Accessibility Navigation:

Interview with Burt Cheezem

Cheezem, Burt
Cheezem, Renee
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Cultural Identification; Stories and Storytellers
Burt Cheezem tells of stories of his family members, including an uncle who flew a plane, and some stories he likes to read.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Renee Cheezem interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
RC (Renee Cheezem): One two three testing, testing. I am Renee Cheezem and I'm doing an interview with Burt Cheezem on March 12th um how old are you, Burt?
BC (Burt Cheezem ): 47.
RC: In what country were you born?
BC: United States of America.
RC: In which part of the country?
BC: Georgetown, South Carolina.
RC: And grew up, where?
BC: In South Carolina.
RC: And North Carolina as well?
BC: Yes, North Carolina.
RC: And Burt, you understand from the form that you signed that this um interview is part of a research project on storytelling and I wonder what your earliest memories of stories being told to you as a child might be.
BC: Those would be stories of parents and grandparents, experiences they had in the depression wars and things like that.
RC: Can you remember the first story that you can remember anyone telling you some of the first memories of someone telling you a story?
BC: Well, it would probably been things like living back in the hills of Tennessee and having to ride a mule to school, [pause] things like that.
RC: Who would have been telling you those stories?
BC: This would have been my father.
RC: Were there other people who told you stories when you were very young grandparents perhaps?
BC: Grandparents grandfathers told me things about [cough] things he did when he was younger and a construction carpenter and places things he'd been things he'd build.
RC: Do you remember anyone in your family telling you stories that were just maybe made up stories or funny stories?
BC: Well, I don't think that too many of them were made up some of them seemed kind of funny at the time.
RC: Do you remember any specific ones that you could retell?
BC: [Cough] Well I remember tales about some of our relations. For example, my uncle in Florida who uh had his own airplane and decided [pause] one thing he always wanted to do was land his airplane on the highway so he arranged one day to coincidentally run out of gas nowhere near an airport so he could have the experience of landing his plane on the highway and taxiing up to a gas station to fill it up and take off again. At least that's what everyone accused him of doing.
RC: So you're not sure if this was a true story or a made up story within your family.
BC: I know it's true that he landed on the highway we had the newspaper clippings to prove it.
RC: \\But the gas station part\\ you're not sure about.
BC: \\ The gas station part. \\
BC: Yeah, he taxied to a gas station to fill it up.
RC: And who told you that story?
BC: Uh my father. He also showed me the newspaper clipping.
RC: Do you remember being read to when you were little?
BC: \\Oh yes. \\
RC: \\Reading stories to you? \\ Can you remember the very first stories that were [cough] read when you were little?
BC: Probably one of the first ones that was ever read to me the first one I can remember is my cousins Mary and Glenda reading Trumpet the Dog.
RC: It's one of the Little Golden?
BC: Yes, I remember all the things about Trumpet the Dog.
RC: Can you retell the story? Can you remember all the details of the story basically?
BC: Pretty much. There was Trumpet the dog and he was always raising false alarms. And one day the fox got in the hen house and he went running barking and nobody wanted to believe it was him and he finally drug him out there and lo and behold there it was. Something to that effect.
RC: So this story was read to you by your cousins?
BC: Mostly.
RC: How old would you say you were when your cousins were doing this reading?
BC: Well, I was about [cough] three at the time. They were let's see Mary was probably seven or eight, Glenda was about 10 or 11.
RC: So your younger cousin was just a beginning reader herself reading stories to you? And you remember that one because it was read often or it was your favorite?
BC: Yeah, it was one of the ones we read pretty often, it was also the first one I learned to read.
RC: Did your parents read stories to you also?
BC: Some.
RC: Did you have any family storytelling rituals, a story at bedtime reading a Bible story or any of those sorts of things?
BC: Uh, not real continuous or anything.
RC: Who in your family would have been most likely to read, to read this you a story or tell you a story?
BC: Probably depended on which night it was. Probably more likely my mother than anyone else.
RC: Did you have lots of storybooks [cough] at your house that were read to you?
BC: We always had books lots of books.
RC: You said that you remembered the story of Trumpet the Dog and your cousins reading to you. Uh, did that go on for a long time until you were able to begin reading stories on your own?
BC: I spent a lot of time at my cousin's house from about the time I was about three probably I was about eight or nine.
RC: Even after you said that you learned to read the story of Trumpet the Dog, after you began to read on your own did sometimes your cousins or other people still read or tell stories to you even though you could read?
BC: Yes.
RC: What was, well you clearly remember this story, but once you got a little older and could remember a little better, what would you say some of your favorite stories and books were, as a child growing up?
BC: How old are you talking about?
RC: Oh, elementary school age.
BC: Well, probably the favorite book I had, this is a little different [cough] I had The Giant Golden Book of Astronomy, which I got when I was in the second grade and I read it cover to cover till I wore it out.
RC: Yeah and why was that particular one special?
BC: Well, because it was really interesting stuff. It was about the same time when all the space program was getting started off and I was in the first grade when the United States launched the first satellite and I was in the second grade when the first manned space capsule was sent up and because of what was going on at the time it was real interesting. The book just tied right into it.
