps was going to pay for it and the answer was no. We'll get you where you started from or where you had some right and reason to go but if you want to go to Tampa, that's your ticket and, and it was I guess but I could pay for it or my son could. My sons can pay and, and he, he's not playing the architect but he's getting paid for about anything else that I want and I'm, I'm deducting it from his inheritance. Anything I want, I buy and it's coming off of his side of it but I, I got to Tampa and these people, my family, my, my son, first 00:33:00born, now forty years old and daughter, now thirty-three and that's been a couple years ago so they were that much less and my son-in-law, Noah, Noah Levy, my, the guy who changed my daughter's name from Carrie Siler to Carrie Levy. Which took some getting used to for me but I, in the end, I'm glad that she became somebody's wife and they, they did it their way but I really did gain a son when my daughter got married. I heard that all my life. I sort of never really believed it but it turns out, he's a real winner but I met with them. I was there for a week. He came and so I got for a full week, she had extended her 00:34:00time beyond the conference period that she had to be in Orlando so that she could come back and be in Tampa with her father and brother and husband and so that was the first time and wonderful to see them and sort of I'm a basket case in lots of ways. Not only physically but psychologically. What I'd left and who I'd left and under the circumstances I left and by no stretch could any one of us whoever went and tried to do this could think the job is done. It's time to go. Try as I might to build some kind of organizational way by which 00:35:00what I did wasn't worth much. I never, it didn't happen. I, I was big in the, in what happened and the actions taken and knew, knew that's the way it was going to be regardless of how hard I tried to partner in every act I did and be convincing about why this is important. Do we agree this is important? And if we do, this might be how we chip at it. They did the best I knew how. Not just to do things which I know how to do and traditionally had done in order not to be bothered with all these people that kept the thing from getting done quickly and efficiently. Then, I didn't do it quickly. I didn't do it efficiently but I tried to do it in an organizational way, creatively. 00:36:00Difficult for me but creatively so that life went on without me but I got home and feeling physically sick, feeling like I had left under circumstances where I, I was less than successful about what I had done and done my best anyway and somehow trying to come to terms with that and then, I, I weighed from a normal kind of, done in kilos which was about eighty kilos that I weighed in South Africa which is about a hundred and seventy-five pounds or so. I weighed at my physical, COS physical in Dr. Myra's office before I put on my little paper gown, 00:37:00weighed so there wasn't anything but me that I was weighing. I weighed one fifty-six, pneumonia and all, ten pounds or close to it less than I weighed playing high school football. Never had I been that small except for one very difficult year at the University of Kentucky where I had gotten down in the, to a hundred and fifty-two as I recall and had to punch in another hole in my belt because my pants were falling off because architectural school was more than my equal. I was sinking no matter what I did so the one hundred and fifty-six, that's kind of memorable in that way not much more when my kids saw me which was close 00:38:00to fifteen pounds less than they had ever seen me and I didn't look well and I know I didn't and it had been months and I tried to run. I tried to get back. I'd even walk. I tried to find this marathoner that I was and I was training the whole second year I was in South Africa because I wanted to run the Two Oceans Marathon, thirty six miles, 59K. I had run marathons, Marine Corps marathon in Washington four times and I was, I knew what a marathon was and I was trying to get myself ready for and did work hard at it over the time I was there. Ran with my host brother who's the age of my son and is my, was my cultural and linguistic, language interpreter there. He could tell me what our 00:39:00father just did or said or what was happening in school. I could bring the facts to him of what had happened to school and he'd tell me why it blew it up or why it went that way but he and I ran for hours at a time and I, I was wanting, I thought I, I could run this Two Oceans Marathon and the romance of running it so you see the, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean somehow in that thirty-six miles. You can say that a whole lot easier than you can run that, hahaha, but I was trying to get ready for it and as a tune up in November, Henry and I went down to Soweto where his sister lives with the grandchildren whom I got to know and love and, and where the Indhuna and Manana owned a house and Soweto and we had visited when I was in training. We were just in on, 00:40:00on the ground in South Africa and, and had a kind of jet lag conference easy time and part of that was a bus tour of Soweto so I had seen it and then, during the two years, two or three times we, I had rented a car and we had come as a family to Soweto. Once the grandchildren, two girls, ten, eleven and, and a boy, Neo, younger, two or three years, six or eight, took me out to show me Soweto, their school, their neighborhood from living where they lived and it was for all the whirl, like leading a little dog on a leash for the way they were observed. In their world, here is this old white guy following these three kids 00:41:00in, and he is peculiar with a big P. And kindly treated but curiously observed all the way so I went back to Soweto in November before I was to COS in March with Henry and we ran the Soweto Marathon and I didn't, I had to walk to second half. I, I don't, I don't, something was wrong with my lungs for a year, something was going on and they were, there's something called age induced asthma or something when you're old, they've got a name. It's important to have a name for things and so that was the one they wanted to name it. It was a maybe and they couldn't, it didn't have the numbers where they were ready to name it, where Dr. Killian was ready to name it but there was something that 00:42:00happened to my lungs while I was gone and I recovered--
WILSON: Is that when you came back?
SILER: I recovered in the sense that I can walk and talk but I cannotrun like I used to run.
SILER: I don't have more even when I train and work at, more thanthirty minutes, I just don't want to do it. I can't do it and I used to, Henry and I used to run for four hours. We'd run twenty miles. We'd run so far away from the village, we'd be way, way out on the tar road as it's called, the paved road and people would see us. It was the main two lane high way. People in khombis, village, going to work, all people would see us and know us and I was, when I would go to Tzaneen, half the world knew me because they'd seen this crazy guy ten miles, twenty miles from Tzaneen. They didn't know that I lived 00:43:00ten miles from it in the first place so I didn't have to run the whole distance but they'd see me out running along the road with Henry, with this thirty-five year old thin South African who's running at my pace so that we can stay together, hahaha, and we're both going to go down and run this Two Oceans Marathon and preparing for it for a full year and me more than Henry because he had to go to work every morning so we'd only run on the weekends but he could not run at all and then, run with me at my pace but I thought I was ready but I knew that somehow I wasn't, wasn't the same. I was working as hard as I used to work, as I remember working to get in shape, to do these kinds of marathon things but I was not, I could run farther and farther but, but it never got 00:44:00easy. I never got fast but I could at least run for hours but somehow what happened here in, in this pneumonia business changed that and certainly those x-rays show there's some big old gaudy thing in there that's different. I've never gotten back to where I was health wise.
WILSON: So you came back, you're with your family in Florida. What gotyou back to Williamsburg?
SILER: Well, let me tell you one more thing about getting to Tampawith my children, all of them. Going out one beautiful balmy night in Tampa in this area of Tampa called Hyde Park, a historic district which now my son and his architect father are coping with the strictures of historic district Hyde Park, Tampa. We've been preparing the plans to 00:45:00alter his house and have to go through the filter of the organizations of Tampa. I've been working on that for months and months now but when I got back there in, in April of 2003 and I'm sick and here are these people I love in this house with me but my son and I go out for a walk as we've done a time or two before in Tampa because he'd bought this house with my advice, bought a house taking me down there to make me look at them and crawl under them and touch them and talk about them and how they could be otherwise so I'd been getting ready and he's been getting ready to claim his equity all these years but we walked and we could see in this beautiful world of Tampa, beautiful houses and much 00:46:00more open even than in here in Lexington because of the climate. Big windows and, and beautiful shapes, and, and artistically prepared. Things built long ago are lovingly altered now and people sit inside there playing the piano or talking, sitting on the couch talking to each other or eating or working at the computer. Lives, I would see as we walked and looked in these houses and they didn't--
[Tape one, side b ends; tape one side b begins.]
