Mosley Sturdevant, author of Empty Vessels: Big Lessons from Making Small Talk

Interview with 80-year-old Mosley Sturdevant, a decorated 5-year (1933-1938) veteran of the Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC) and author of Empty Vessels: Big Lessons From Making Small Talk (Willow & Reedy, 1992).

Interview conducted by Paul W. Quill, editor, The Oriskany Falls Newer Times, June 1994.

Q: So, Mosley, how did you wind up in the Conversation Corps?
A: My daddy was a drinker and it was during prohibition then... I got into his stash when I was 12 or so, would have been '27 or so... he had inherited money from my grandmother, she died early, and he just spent it on booze, it was stockpiled in boxes all over, old wines in a cellar, brewed beer with some hops he grew himself, as you know, this is hops country, he started teaching me farming early.

Q: Your father, he was something of a gentleman farmer?
A: He grew the hops and some tomatoes and potatoes--a ton of potatoes--they do well in the glacial soil around here in this beautiful Mohawk Valley. He got a still somewhere along the line and distilled vodka with those potatoes.

Q: And eventually you would drink with your father? When did that happen?
A: When I was 14 my mother went through a breakdown; he began sharing his wines with me instead of her, at dinner.

Q: Those dinners led directly to you later enrolling in the Civilian Conversation Corps. How did that happen?
A: My dad, RIP, was the finest conversationalist I've ever met. At those suppers, just the two of us, he taught me everything I know, from the smooth casual introduction to the art of making impossible plans for the next day after the second bottle and a nightcap.

Q: What was it like when Prohibition ended?
A: That party, never seen anything like it before or since. Then the whole New Deal came along and word got out the Feds were going to hire 500 skilled men to serve as Conversationalists in a newly created work corps. It was what I was born to do.

Q: The title of your book is Empty Vessels. Where did that come from?
A: The goal of a conversationalist, Paul, is winding up--or down--with empty vessels of whatever you've been talking over. Beer, wine, liquor, tea, coffee, even a glass of water, emptied after fine and stimulating conversation...

Q: It's something else as well?
A: Yes, it's also an award, a medal, given to only the best conversationalists. They are simple rounds, in gold, silver, or bronze, etched with the what I call--conversationalist that I am--the womanly shape of a simple jug, cork at its side.

Q: You have five, one for each year of your service.
A: Yes sir. All gold. Things were different then. The art of conversation was just that, a lot of talk. Then came Hitler and it wasn't about talking anymore, you know?

Q: Yes, yes indeed. Thank you for your service, Mosley.
A: Thank you, Paul.