Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Mar 10, 2020

MOTHerview with storyteller Betty Reid Soskin

by Suzanne Rust

Betty Reid Soskin

“It was my home. I was going to stand my ground and I proved that I could.”

How did you know that this was the Moth story you had to tell?

I was actually in Seattle sharing another Moth story, but then as I was talking with Sarah [Moth director Sarah Austin Jenness] this story came up. She thought I should tell it next, so I did. 

In what I think is one of the most poignant lines in your story, you say that at that point in your life you were, “involved in a grand improvisation, making up life one hour at a time.” If we are lucky, we will all get to that stage. Can you talk a little bit more on what that feels like?

I believe this describes life as I’ve lived it. It is so natural, if one thinks about it, we’re always improvising.  Our mouths open, and we’re off to the races, no script. We’re simply making it up as we go along. I think what I also meant was that there was nothing new at this point in my life; everything seemed rehearsed. Then suddenly there is a newness created by changing circumstances, like telling my stories. It added fresh energy to my life.

You became a park ranger at 85, which I dare say is pretty uncommon…

It was kind of a happy accident. When the park was being planned, I would attend meetings as a field rep, and then gradually as I participated, they made me a park ranger. Now it feels a little odd, but at that time I didn’t seem like someone who was 85, so why not? 

What do you enjoy most about the job?

Meeting people. I believe this has always been true. I don't get any particular thrill from nature; it's been about the people!

Is Helen, the other persona that you created, still around? If so, how does she help you out?

I’ve not needed her lately.  I suspect she’s still within reach.

Who are you favorite storytellers and why?

My grandfather was a great storyteller. His mother, my great grandmother, was a slave and he shared his memories of her childhood. I was six and didn't know what a slave was, but I remember thinking back on those stories when I was a teen and they were a double whammy for me. 

Growing up, I never thought of storytelling as an art, but now I do.

I think your motto should be, “I turned it up to linen!” Where do you get your inner strength?

I wish I knew! I was never brave, but I have been when I needed to be. I recognized what I did—and what it meant—in retrospect; at the moment I didn't realize how extraordinary it was. I’ve since wondered whether I would have actually been able to use that iron…

You say that your intruder gave you a gift. Can you talk a little more about that?

Oddly, he gave me the gift of my home. I’d never valued it before that time; it was simply an address. Now it’s really mine and no one can take it from me. It was my home. I was going to stand my ground, and I proved that I could…but I was only really able to reflect on all of that after the fact.

The Test

by Betty Reid Soskin

95 year old park ranger Betty Reid Soskin squares off with an intruder.

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