WILSON: Side two, tape three of the interview with Harry Siler, February9th, 2005. Harry, you were talking about walking with your son. 00:47:00
SILER: Yeah, I remember this vividly. Every time I go back, this, thisis vivid to me when I walk the streets of America, this is vivid to me. Those people in Tampa that I was observing as I walked around, they weren't afraid of me or afraid of anybody. There wasn't bars on their windows. There wasn't a big wall with razor wire on top of it around their property. There weren't dogs in the yards. They weren't afraid. I realized I have been in the presence of a world of people who have to deal with what's maybe coming my way. You can't have a big enough 00:48:00gun, you can't, there's no, you've got to somehow build a wall and like many South African writers tell you who's in prison and who's not, whether which side of the wall in fact is the prison because for damn sure you're in and you're locked. I, as a habit, not, habit's not--I got home, any time I was out in the village or coming from no matter where, I got home by dark. I was expected to get home by dark. Pretty much it was always why else? Tzaneen was not, I didn't need to go to 00:49:00a bar. I didn't go to a night club. There wasn't any place for me to be otherwise but on occasion, I would work so late or do something so late in Tzaneen that I didn't get home until after dark, maybe an hour after dark and dark in Africa with no mountains is bang. It fell off the edge and it got dark and you could look at your watch and know that it was coming but you couldn't tell otherwise. It was just bam! Got dark and so Manana would, would be all worked up. Pruga and Indhuna would be worried if I was not home in time and he as a ritual at dark or just before, he went out and locked his gate. Poor man, he couldn't have a wall and razor wire. I mean, the really high speed, poor man's 00:50:00wall is a masonry wall with broken glass in the top of it so you're speaking to whoever wants to come and then, the rich man's thing is razor wire on top of that and there's a Nadine Gordimer story about razor wire and a couple that gets their razor wire and gets themselves safe and then, gets their child, either half dead or whole dead out of it because he didn't know razor wire was razor wire and she knows full well both sides of wall can empathize with both sides and does and here I was in Tampa in, in my country, feeling my country and the contrast 00:51:00with where I've been, with people I know and care about have to live and what, what a magnificent, glorious gift us folks have been given by those people that came before us and kind of worked this organizational thing out so that we pay attention to each other in a way so that there aren't so many bad guys that pollute the system so that everybody have to have a wall because the system won't work. We got it somehow, someway so pretty much promised that you break into that guy's house, the equivalent of our bad guys will show up and if you, you think force 00:52:00is what you've got on your side, we've got some folks that know about force and in our behalf we use it. All that was just bubbling with every step, the contrast, what a--Whew! Here I am, I've been here my whole cotton picking life. I've walked these streets, my own streets, other streets, Lexington streets and never been concerned, never wasted my time and energy in protecting myself from my fellow Americans but certainly not true for South Africans, black or white. Doesn't make 00:53:00any difference how little you got, you live believing some guy wants it and will get it given any chance or no chance, he's going to get it. That sort of is notable. And I saw it before I even got home to Kentucky. But Jack, I am trying to answer your question. I did get home sooner or later. Bought a truck, a vehicle that I have out front now from my son sort of the third or fourth vehicle that I've bought from him over our time together. Two or three of them were defensive moves trying to buy them so I could get them out of my yard when he was a kid and, and this one I bought kind of because I didn't have a 00:54:00car. I'd given away my, my car, my Ford Probe to a lady friend who runs a hospice in Washington as her vehicle to use in whatever way she wanted because her pick-up truck was sort of the hospice's vehicle and so this was, this was doubling their range of and they have young people who work as whatever they're called, interns for, for a year or two. That was, has been given a bad press, hasn't it? She, they, that was--I didn't have a car. I was going home to Williamsburg and we, in Williamsburg, I live two hundred yards from downtown and downtown 00:55:00when I was growing up was town and there was life and stuff there and we've been as stupid as the rest of the world and we got a Wal-mart and it has choked the life out of my town and even while I was gone, our city folks, managers, people at the watch somehow let the downtown post office get closed and a new bigger and better one outside town get built and the only thing that we could have claimed as public property, the post office, that we can demand be as inefficient as it has to be and be where it needs to be and remodel it to death if you want to so 00:56:00it's as good a post office as it can possibly be but make it be in town on another block, new building, tear down anything you want to tear down but keep it in town. Now, we got people walking a mile on the highway to get to the post office or not going. It's the sort of thing that an architect weeps over because it doesn't make a damn how good a post office it is. It shouldn't have been where it is so to work hard at the wrong thing, whew, the day you don't want to ever arrive and it's happened to me a time or two and I'm on guard. I am on guard but I got back and I knew I was coming to that world. I'd seen this post office before I left or it was under construction. I knew it was going to be there. I needed a car so I bought what is going to be the 00:57:00last car I ever buy from my son and it got me home fine and it, the week or two or three weeks later, it or certainly, a year and a half later, it's needed three, four thousand dollars and now, it's a heck of a good thing that I've got so much money in it, it's worth so much more than I can get out of it, we're, we're bonded and I hope I can remember that when the time comes. But I, I got home and there were three people in Williamsburg, two of them live in Williamsburg, Bob and Sue Bird. He's a high school friend of mine, teammate on the football team and his wonderful wife Sue and he's the CPA. He's the tax guy who for years took care of my mother's taxes and over time, when I became 00:58:00the manager of her affairs, I worked with him on her taxes and then, after her death, I worked with him as it related to her stuff and then, certainly, when I came to Williamsburg, it, he became my CPA. I have a sister, Janice, some five years younger than me who is special in, in some ways, and she and I have never really been able to be close or friends but we remain relatives no matter what and my mother, in her wisdom, at the time of her death had, had arranged with my aunt Helen 00:59:00whom I spoke of, my mother's youngest sister, that Harry and Helen would be the executors of mom's estate and they would be the trustees of my sister's trust of her half of, of the inheritance my sister and I received from, from my mother's estate which in turn had, in some measure, been generated by my mother and father in their time together and he died when I was eighteen so a very, very long time ago my mom received whatever my father left to her and, and had maintained in large measure, not added to it substantially perhaps but had certainly maintained it even with a teenage boy and a teenage girl as her total 01:00:00responsibility all at once. So I, in Washington for twenty-five years, thirty years, I could come to Kentucky once or twice a year to see my mother up until her death in 1990 and usually come and be in her world and rarely go out to the Wal-mart or anywhere else. I came to see my mom. People knew I grew up in the town. They might see me somewhere. They knew of me but they didn't know me. I'd been gone forever and emotionally, intellectually, all kinds of, professionally. I was not of Williamsburg anymore except I'm a hillbilly and I am too. So I came back to live in this place and I came back to live in the house that I moved into when I was ten years old. My dad and I came like 01:01:00on a Thursday night, moved their bed, my mom and dad's bed, slept in this house that they bought on the Cumberland River as we moved from Green St. to this house they bought, wanted. Stories are told about my mom buying this house at auction that people in town who also wanted it, another lawyer. My dad was a lawyer. Another lawyer recognized, wanted that house but he saw my mom wanted the house too and she was going to by God buy it, it looked like. And all he was doing was make her pay more so