RC: So that one you really enjoyed and you read over and over again? What about um what about and it was of course it sounds like a true book a scientific book about stars and space. What about fictional stories? Do you remember storybooks or children's novels that you read growing up or you like?
BC: My grandfather had a real interesting history books. They were sort of semi-factual fiction history people in the history of the country, like stories of George Washington growing up, some of the explorers of the West, Lewis and Clark, Fremont Carson, people like that.
RC: So you really liked historical and non-fiction kinds of things? But I also know that you like fantasy as well?
BC: Science fiction. I didn't get started on that till I was in about the sixth grade.
RC: And you learned to read quite young, didn't you?
BC: I was four years old at the time.
RC: If I remember correctly the stories that your mother has told me, you pretty quickly progressed to reading serious you moved pretty quickly from Trumpet the Dog to more heavyweight reading materials didn't you?
BC: Yeah, I guess so.
RC: Um, do you um, do you remember any particular books or stories that you feel like had an impact on you as you grew into adulthood stories that maybe the message of the book or story has had a real impact on your life?
BC: I'd say quite a few. [Pause]Well, let's see, [cough] there's I guess one of the favorite author's of mine is Isaac Asimov who wrote some of the best science and science fiction that was ever written. A lot of his books aren't really fiction but scientific essays that he prepared for publication. I guess one of the other authors I like a lot uh is C.S. Lewis. I've read several of his books both fiction and non-fiction books.
RC: Do you think that um reading these books when you were a teenage and older elementary school student had some impact in your career decisions, to study mathematics and more technical subjects?
BC: It's kind of a, "which is the cause and which is the effect," question. Asimov, his writing is very good sound factual. It's also very interesting easy to follow for that type of writing. I read a lot of other authors that weren't, weren't as good writers but also had interesting ideas. I think the best combination of interesting ideas and interesting writing.
RC: When you think back to when you were younger and people were telling stories to you and reading stories to you, um, it sounds like the time you spent with your cousins and with your family when all this was happening is a time in your life that you remember real fondly?
BC: Yes.
RC: Do you think that reading and storytelling is a big part of that?
BC: I would say so.
RC: Now that, that you're an adult obviously and have had children of your own what stories do you remember telling to your own children, and reading to your own children?
BC: Well, let's see. I've read The Cat in the Hat about 475 times. All The Little Monster Books, I can't remember what the individual names of them were but I've read them all multiple times.
RC: Do you remember telling them not only reading to them but telling them stories as well some of the stories that were perhaps told to you that maybe you been passed down to them.
BC: Oh yes. All the family heritage stories about how hard life was for my parents.
RC: And your own stories?
BC: Yeah, how my own stories about hard my life was (laugh) and all those sorts of things.
RC: Do you um, what kinds of things do you read now other than some authors that you like mentioned. Real currently, what do you enjoy reading at the present? What writers?
BC: Let's see, recent authors You've probably never heard of any of these, but Gregory Benford is very good, these are science fiction, uh, see David Grant, science fiction that is real good. Uh Asimov, he died about eight years ago but I still find one or two of his that I hadn't read yet. [Pause]
RC: We were mentioning, we were mentioning writers you enjoy reading now and we had to take a break.
BC: Let's see, the others that I could think of that I read recently, there were some Civil War books written by Jeffrey Shaara and the other by his son Michael. Very good. Another book that I read recently is very interesting books The Journals of Lewis and Clark.
RC: Which is really a story from beginning to end, I suppose.
BC: It is a narrative of the three year long trip they took from Washington, DC all the way out to the Pacific Ocean and back.
RC: Now, a lot of people would probably look at that and think my goodness I'm not sure I'd want to read all those details () trip. What did you enjoy about reading the Lewis and Clark journals?
BC: Well this was this was the first time that anyone had ever traveled here and recorded any of their experiences and they saw the entire western half of the continent for the first time. No one else been there no one else had ever experienced or written about what they'd seen and brought it back. 50 years later most of what they say and experienced didn't exist anymore.
RC: So in some ways it was very similar to the space exploration that you were so interested in?
BC: Kind of. It was something [cough] that they were in a position to do one time and no one before or no one since could ever reduplicate it.
RC: Some people think that storytelling in our culture is, is uh vanishing, because of television and computerized games and email and so many other things that keep people from sharing stories and taking the time to read. Do you think that story telling continues to be important and why?
BC: I think it's important because it's the real link you have to your past and heritage and it's also declining for the same reasons you mentioned. People just don't have the time or take the time to keep the traditions going [cough] they just get too busy or too lazy.
RC: How do you try to counter that with your own children and will continue to try and counter that as grandchildren are added to your family?
BC: As I have opportunities, as situations arise in the family such as motorcycle purchasing and things like that. I try to weave some personal experience into the conversation.
RC: Motorcycle purchases?
BC: Oh yes!
RC: And storytelling applies?
BC: Certainly. I have some motorcycle stories going back two to three generations actually.
RC: And now that I know your own son is considering purchasing a motorcycle those stories hopefully can help him make \\ a wise decision \\.
BC: \\ A wise decision\\ yeah. I suppose.
RC: Well thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview and for you helping with the research project at UNCC.