It is one thing to read the secondary sources of other writers, but for the first time I had conducted primary research. One day people will study my work. For the first time in my young career I felt like a real historian.
I had prepared for this interview by first speaking with Helene Miller on a snowy Friday in February. I had used the memories form as a guide for the preliminary questions I was asking in order to find out more about her life and connection with Paterson. We spoke for a little while, and I was careful not to ask too many questions. I was cautious because part of the process of doing an oral history interview is to keep it spontaneous.
Meanwhile, me and Ilyse Goldman had been in close contact with the media department over at William Paterson University. For this interview they had sent over an extremely capable media team. When I had arrived at the conference room of the nursing home, they had already set up a microphone, a big light, and a camera (with all the bells and whistles). This was certainly more than I was expecting for an interview, and I was more than pleased with it.
Helene Miller’s father and uncle had owned the New Deal Mill in Paterson. The mill was named after Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The mill was in the business of creating textiles. This was also the place where Helene Miller had her first job. The woman who usually did the bookkeeping there had to go on maternity leave. Helene’s father had asked her if she could do it while she was out. With an enthusiastic spirit Helene replied “I’ll try!” At this point her life, she and her family moved over to East Paterson, which is now known as Elmwood Park.
She had told me that in the beginning of the interview that she was a shy person, but as the interview went on, she became less so. When we concluded the interview and the crew was taking down their equipment, Helene had said “I hope that this will be of some help to you and others in the future.” I can certainly say that I was lucky to have interviewed her, and I do believe her testimony will help to understand Paterson’s history for years to come.