he quit buying, quit bidding and so that's home. This house but here comes the Corps of Engineers and their wisdom and the city had been flooded on occasion. Our house had never been flooded 01:02:00but plenty of times, we'd walk out through the side yard to get to town because the street, the water was in the street in the front and certainly the river was licking at the house from behind and maybe even the basement was wet. It sure leaked like crazy when the water table got up above it's floor but there never was any more than sort of a cellar with a few windows but I had to move that house because the Corps of Engineers was going to tear it down because it was in the way of this dike, this flood wall or, or thing they were going to build smack of the middle. No kind of zigzag around it. And we had four acres, four, four acres and almost in town. Two hundred yards from the court house and, and my dad's office, mom and dad's office on Court 01:03:00House Square and my dad's the richest man I ever knew. He went to work in the morning and he came home for lunch and he took a nap right there for the world to see on the couch in this little sunroom looking out at this river for a half and hour or so and then, he went back to work. Not before or since have I ever seen or heard tell of such a rich man. He was, my dad was born on a small farm on Coal Stone Branch in Whitely County, Kentucky and went to a one room school through eight grades, was recognized by that teacher as being a special, specially able person, good at it. Good at the school business and, but that was 01:04:00the end of it. I mean, he worked a little bit in the mine for a dollar a day but that was it or in Cumberland, in Williamsburg, my hometown, he, he knew he could walk across the mountain and get to Williamsburg and he did and he went to what was called a boarding school named Williamsburg Institute. Went to high school, went on to Berea College, played baseball there. Went to Gatliff, Kentucky, a coal mining area, town, coal town. The coal company built the houses. The coal company gave you the toilet paper if you had any but you buy it at the company store. That place, he went as the school teacher and being a man and I think there were other teachers either immediately or pretty soon 01:05:00after he became the principal and my mother's father came to Gatliff as the electrical engineer by some sort of magic making electricity that operated this whole town and mines and my mother came one time, she was working in Kingsport where they had been already--this was 1923, they were married so my mom was already twenty-three years old. She came to visit her parents. My dad was a school teacher here. They met and got married and, and before long had my brother Gorman who's been hugely influential in my life even, and mostly probably because he died when I was five years old in the Second World War and in some measure has made 01:06:00me protect myself so that I didn't get killed and cause my parents to grieve in the way they did because of him but my dad, when Gorman was a year old or so, went off to Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee and became a lawyer and came back and practiced law for the rest of his life in what is now my home town. Well, this house which is I think what I started to talk about in the first place, I had to move to keep it from being destroyed and, and the Corps of Engineers, I'm sure, and the city planners, mayors and council people and whomever observed the Corps of Engineers or directed them, mistakenly left me enough land 01:07:00of the four acres that I could move the house onto it and meet all the set back requirements that the city had in place, much to everybody's surprise I know. The house weighs a hundred and twenty or a hundred and forty tons. Didn't look like it would move but it did and it's too close to the street. It doesn't do, it doesn't look at the river because they're a wall they've got built there, a dike but that's home and I knew I was coming home to it and I knew I had worked hard to get it ready to be livable by somebody while I was gone and I knew three people, at least two people, Bob and Sue Bird, would do for me whatever needed to be done so that my sister and whatever she might need would be provided for. They would take care of it and another friend named 01:08:00Margaret Morgan who I knew from my high school days, her high schools day, my older man days as I coped with who she was and how pretty she was and how much I liked her but how much older I was and so on and we sort of went our separate ways while I was coping with that question. Forty years later, she's back in what was not her home town but where she lived when I met her. Well, she graduated high school there but was only in this town a year. She was back taking care of her mother who needed help at ninety years or so and had strokes a plenty. And so those three people-- Margaret became my construction manager and got my house completed because I sure didn't get it completed when I 01:09:00left. I had worked on it eight months or so between the time I came back to Williamsburg and the Peace Corps provided for me and I knew I was coming back to it to finish what I hadn't done and with the full intention that I will work on it the rest of my life whether it needs work or not. Most recently, I needed a new roof. I remember loaning mom or giving mom the money ages ago to put a new roof on it but it had no roof overhang like a lot of simple colonial boxes and the water ran down the walls of the house and that's not good and so I put in overhangs and I, before I put a roof on it so I worked at designing the over hangs and then, if we're going to do that, well, maybe it needs a dorm or two so that that attic space which is inaccessible except by pull-down stairs, could have a little light and then, the more I 01:10:00worked on it and the more I discovered about this carpenter named John Anderson and how capable he was, I made it into the third floor of the house and so I have this huge four bedroom colonial house generous in every way you turn that I've added a floor to. But Margaret saw to the completion of this house into--
SILER: Jack, I wanted to just revisit just a minute this business withthese three people, Bob and Sue Bird and Margaret Morgan. Margaret, my agent and construction manager who got my house, took over the responsibility of my house and cared for it while I was away. Finished it for my three months of training when I wasn't here to finish it 01:11:00and my friends Bob and Sue Bird who manage my business affairs and they're, they're very, very modest but we're friends and, and prepared to do whatever needed to be done for my sister that my mother has left me in charge of. I am assistant mother to my sister and now, thank God there wasn't much required beyond what they do anyway because they're her friend too but there was a permission giving feeling from my understanding of the arrangements that I had with these three people. They let me leave. You want to know why, how do you say it? I was gone. I was going to be gone out of the reach. It could have all burned down and I couldn't have affected it but I would, it was 01:12:00an emergency for me to leave. I needed, because I was sixty plus. I didn't want to die. I didn't know when and had been unhappy in particular identifiable ways, name-able ways for a long time. I needed to go and go I did and I was permitted to go by these three good people and I will be eternally thankful. Now, that said, I got myself back. I lived through this. I got back and these three people are still very important people to me and I know what I owe them and maybe, just to digress from that digression, my friend Bob Bird should have been an engineer. He loves to build things and somebody told him once he 01:13:00wasn't good in math and he then became an accountant and I don't know if they explained that to him very well. But I, I, he, he was building before I left a concrete dome, a shell and he studied how and he went down to Texas where they build them and I'm going to talk too long about this too. I can feel it already but Bob, but down there, they have a balloon, a big old form. You blow this form up and you squirt some concrete on it and then you deflate the balloon and there's your dome. Bob went down there and in his wisdom just says I see what you're doing but I'm going to go home and I'm going to do it a better, easier way and his way, I won't go into the details of it but we're in about the fourth or fifth year right now working on this dome which was 01:14:00by the way supposed to be low cost housing and one of the advisors, co- workers with Bob came to see us one time when we were all working there. I'm the carpenter, architect, friend but mostly, the, the carpenter nowadays and not of the dome. I'm not the architect of the dome. Please, I want that clear. I, this friend came in and looked around and looked at the effort and you can't, every piece of wood you cut, you've got