Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nights with Grandpa

Since my grandmother's birthday is coming up, I'm trying to digitize a bunch of cassette interviews that my grandfather gave to the local historical society in the late '80s. The sound quality is terrible and the content largely mundane, but what does come through is the strangeness of hearing him speak almost fifteen years after his death.

I didn't begin to care for my grandfather until it was too late. Before his illness he seemed to me to be a conservative, maddeningly slow old man who ate pigtails right out of the carton. During his protracted and painful death I began to realize who we were all losing, but by then he was too far gone to really "have a chat" with. When he actually died I was at work.

So maybe it's easier to love somebody who isn't around anymore; I can think about his strength and his friendly sensibility, instead of fighting with him about my future, and I can also admit that his lectures about my goals in life were sensible, and that I've now actually done some of the things he wanted me to.

Then...there he is on the cassette tapes, talking about his father's factory and the manufacturing process for felt. His slow, ponderous voice which took forever but always arrived at its destination. His sentence introductions which never meant anything but served to explain his own thought processes ("That is...", "You might say..."). Him just sitting in the back kitchen, chatting with an interviewer, while the clock chimes two, three, four.

It's strange.


Gary said...

Very interesting. One of the things that I am saving from my father's old apartment is a reel-to-reel tape recorder from the 1950's.

He used it to develop his speaking voice and build his speaking self-confidence.

A side benefit is that he recorded then-living family members - including my uncle, who passed away about a year before I was born.

An even neater side-benefit is that my uncle's youngest son, who had never heard his dad's voice (my uncle died soon after his son was born) got to hear his dad speak on that old tape recorder.

So, yeah, go for the audio archive and present it to Grandma. As they say, "It makes a great gift!"

Kimber said...

I think it's pretty special you have tapes. Your Grandma will love them.

I never got to know my Russian grandpa very well either before he died. He always seemed so grey and grim. I wish I'd known more about his background as a forester in Russia - we definitely had a love of nature in common.

Is the Felt company you refer to the Felt Boot Co. on Peel street in NH?

jj said...

So maybe it's easier to love somebody who isn't around anymore;

Ain't that the truth? It is a lot easier to hypothetically "love" people in the multitude than in the singular, in the abstract than in the concrete. :) :) :)

Gary said...

Gee, JJ, that's kind of harsh. At least if you knew someone you could make a choice about how you remember them.

In my case, I'm talking about folks that I never met. I can listen to their voices and the stories told about them. But I can't "love" them the same way as if I had actually known them.

Maybe that's your "abstract rather than concrete." But I would have liked the opportunity to have met them and judged them for myself.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Wow, Gary, those recordings are gold! And it's telling that the old reel-to-reel still works.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

A forester in Russia! Those WOULD be amazing stories! And might explain why he was so gray and grim...

The felt company he talks about was the one part-owned by his grandfather in Cobourg. As a child he used to go to the factory and his grandfather would "give him a pencil to amuse himself with."

Muffy St. Bernard said...

JJ, Gary, I think JJ's comment was mainly a response to my post, where I said pretty much the same thing, but could have extended it to "it's easier to love UNCONDITIONALLY when the person is no longer there."

See, I no longer get frustrated by my grandfather's pokey ways and (it seemed to me at the time) general blandness. I don't have to worry about him berating me because of my work ethic or appearance or whatever.

When somebody dies, it's sometimes easier to love them without those human foibles getting in the love them for their stronger (and often abstract) qualities as opposed to their human (concrete) thereness.

All part of "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," I bet. That certainly was the case for me.

Gary said...

Okay. I suppose it's a totally different experience in recalling someone that you knew, rather than imagining someone that you've only just heard about (but cannot ever meet).

The "unconditional" does change the focus.

And regarding the tapes, yes, I will try to archive them for posterity.