On the eve of Fathers Day, I’ve stumbled upon buried treasure. It’s a recording of my grandfather, telling stories of his childhood. Grandpa loved to tell stories, and in the last few years of his life, my mother urged him to record some of them. It wasn’t a lot, but he made two cassette tapes, and wrote a few pages in a journal. In 2003, 100 years after his birth, I had the recordings cleaned up and recorded on CD (with some nice piano music added between stories), and I typed the journal entries into the liner notes. I gave away some copies to family members, and kept one for myself. I’d forgotten which “safe place” I’d chosen for its keeping. What a gift to come across it today.
At the sound of my grandfather’s voice, I’m once again that little girl sitting at his feet. He speaks smoothly, muttering in a rhythm so familiar to me, about the first telephones, the first horseless carriage, and the first car in town. He remembers seeing Halley’s Comet twice in his lifetime.
I’ve tried before to share it with others, but they can hardly follow his stories. The low quality of the original recording, although cleaned up, still has a hiss. There is a radio playing ’80s music in the background.
I’m troubled by the knowledge that the real magic of this recording is lost on future generations, because I hear it differently. I smell his pipe tobacco. His eyes gleam beneath bushy eyebrows. His belly bounces up and down when he chuckles. I can see him in my mind’s eye, with his big fire agate ring, the turquoise watch, eyeglasses in hand, dressed in a soft wool shirt. I feel love and respect for all that he was, for all that he gave to me and to others. Mine is a more complete picture; I fill in details that aren’t there for those who never met him.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing a book, Letters to My Grandchildren. Where would I start? I could write volumes, and never really tell them what they’d like to know. Maybe that was his struggle.
I’m so grateful that he made the attempt.