to fit both ends and cut it to the length and then, it's too short so it's awful. Really just awful and dear Bob, wanted to provide low cost housing, good housing for the people of Southeastern Kentucky, for the people of Whitely County. His heart is big. You can see it 01:15:00beat but his, his heart about beat us to death trying to do this, this dome and I've worked for him pretty much, when I've worked, I've worked for him since I've been back as carpenter, as architect. I think I've been part, whether in full, I don't know but in part, paid him back some. And with Margaret and her mother, her mother had, her mother owned the house, owns a house in Williamsburg and had to be removed to a assisted living home in Knoxville and Margaret lives in Knoxville and comes and goes and there's always been sort of distressed by the two houses that she's had to manage for a long time so I've been helpful 01:16:00to her by being the on site person in Williamsburg with her mother's house in getting, helping getting it painted and gutters and whatever else I've done and then, coming and going to Knoxville and whatever ways I did to assist her over there too and so I, I've been conscious of debt. Paid or not, I don't plan to quit working for these people so it doesn't matter much as long as, I don't think they're counting at all but they let me go to, to the Peace Corps and I am changed because I went in huge ways and I've been back, was told I was going to have a hard time adjusting to the United States and it's the simple truth but I came back to a physical circumstance, a nest, a shelter that I could go inside of and not have to deal with people which was generally 01:17:00my inclining. By my tendency, I wanted to not deal with people and I had an easy to, my dream came true. I could just stay home and people wouldn't even know I was back or what. A lot of people didn't and I didn't go to church. I didn't get out. I didn't do anything for months and months and months, more than a year. I would go up and work with Bob at the dome or on the thing by myself. I, I was a recovering architect in that we really didn't have a, a plan for what to do when the dome was a dome. There was just in this big hollow spot inside it and when I sort of saw the intersections of what he was going to 01:18:00build, ill received is the best word for it. I, I, I hope in kind and gentle ways, the fact that this dome is here is special and, and the way you intend to do the inside, that's going get hidden, never going to be known and appreciated if you do what these marks on the floor imply. You're not going to see it even. You're going to have to go around whatever it is you built in my face, your face, anybody's face to get behind what you built to find out why it's round or what it looks like on the underside so I preceded over a few weeks to develop what I called phase one, two, phase one which has the, you could do 01:19:00this, you could do that and talk, force them to talk with me about it until we, we are now way down the road, looks like what it's going to look like. You can see what it's going to look like but it isn't done and I was stuck with some plumbing and electrical things that they'd run through the floor that I didn't have a starting place that was free of constriction but we've made I think a really good place and we got people coming to see it all the time when we're working and they don't know who's who in this place except Bob's known. The rest of us are just some hired help he's got and little do they know, we're, at least, me, are maybe hired without getting paid. And Bob said, one woman 01:20:00said oh, this is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Will you build one for me? And Bob looked at her and said how old are you? We, we have a great time talking because we all know we're crazy and, and since we acknowledge that, there's not a lot of trouble in and among ourselves, with each other but I'm back in that world and then, a year and a half back from the Peace Corps which would have made from October, maybe, October 2004, I, I started, I came to realize I'm, there's some sort of lid off of me, some pressure either self imposed or, or whatever, I'm, I'm coming out. I'm coming alive. I'm, I'm not hiding. I'm 01:21:00not using time and energy to avoid and I'd gone to EKU's campus at Corbin to take a course in Appalachian Literature. I've known for a while that I'm from Southeastern Kentucky and when I was growing up, we didn't have any Appalachian. We just had us hill folks but somehow I've learned that that's a synonym of the sort and we're trying now to say we're Appalachians and it's hard of us old folks to pronounce that word even but a wonderful author, teacher named Silas House, several books I had not, didn't know the man's name but I saw in the newspaper a little notice that he's, the newspaper posted in my county library, I saw something on the desk there that this guy that I didn't 01:22:00know, famous though because he wrote a book, a well received book is going to teach this course and so I proceeded to become a student again which I've been many times since I was at UK. My architectural education at UK left me uneducated. I knew, knew at the time and I'd been going to school one way or another for a long time, intensely but immediately after UK but other times too. I took this course and I thoroughly enjoyed it but more than that, I found me, ha. I found kind of who and why and a lot of other people I recognized the who and the why and I began to understand the coal mining and the history and the outside owners and land owners being beat with a pencil and looks 01:23:00like probably had the people owned the land also owned mineral rights under it, this would be downtown Saudi Arabia. Eastern Kentucky would be--And the reason it's not is what folks write about and talk about and live with still and I'm learning that. I'm sorry, ashamed to say in fact, I didn't pay any attention really to that till I got to be sixty and I'm finding out of this hillbilly heritage and this release of pressure, whatever it is, this sort of manic need to talk, to write. 01:24:00I didn't, I haven't said much about my writing but I, I only lettered when I went Africa. I had been an architect for an awful long time and only did this sort of capital block lettering that architects do so that any number of people can work on a set of drawings and they all look like a single hand, a single set of things. That's what I'd done forever so taking notes or anything was laborious for me. I mean, it was a very slow, painful process but I quit cursive writing when I was at UK and I became an architect some how. Nobody asked me to do that but I did that but in Africa, my children had been saying dad, learn to email. Would you please learn to email and I bought computers for them when they first came out and they, they were savvy 01:25:00computer people and I was a computer owner but not a user and so when I got to Africa, I began to write, send letters home friends and family, dear friends and family and they, I had a platform being in Africa that somehow raised me and loosened my tongue. I knew they couldn't see what I saw so I could lie or be wrong and nobody would ever know and so I wrote several pages, lettered several pages and then, after dear friends and family, one, two, three, instead of architectural lettering, it started to be cursive writing and very awkward because it was resurrected from forty years ago and then got the flow a little bit not and I even had one of my neighbors tell me it's a beautiful hand. My God, and then, I started to type. I started, when I'd go to Pretoria, I would sit at these email cafe, they're called. I would go 01:26:00to one and I would type for the hours it took for me to write my one or two page letter and then, I would lose it. It wouldn't mail. I would go through all the kinds of things that you people wise in the ways of word processing and Internet and so it, you know, it'd say it crashed and when it crashed, it took hours of my time and Steven would say don't you save it? Don't you, why don't you write it in Word and then, paste it? I don't know what the hell he's talking about and, but in time, that, that progression of letters got to be forty letters long, typed from twenty something on, emailed on. Emailed to Margaret Morgan 01:27:00who then, distributed, copied and distributed to friends and family in Williamsburg. Lord knows how many people read these but they, they talk of them and they're me talking of not only what I see there but who I was here, what's, who I am and how I got to be--
WILSON: So are you saying that the African Peace Corps experiencesomehow in, in that different cultural setting, released some interest or desire or something that allowed you to come back and dig into it about yourself in a way that you never done before?
SILER: Yes. How's that for short? But I think it's less--01:28:00
WILSON: Or was the African experience really not--
SILER: No, no, no--
WILSON: The issue?
