HOTSEAT- Day's dreams: Today is tomorrow's history
If a picture's worth a thousand words, right now Douglas Day is juggling, oh, about 50 million words. As executive director of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, Day is overseeing the organization of 50,000 images taken by Charlottesville photographer Russell "Rip" Payne, whose work spans 50 years.
"It's once-in-a-lifetime to come into a collection like this," says Day, who oversaw the Historical Society's current exhibit of Payne's work from the 1940s. Payne "saw highs and lows" in Charlottesville, Day says, citing Payne's shots of Queen Elizabeth, who visited in 1976, as well as of famed boxer Jack Dempsey, who participated in a 1948 tournament at Mem Gym. But those aren't the photos that most excite Day. He prefers images of local families lining the street in the 1940s to watch the Dogwood Parade.
"For me, what's interesting is people living their everyday lives," he says, "people who don't normally think their lives are important to history."
Everyday lives have interested this Charlottesville native since his time at UVA, where he lived for a year on the Lawn and majored in folklore with a particular focus on music. He moved on for a master's in folklore at UNC and then received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.
"I dragged my wife all over the country," he says. After his studies, he learned that the job of a professional folklorist is interesting but not necessarily dependable.
"We were living from NEA grant to NEA grant," he says. "I ended up being away [from home]100 days a year."
With two children– now 12 and 18– Day and his wife, Sally Barbee Day, decided to come home to Central Virginia. "This is the community I grew up in," he says.
When the director's position opened up at the Historical Society four years ago, Day stepped into the role. There was just one small catch.
"We can't afford to live here,' he laughs. Undeterred, the family bought a home in Waynesboro, where Day says he's enjoying the "German influence" and exploring what makes the two cities different.
"The main difference I see is that the middle class in Waynesboro is engineers, doctors, and lawyers," he says. "There is no fox hunting set."
But despite his not-so-local address, Charlottesville is the place he considers home, and he hopes to continue documenting the present– work that will one day become Charlottesville's history.
"People should document what happens today," he says. "You're living in history; you're surrounded by history."
Why here? My wife, Sally, and I both grew up here. Our dads were UVA faculty, and as our parents got elderly, we came back so our kids would know them better.
What's worst about living here? Land speculators. But then that's been a problem since before the Revolution.
Favorite hangout? I like my office at the Historical Society, because when I grew up it was the McIntire Library, and I discovered reading here. I love working downtown. Chaps. The Mall.
Most overrated virtue? Propriety
People would be surprised to know: People who knew me when I played blues at Miller's 25 years ago might be surprised to know how totally square I am in middle age. Married almost 28 years, I go to church, have a PhD. I drink moderately, don't smoke, walk my dogs, and eat my fiber.
What would you change about yourself? I'm not by nature a very disciplined person. I always have too many projects going at once. I'd learn to be comfortable in something other than jeans and cowboy boots.
Proudest accomplishment? Co-directing the 1995 National Folk Festival in Chattanooga was a high, but I'm proudest of the 30 years of fieldwork I've done as a folklorist and oral historian.
People find most annoying about you: I'm the original absent-minded professor.
Whom do you admire? All my heroes are strictly local legends like Martin Garrish of Ocracoke Island's Graveyard Band, or Clivis Harris of the Virginia Vagabonds, or Ryland Coles of the Gospel Four– all musicians who are the true tradition-bearers of their communities. Every community has its griots.
Favorite book? Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Watching my kids and nieces and nephews grow up
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Global warming. Creeping totalitarianism. Fundamentalism. Militarism. Internet porn. Pop music. Commercial television.
What do you drive? A 2002 Toyota Camry
In your car CD player right now: Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri's homemade CD of Hank Williams and Paul's brother's songs that my friend Tara Kabir gave me. But mostly I listen to classical music on WMRA or my iPod.
Next journey? Taking my wife, 12-year-old daughter, and 80-year-old mother-in-law to Charleston to look at old houses and eat. We might come home through Georgia to see old stomping grounds.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Why would I incriminate myself here? The statute of limitations is past for most stuff.
Regret: Other than the usual failings as a husband and father, son and brother, friend and lover? Not going to see more movies? Not saving for retirement? Not being more politically active?
Favorite comfort food: Meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. Followed by a good stout cup of coffee.
Always in your refrigerator: Soy milk.
Must-see TV: The Michael Gambon version of "The Singing Detective."
Favorite cartoon: "Zits," "Get Your War On," "Zippy the Pinhead"
Describe a perfect day. Tomorrow: I'm going to work around the house all day, then we're going to have dinner with friends, drink wine, and play music.
Walter Mitty fantasy: I've always wanted to be Pete Seeger or Mississippi John Hurt in my old age. So far, so good.
Who'd play you in the movie? William Hurt or Jeff Daniels. Or some other middle-aged, bearded white guy.
Most embarrassing moment? There were about six during my freshman year at UVA, usually in front of large groups of people.
Best advice you ever got? Learn to play in E-flat without a capo.
Favorite bumper sticker? The one I designed: Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society/albemarlehistory.org. Only the coolest people in town have one.
PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR