Calling All Austin Elders: May We Interview You?

The Chronicle is starting a series on elders’ lives in Austin

Austin High School students in 1947: Morris Johnson, Ramon Dale, Buddy Leonard, Phoebe Burch, and Jonilu Swearingen (Image via Austin High School Comets 1947 yearbook)

In 1978, a 24-year-old woman pulled out a big honkin' tape recorder and pressed record. For the next few years, Margot Knight interviewed a few dozen people about their lives. They only had two things in common: They were all born around the turn of the century, and they were all from my small hometown.

I was still there on the border of Washington and Idaho at the start of the pandemic. I was working on a historical piece about the 1918 flu that led me to Margot's recordings. Stories about the flu amounted to maybe 10 minutes of tape, but I found myself listening to more than 30 hours of her interviews.

For me as a Nineties baby, it was the folks on these recordings, the Lost Generation, that I just missed. As I was taking my first breaths, they were taking their last. But here they were, in the same wheat fields I grew up in, watching the same sunset on the same brick buildings on the hill every night. There I was, not knowing how to live through a pandemic and these folks did.

The Lost Generation saw a lot of change. They grew up with horses and buggies and retired with jets overhead – telegraphs to cellphones, big families to birth control, nickelodeons to movies in your house.

Things haven't slowed down and Austin is changing quicker than most places. Three of the four fastest-growing U.S. cities are suburbs of Austin, our progressive community supports cutting-edge social programs, and we are at the center of technological developments, including artificial intelligence, that will alter societies forever.

If you want to be a part of our Austin Elders series, we’ll ask you questions, save a recording, and write a story about your life.

To make sense of the shifts, the Chronicle is working on a new series. Each story will highlight a different Austin elder. We hope to capture how Austin has changed and what that's meant for those witnessing and driving it.

Photos show what Austin looked like in 1950, but how did it feel? What songs did your parents dance to? What political issues did they argue over? What made your neighborhood the best (or worst) place to raise your kids?

We're mainly looking for people 80 and older who have lived in Austin for at least 30 years, but there are no hard-and-fast rules. If you want to participate or know someone we should interview, please contact Give us your age, how long you've lived here, a sentence or two about your life, and contact information. I look forward to meeting you.

Editor's Note: I heard from Margot Knight after writing this story. And I had her age wrong – whoops. She was 24, not 27, when she started the recordings. I regret the error.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

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