SILER: It's all, it's all of a sort of wonderfully interwoven piece thatwon't let you point to any part of it. What, what you heard over these several preceding hours is why I needed to go, I felt--Where I was going, I didn't exactly know with any exactness. I now know but when I got there, what I was doing, who I was doing it with was so powerfully important to me at some human level that I treasure it--Simply but 01:29:00the fact that I had reason to write at all because I had family, I couldn't help but talk about what I'm wading through everyday and I, I felt some, if not pulpit and that's not the word but platform, I was, I was somewhere where I wasn't ever, had never been so I felt like it's okay to talk. I, if the expert is from out of town, I was damn sure out of town. I was talking to people and they didn't know what I was seeing and it was, it behooved me at some level to try to tell and 01:30:00they, when they would write to me would, would, would talk about we'll never see what you see. I knew that was true so as some kind of travel log aspect to it and once I got a little bit easier with the lettering so to do so wasn't pulling teeth. Lettering a page or two letter is a, you don't want to do it much and, and then, cursive writing less so and the Peace Corps demanded, Portia Williams, the Associate Director, demanded that we have a journal--And that was a new experience for me. 01:31:00I, I, this whole idea of writing down, leaving any kind of mark of who I was and what I believed had frightened me. I hid from that but I started not to hide in this Peace Corps experience. Not to hide from myself, not to hide from people that could see signs of me because I, I left marks. I wrote things down. I said things right or wrong; I was saying them. I got to like doing that. There's a writer named Annie Lamont who, who I have a tape of a workshop, a writers workshop and I hear the question come about, question comes that she doesn't know what to do about that question and she says I don't know about that. 01:32:00I'd like to write about it and see what I think about it. That was so backwards. I always thought you knew what you knew and you wrote it down. The idea that writing was some sort of way to learn what's inside you because you give it a chance to get down there in a way that you can see you or at least, say as me, I don't know, that was a startling thing that I remember still and I found it to be true. I even wrote a letter to, I had a fifth grade class in Williamsburg that, that I'd met with before I left whose teacher was my corresponding academic person in the, in the U.S. and, and those kids in that fifth grade class were part of my friends and family and I wrote two or 01:33:00three letters to them directly but mostly, I just included them but I wrote one letter that was aimed at them and went then to other friends and family and it had to do with advocating them starting to write. Write in a way so that you can see you and then, in time, when you're trusting your teacher, you can go back in forth between her, share your writing or not or find a friend that can, some, some way so that what's coming out of you, you're not worried that somebody's going to laugh at it or ridicule it or that somehow it's safe. Well, I went through that. I thought it was a terrific-- 01:34:00
[Tape one, side b ends; tape two, side a begins.]
WILSON: Tape four of interview with Harry Siler, Peace Corps Oral HistoryProject, February 9th, 2005. We were talking about writing Harry.
SILER: Well, I wrote this letter to friends and family aimedspecifically at the fifth graders at Williamsburg city school and it sort of summed up my learning about this sort of stuff, this writing business in a way and what it had come to mean to me in the small time period of my Peace Corps experience, this evolving writer, And I sent it to the Courier-Journal through their webpage thing and began two 01:35:00or three back and forth exchange with an editor whose name I don't remember right now but the short, he said, it's a really nice letter. He implied that given other opportunities I'd have something to do with the subject matter and me and publishing it but they don't take unsolicited stuff and this certainly was. This was me pushing.
WILSON: Even on the opinion page?
SILER: I don't know where, I didn't know about page one or two--
WILSON: Oh, okay.
SILER: So that, it was the end. I accepted it, okay. This was justme saying maybe this is important, maybe this is semi-universal, what 01:36:00I'm going through and, and the wisdom of advocating to young people learning all that they're learning, maybe it's this tool of writing of using the mirror, the scope or whatever writing kind of can be to say something where they might take a peep, see what--
WILSON: But you actually sent it to the school as well?
SILER: Oh, it went out to my friends and family--
WILSON: Oh, I see, okay,
SILER: But, but I was, it was my, I suppose my first rejection. Butthese, that was somewhere back letter number twenty-five or thirty and 01:37:00there got to be forty of them or more and they could be typed eight, ten, twelve pages long. I mean, I just run off at the mouth as you might, I mean, my fingers move a whole lot more slowly but I somehow am enjoying what's happening whether anybody else does or not and that's increasingly true even now. I'm, this second semester, I was so happy with Appalachian Literature, I took another course, am taking another course in American Literature, one at Eastern's campus at Corbin again and I'm sure I've had, some were not, I didn't take a literature class 01:38:00in college but I knew about Ben Franklin. I've heard the name but man alive, who he is and how happy I am to meet him and Ann Bradstreet, one of the very first New England Puritan authors and poets and a woman who loved her husband. Two or three poems that, that are as current as right now and I, my response paper as this instructor whose name is John Morgan requires, you're supposed to read whatever the two or three authors that are assigned to read and then, write some sort of response paper to your reading and mine was entitled the lucky husband of Ann Bradstreet. And I wouldn't, wouldn't have been willing two years 01:39:00ago, certainly, maybe, I don't know when I would have been willing to be identified with such a sentiment as I genuinely feel and probably always have about how to be loved is kind of really special and she's writing this poem, these poems to say--they're letters. You're gone, you're off doing something, you're working, but get home and soon and why that would be such a good idea for him and her. I, it's just great and so I'm taking another course at Cumberland as though one more college level course is not enough, taking a writing course and they didn't have nonfiction which is what I would have preferred. Have three courses that cycle: nonfiction, fiction and poetry. This is 01:40:00poetry. Though here I am taking a poetry course, great instructor and I'm, I'm writing, I watch the Super Bowl and sit up half the night and write a letter to Andy Reed, write a poem to and about Andy Reed and the articles I read about this good family man, good football coach and I send it to the Philadelphia Enquirer, a poem! I am a manic and loose and, and I've told my poetry instructor in writing that she has mid-wifed a monster. And you're hearing him right now. I can't seem to, nor do I want to get a lid on this erupting, raging joy as I call 01:41:00it. I feel good about me, about it, not about the world. I am not too happy with, I'm not, I'm stressed and distressed. I find it incredibly, I would find it horrible, I don't know what the term would be--
WILSON: So, so how, how has the Peace Corps experience affected yourview of the rest of the world if at all?
