April 6, 2007
By JOANN KLIMKIEWICZ, Courant Staff Writer
The two Farmington women sit face-to-face in the cocoon of a softly lit room, a box of tissues on the table and a pair of foam-topped microphones pulled to their mouths.
"Does this need to be so close?" Alexia Bouckoms asks coordinator Sarah Geis.
"Yes, it does," Geis says, apologetically.
"I just feel like I'm going to bite it," Bouckoms quips to friend Diana Reeves, smiling nervously beneath her bulky black headphones.
"You can bite it," Geis laughs.
More easy banter. A few deep breaths.
And then, the record button.
"Hello, I'm Alexia Bouckoms," comes a strong, but honeyed voice from the woman seated in a wheelchair. "I'm 52 years old. Today is April 5, 2007. We're in front of the Old State House in Hartford, Conn., and I'm here to tell you a story about some things that happened to me. And I'm here to speak with my dear friend, Diana Reeves."
And so began on Thursday morning the first of 135 interviews to be collected in Hartford over the next four weeks by the traveling oral history project, StoryCorps. Beginning with a standing booth in Grand Central Terminal in 2003, the nonprofit organization has recorded more than 10,000 personal stories archived at the Library of Congress and aired in heartwarming snippets each Friday on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."
Connecticut Public Radio also will run a selection of the interviews beginning next Friday on its "Where We Live" morning news show in a monthlong series about StoryCorps and celebrating the art of storytelling.
StoryCorps' silver Airstream trailer will be parked at 800 Main St. through April 28, recording tales told between family and friends.
It's a project that dubs itself a celebration of ordinary American people. The restaurant dishwasher. The retired teacher. The building doorman. David Isay, StoryCorps' creator and a New Haven native, believes everyone has lived through stories as notable as those of politicians, CEOs and celebrities.
On Thursday morning, it was a dentist, Bouckoms, who kicked off the Hartford leg of the East Coast tour. With longtime friend Reeves at her side, Bouckoms told the story of how, in one thrashing swoop, the snap of a pine tree changed her life forever
"The story I'd like to start with happened 11 years ago on Feb. 25 in 1996," said Bouckoms, a former health-sciences researcher for Bristol-Myers Squibb. "I was driving home from an indoor soccer game with my family. We were about a mile and a half from our house when the police stopped me."
Wind gusts had felled trees on the street. Police directed her to an alternate route. So she turned around the car that carried daughter Sarah, 11, and son Miles, 9, in the front beside her. Her son Christopher, 6, and husband, Anthony, who celebrated his 44th the night before, huddled in the back.
"We hadn't gone half a mile when a tree fell on our car," Bouckoms said. The uprooted pine went through Sarah's right thigh, and sent both Bouckoms and Miles into a coma.
"My husband and son in the backseat were killed instantly," she said, with the measure of a woman who has told her story countless times. "The police didn't even realize there was someone in the back seat of the car, it was so badly damaged."
For 40 days, she said, she lay in a coma, emerging on Holy Saturday - the day before Easter. "April 6," she said. "Which is, tomorrow, the 11th anniversary of that."
Sarah and Miles recovered. But the impact shattered Bouckoms' vertebrae and compressed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
Together, Bouckoms and Reeves are on a mission to raise money for spinal cord research so Bouckoms can reach her two-pronged goal of wearing a short skirt and soaking in bubbles in her upstairs bathtub. "Maybe I'll do both at the same time," she said.
In the 40-minute interview, there were stories of baked goods and Styrofoam cakes, of the origin of the women's 14-year friendship (their two sons, now 19) and of how Bouckoms met and married Anthony, a New Zealand native. He needed a visa to stay in the States. "So I thought that was a good reason to get married. Also that I loved him dearly."
Bouckoms chose Reeves as her partner in StoryCorps because "she scraped me up after my accident and helped me get back into life." Reeves agreed because she thought Bouckoms' story was one that might help others.
"Here Alexia's been through all of this and it is special," Reeves said after the interview. "And it just draws attention in my mind to the fact that everything she's been through does affect other people. And this is another way for her to inspire people."
Bouckoms, for her part, is grateful for the opportunity.
"Our everyday existence needs to be recorded," she said. "That's how we learn about history and how things have evolved over time, is by collecting the little notes. And individually, those may not be big things, but those little notes add up to the history of mankind."
To participate in StoryCorps, you'll need a reservation. Spots are filled for the first two weeks. To book a session between April 18 and April 28, call the 24-hour reservation line at 800-850-4406 beginning today at 10 a.m., or visit StoryCorps.net.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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