SILER: Well, somewhere between the reality of what the world is actuallyis and what I perceived it to be, wanted it to be, somewhere along 01:42:00in there, I'm becoming educated but I believed, still do in this country's simple goodness and mission and intent and I could go as a Peace Corps volunteer, as an extension of America to, to be honored by the association that people saw. You're an American. Induna, my host father introduced me time after time in public situations in speaking manner as a Peace Corps from America. I don't think he ever changed 01:43:00and I never corrected him. I liked his way better than mine. But to be an American, to have it handed to me by people's actions that I am American, I had not been an American ever in any sense of what I'd done. I was surrounded by them. There wasn't any distinctiveness that I ever personally felt. I was going to, through South Africa as an American, as an extension of my country's view of the world and it was mine too and I, I was going to go and be assigned to help and it's something that I like to do and I think I did and want to keep on being who I am. I want my country to get back to being who, who it 01:44:00started out trying to be. I will be if, if going to the Peace Corps was three years later or I had had the misfortune to wait three years or four to start this Peace Corps process, if I would have waited till I was sixty-five which I am now, I don't think I could go somewhere and be who I want America to be. I am somehow, that peace aspect, the agent kneeling down on, in the dirt doing something with somebody is complicated hugely by all the other things my country is doing 01:45:00somewhere else, un-peaceful things so I was lucky as I continue to be. My world view still, still won't let that guy said, I want this country to rise up and live out it's creed and I'm willing to say that in a way that I never was before and I don't think I've been given credentials because I've been to South Africa, I used to be in the Peace Corps. I think I now have shucked off some of the stuff that keep me from being able to be who I was. I needed to do this, felt 01:46:00I did, believed it so fervently that until I did it, I was, I should just shut up and stay in the closet. I'm apparently coming out of the closet and because the Peace Corps is saying in Feb-, in March, it's Peace Corps week, you folks go out there and talk. Go do the third thing. Go out there and tell where you were and tell about the people you were with and talk about the first goal and what you did, talk about the second goal, how you took America, and I've spoken to the 01:47:00Sons of the American Revolution. I didn't even know we had, had, I know we had a revolution, I didn't know the son's were part of it but they are and they include my high school football coach and a friend, one of my classmates from high school and a friend of my brother's. They asked me to come talk or at least, the, the football coach and the friend of my brother's asked me to come talk to this group and I said okay and it was my first time except long ago, I went to talk at the church to a group and I didn't, I guess a couple of times I talked but always reluctantly. This time I went not so reluctantly. It's just been a couple weeks and I said I can't start talking about my Peace Corps experience without telling you who I am and they, you 01:48:00know, they knew who I am. They know where I was born. They could see I was going to be born. I mean, these are older people generally and they knew of my brother. In fact, this guy who introduced me made a reference to my brother which was what I intended to say that my brother, 1942 graduate of Williamsburg high school. January 1943, joined the Army Air Corps and October 1944 was dead. Those facts, those American facts have influenced me hugely and they made me go to South Africa and because I didn't go with the Marine Corps and all, all that but I find my Peace Corps experience and my sixty-five years have 01:49:00all kind of woven themselves together till as, as one of our speakers in South Africa who was an official with the Department of Education. He says I'm a former teacher and I can talk till the sun comes down, I can even though I, I didn't and I used to avoid it. I'm freed up and somehow I'm, I apologize to people who read, hear this tape and, and realize or who start, that they've got to pack a lunch because it goes on and on and on and you too sir. You may have wanted to do something else these several days that we've been at this but I'm, I couldn't be happier. I couldn't be doing anything more to the point with my 01:50:00life at the moment which by itself has got to make you happy. And I can find some missing parts, some voids some, some, some weighing of whether it's better to live alone and be able to walk around in the house in my underwear and talk out loud to myself any time or have somebody around there that affects that and influences that in some fashion. Knows about it but says would you do it in the basement or in the new attic or-- I'm working here, I don't, I don't want to hear you work and so I make speeches. I, I do something that will startle-- Wendell Berry you know of?
WILSON: Oh, I know Wendell.01:51:00
WILSON: Yeah, yeah.
SILER: Well, I got introduced to him by this wonderful lady who runs thehospice in Washington and that I guess I used to be engaged to would be the clarifying definition. She says Wendell Berry, you know him? And gave me a book, whatever it was, some one of the early novels. Holy cow and then the poetry and then the essays and now this business of farming and home and community and scale and small land based life. What a wise, wise man that is and I've gone two or three times to hear him read or talk and see the wall to wall people. When it's him, 01:52:00you can't get in the room and there was a conference in Bardstown or somewhere. I hardly know where Bardstown is but somewhere there's a Lincoln boyhood home kind of thing. There was the Kentucky Land Owner's Association, whatever it is, something like that, people who own woodlands, woodlands. They were having a conference and the timber people were having a conference and the chainsaw people and on and on and on and put on by the wonderful, by the father of our wonderful friend Tara Loyd--
SILER: Tara, at the conference where you, where you were elevated tothe throne when I made my little presentation as the new guy back 01:53:00in town from South Africa, she and a young woman from Berea, Tara having been in Lesotho came immediately, jumped in my face and said it's the first time I felt like I was back or that I knew what you're talking about. It's close enough that we, and she's daughter like enough that I like her a lot and we've talked a little and emailed a little and I learned she made just some casual reference in one of her blanket emails to her father's conference in Bardstown pulling all these various interests groups together for a day long conference on woodlands. Well, my daughter was going to be in town bringing 01:54:00her husband will have arrived the day before in the wee hours the day before that but my son-in-law is a person who works for an organization called Sanctuary Forest in California part of gathering more and more red wood forest, old growth red wood forest together and the bigger and bigger and bigger thing until the feel of the forest is there because you don't hear the traffic. It's a big enough hunk and it's the same kind of thing that Tara works for here, the Bluegrass Conservancy so people can donate their land for that sort of don't cut it down kind of donation. Continue to own it and camp in it or I don't know what, what that means exactly but that's what Noah does. He works and he 01:55:00was arriving the night before bleary eyed from flying all night or whatever and I brought to my daughter Carrie and Noah's attention that there will be this thing Tara says down there which is a drive from Lexington and I could pick them up and we could go and we could beside hearing what we hear, which is Noah's business that I thought he would enjoy or appreciate or was willing to bring to his attention, Wendell Berry is going to be there. Well, they know Wendell Berry and I don't think because I introduced him but it maybe and, and their baby had been born. Isaiah had been born. My grandchild had been born, first and only, and so somehow, they jump at the chance to go to be there 01:56:00and Wendell Berry was indeed there and met us and I shook hands for the second time. I went or came to Lexington one time to hear him read and he signed his books later, you know, at one of those table things and I didn't, I had his book already, and I didn't think to bring my own copy to get him to sign it but I, I walked up to him and said may I shake your hand sir? And meant that in every way it sounds like I meant it and do. Of course, he doesn't know me from Adam but I know him and I'm delighted that Kentucky did something so right and that he has become the Kentuckian he is. Insightful in the way that he is. Seeing it 01:57:00the way he does so we went to this conference and got this little baby there and I took pictures all over the place and intend to send them and then, I'd appreciate it if you know Wendell Berry's actual mailing address or could get it for me, I can say Port Royal, Henry County and that's the best but I suspect there's a box number if you knew it but that'll get there sooner or later and I'll send these pictures and I'll send him a cover letter with a sort of first writing of a very naive ambition on my part that I feel obligated the mention to him because he's going to be featured in it and it has to do with, I'll at least say, some sort of recognition that he contrasted to me. We're about 01:58:00the same age but he went to UK and he went off a little bit after that and got whatever he got and he came back and he has cultivated the ground that he, literally came from, come to know it and appreciate it and sing about it so beautifully that we are, lots of folks are listening and then, talk about what that means, could mean. Why his opportunity need not be exclusively his. There's an article in The New York Times this morning about, I can't pronounce the man's name but he's a, he's from Iowa and he's talking about the Iowa is a big, what 01:59:00do you call it? Agriculture factory, factory agriculture but the, you know, the big thing, no farmers but that it's taken over Iowa--
SILER: Agribusiness, that what it's done preceded Wal-mart, althoughI they feel like they're married and they're in it together. Feels like. The way it's killing in a wider and wider and wider circle. This man, if he'd said, I mean, it was Wendell Berry talking and I wanted, I wanted to write him and say if you don't know Wendell Berry, you should because he's, he recognizes this and he's got an answer for it. I'm sure this man knows that. He certainly knows Wendell Berry but he didn't mention him and I sent this to my son and my son-in-law 02:00:00and, and a man named Dave Colby, a sort of a wonderful friend and kind of architectural partner of mine doing wonderful projects in, in Washington after we left our employment and we became sort of, when the time was right, partners and we did, we did projects where Dave would be the, the architect of record for the Park Service and we would do a project at Lyndon Johnson's grandfather's home in Texas because Lynden had acquired his property and he wanted the folks that came to Johnson City to have one more thing to do and understand him, understand Lyndon a little better so we'd go down and this wonderful thing. We would do exhibit design and whatever architectural stuff was necessary. We did 02:01:00that on the El Pas-, El Chaparral, I believe it's called on the, what's the Texas, Mexico--
WILSON: Rio Grande.
SILER: Rio Grande River--
WILSON: I think you talked about that before actually.
SILER: Did I? Well and if I didn't say this, I want to say it just incase I didn't. One of those jobs that came my way and I immediately hired David. It doesn't make any difference who, who it was. We were in it together--was at Gettysburg--
SILER: Did I talk about that? Do you remember?
SILER: Okay, well, it's one of the, if I was going to buried, I'd wantthat on the tombstone. I'm not going to be buried. I've asked my son to burn me up and scatter me over the Cumberland River somewhere around my house but I would kind of want a tombstone, the only tombstone 02:02:00thing I got that I know of is that I did, I had the same job, same job description as Mr. Lincoln. I was supposed to help folks know where they were and what happened here. Mine was physical. His was this sort of thing that says I read now and people say I think Stanton said. Stanton called in some guy in the war department office and asked if, if he had seen the speeches by Mr. Lincoln at Gettysburg and the other man who talked for two hours. Remember the principle, well, you know the story of who that person was. Edward Everett. Have you seen these two speeches? And I said no, and he says well, Mr. Everett's is 02:03:00beautifully reasoned. It flows. It is what it is but Mr. Lincoln's as long as the language is spoken-- so Mr. Lincoln as a Kentuckian however we let him get away but it was a good thing for us all. And Wendell Berry. There are others but I can't think of them right now. They belong in that list so I'm, I'm happy enough with my, my ground. My Kentucky ground and I'm learning more all the time about this, this Appalachian world that I live in, this hillbilly aspect and I came 02:04:00to Lexington not knowing I was hillbilly in 19- whenever, '60, '57, I came to play football and went home back to Williamsburg and Cumberland for a lot of good reasons but I had my hillbilly pedigree handed to me pretty strongly and harshly by the people of Lexington and the people of the University of Kentucky and I've come full circle back with it tattooed on my forehead and willing to be identified immediately and have people come to know they may not know all that that means and one of those things though that seems to be true for us hillbillies is what a writer, I'm sorry, I can't remember her name but she says our way 02:05:00of talking comes pretty much probably from, from our land, from these mountains that we've, because if you want to go from here to there, you can't go directly from here to there and, and in the same way when we talk. It's not, you can't think about going from here to there. You don't think about it. It's impossible and for us, when we talk, even though it might not be impossible to go from here to there, we don't want to and we don't and I'm hoping, in time, to learn to take advantage of what comes out of my mouth that's innate because of who I am and where I'm from because I learned or I get hints from what I say 02:06:00about what I want to say.
WILSON: And it's somehow or other--
SILER: Maybe the rest of you all will do that too.
WILSON: Peace Corps was a part of releasing that?
SILER: Sure was a part. Yes sir. I'm proud and any circumstance, anyplace to have been a Peace Corps volunteer and, and to have been all these hyphenated things that, that I've learned and love, learn more about and love, a hillbilly Peace Corps volunteer, an old hillbilly Peace Corps volunteer, a single old Peace Corps volunteer. All of those things, all of those namings somewhere in my Peace Corps service 02:07:00and somewhere in my life right now, bubble, have smoke coming off of them in some way that I like, carry with me in my backpack. I've recently seen, I didn't, there aren't many photographs of me in South Africa. Occasionally I'd do something where they ask Manana or Henry to take my picture. One of them is with this enormous backpack that I bought in Pretoria so I could haul books from the flea markets of Pretoria back to my village and then take them around to my schools and then, I have another little backpack that I used daily for what I needed to do but I have this picture of me where I've got this giant 02:08:00backpack on and I've got a lean forward just a little bit otherwise, I've got to balance my load on my legs and then, I've got this other backpack hanging from my front and it's the bookmobile on it's way from my sorting room which I have pictures of my bedroom and books all over the bed as I try to put the right number of books in the right classrooms and then, sort them by appropriateness for that class and appropriateness to the school itself. How many fourth grades are there there and so that, it's a bookmobile.
WILSON: Have you, that makes me think of I guess, it's out of sequence02:09:00but the, sort of the last question that I've got for you is have you maintained contact--?
SILER: Indeed and one of the, I have indeed. I have a special kind ofinternet, international calling systems so that I can talk. I don't do it nearly enough and I send modest little presents and stuff and I call not often enough. Pretty much like a kid who left home but I received wonderful things in the mail that have been sent that half this months pension costs to mail it. Just the difference between equals is hard sometimes and I send books, hundreds of dollars of postage books, book 02:10:00bags of books to this one school that I continue to work with and have an on-going connection with. Call the principal. The principal's working on her master's degree and I was encouraging to her before hand and I'm encouraging her now because she's in the most bureaucratic heartbreaking kind of circumstance but she was special with trying to work out this exchange between the white school in town and the black schools in my village. Managing change, she calls but so I talk and talk at length and God knows I have enough money to pay my phone bill and pay the postage, and I save so much money by living in Kentucky, send books. The library, the Whitely County Library, collects, oh, 02:11:00the children's books that, books that get put out of service, they keep for me. I prefer used and dirty books because I know the folks on the other end have this tendency, if it's nice to keep it nice by keeping it from being used so if I can get some pre-read book that looks like it would be free to be read again and again, that's better but, but I do that not enough, not enough but I do. And it's heartbreaking to have a book bag come ten thousand miles back because yours truly put the post office box number 590 and it should have been 593 and it's 02:12:00in a world where Punani Primary School is known to the postmaster surely and if it's a book bag. The little notice that they would put in the box that says there's something, that's the bureaucracy, that's the break your heart world that people live in and with so I get the chance, ha, to redo even here what I used to redo so much there but I continue that and this vocal library, the director of which, the Whitely County Library. I went to her when the Peace Corps said go talk. I went to her and said I see these groups that meet around here. I would be willing to talk to your group about whatever you 02:13:00want but my Peace Corps experience might be a starting place. In fact, I live where you could throw a rock from here to my house, it's kind of, all of which, I, I can reach into this background, Peace Corps background, and talk to anybody including these kids that she wants me to talk to who apparently, she has a regular group who comes sent by their teachers because they don't read. They're difficult. They're, they're whatever and, and my, I'm eager to tell them about themselves and me and reading and Wendell Berry's poem "The Grandmother." They've probably got a grandmother. They hear that poem "The Grandmother," if you don't know it, you ought to look it up and read it. We all have a grandmother and whomever else we got that that grandmother is kind of 02:14:00like we think and there's a poem by Albert Stewart that I learned about in the Appalachian Literature called "The New Mule" and these kids are country kids. They'll know about a mule and we'll talk a little bit about the nature of mules like maybe we could talk about the nature of hill billies. What is there that's in fact so generally distinctive we have to admit to it? We've got some and then, there's a magnificent poem I've just learned about this semester, because of a wonderful misunderstanding with my instructor, by Langston Hughes called "Theme for English B" and he's twenty-two years old and he's been told by his 02:15:00instructor to go write a page and write it from your heart and it'll be true because it's coming from your heart so he, it's a poem and he's coming from Columbia University. There's this place on the hill that's never identified down and crosses Eighth Avenue and crosses and crosses. Goes to the Y, the Harlem Y, goes up to his room and sits down and writes his page and that page in this poem has to do with this negotiation that happens between a student and a teacher that they become linked and for the time of the classes, the poem is nowhere so worthy but for the time, that student and that teacher go on together. 02:16:00And if a young eighth grader can understand it and I'm sure hoping that I can take architectural students and bring to their attention the chance that they have by being where they are, to recognize where they are, to make this kind of contractual connection with a professor and go somewhere they never could have imagined but it requires this sort of difficult thing to do, for me it was, to expose myself. To show how dumb I in fact was, how uneducated as to the particulars of even 02:17:00architectural school, not even, we're talking about architecture but just draw a floor plan. I didn't know what that meant. I never looked at one and the learning about that has been so hard, so memorable. It's make me so, it made me a good teacher because every one of those things I still have tattooed on me some place. It didn't come easy. And Langston Hughes' poem wonders if it is that easy to sort of giving from yourself to someone that sees you as and comes back and sort of helps you be you in a way that they see you in a way that you don't know they can. But a good instructor, a good poetry instructor doesn't know 02:18:00you and comes to know but there's a huge parallel, surprising, which I tend to get surprised at ever turn, between the process of thinking architecturally and the making of a poem, the making of architect and the making of a poem. They both get down in a form that's kind of contained at least as you learn to focus as an architect and as a poet, maybe a poet. I'm a long way from learning. That thing is going to expand back out and occupy it's place in the world but for a while, you can contain it and study it, play with it, jiggle it before it goes out there and gets rained on and I like to try to tell folks, architectural 02:19:00students and seventh graders. It would be wonderful and I know it's hopeless and you know, Mr. Einstein's recognition, if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, definition of insanity is the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Well, for about a zillion years, people have been trying to get young people to get over being young. I don't think I'm going to be able to either but I'm going to try to be convincing that it's, you start somewhere as shy of sixty as you can to do these kinds of things. You might glow in the dark before you get done. Anyway, that's kind of what being out 02:20:00of the closet means and it has so many tentacles that besides talking to you in a way that I wouldn't ever done this long ago. I couldn't, I couldn't be proud which I, I know now by my American Literature class, the Puritans felt like it was an awful thing to do. You know in this class, as a consistent thing, almost the first statement when the instructor whose name is John Morgan. First man I ever worked for, not the first, but the man I worked for when I graduated from the University of Kentucky was named John Morgan on, on Broadway.
404 Broadway. Well, this guy, he's soliciting from the class, what doyou think about this--
[Tape two, side a ends; tape two, side b begins.]
WILSON: --with Harry Siler, go ahead Harry.
SILER: And the promise of just one minute more but in this class,02:21:00we've met only three or four times but consistently, the first thing, reaction to the reading is well, this guy is full of himself. He's just a, and I know these other authors generally but when Ben Franklin gets criticized for thinking he might be somebody, I, I'm, I got to write the instructor and say please, would you kind of gently put on your psychologist hat and say now, I've noticed this pattern. He said he know, I said out loud in class, you know if Ben Franklin can't, can't talk about what he's done and feel good about it, and I didn't 02:22:00get very far and the instructor had kind of the same reaction, that this man is the most famous man in the United States when he's writing, probably not even second to Washington but that's who this guy is and he invented the Franklin stove that there's millions of people been warmed by. This wasn't some guy off the street with a pencil. This is Ben Franklin but they, they say that time after time about everybody so I want to write the instructor and say would you see if first of all, they see the pattern? Not everybody every time maybe but there's a general consensus, I get at least that that's the attitude of the class. Some, this writer is proud, vain, bad, I mean negatively so 02:23:00and, and I said would you see if, if maybe not Ben Franklin, is there anybody living or dead that we could read about that would justifiable able to kind of shine his own whatever that expression is. Blow his own horn a little bit and if the answer is no, then, isn't that curious and then, where did you get that opinion? Class, where, where did that come from? Is that something your mom told you and you, you don't realize you've continued to use that measuring tool everywhere? Any kind of pride for any reason you, you want to knock down like the Japanese theoretically any nail sticking up needs to get it knocked down. Well, Ben Franklin, friends, is up and ought to be, would seem 02:24:00like to me and if you don't think so let's spend a little bit of time that nobody ought to be up or nobody ought to say he's up and that's your formed opinion from some place and it was your mother maybe or your father or your church or your whatever or is there one step behind even that? It's this Puritan training which we've heard about. This sin of pride that people are working hard not to have. If you believe that, can we sort of recognize that the Puritans are alive and well and here in the room and do you want that? Do you believe that? And if you don't then maybe that's a sign that you sort of know that you've got it and you reject it. And I'm going to quit right after this. I told my 02:25:00son recently, saw his face when I said this. It's your job. We were talking about something quite deep and involved, wonderfully pleasant for me because I don't get those conversations often anymore. I used to have them aplenty but I don't have them anymore much. I said your job Steve is to kill me and he didn't even answer. And I said what that means is you've got to take everything you've got from me that you've heard, learned from me and spill it out on the ground. See it, look at it, decide if you want it, if it's you, if you believe it 02:26:00and then, you swallow it again and make, maybe that you and I believe the same thing but yours came because you swallowed it not because you watched me do it and that's how you do it because dad does it that way. You can't. That's not fair. It's mine. I'm trying to swallow the best I can mine and I don't want beyond your adulthood. I don't want you to do like I did without believing it true for you too. So for me that's what killing your father means and, and it's a good way to say it and I would like to have my instructor John Morgan, if he believes in such a thing to say to my classmates, you all are old enough now. You've got to kill your parents. You've got to get lose from whatever 02:27:00they said that might not be who you want to be. You're old enough to only be packing you. Don't be packing old dead people and so I, I'm getting so much out of every place I look. Can't watch the Super Bowl without making more out of it. It's a pretty good place to be.
WILSON: Well, that's great and goodness, thank you for all of our timeand thoughts and, and insights on where the Peace Corps experience fits in all that.
SILER: You're quite welcome sir. Thanks for the opportunity.
[End of interview.]02:28:00