Thursday, November 1, 2007

Do you hear what I hear?

There are several recordings my family has made over the years that I have listened to recently. They are all very different, and have caused me to think about what I personally get from these recordings, and thus what future generations might get from recordings I made.

I came to the conclusion that my favorite tape was probably the most unlikely tape to be recorded.

1) My maternal grandfather, a brother, and a sister, over a weekend, recorded their memories of their childhood in Transylvania.

I knew my grandfather very well. I’d often stop by his home after school. His second wife (I called her Grandma, as I never knew my mother’s mother) taught me how to play gin rummy, and it remains my favorite card game. My grandfather taught me how to bowl. He passed away in 1991, and hearing his voice brings back the memories. I saw his sister a handful of times. Enough so that I can visualize her when I hear her voice. I don’t recall ever meeting his brother. I was too young when he died.

As I listened to the tape, I wrote down any information I could. My great-uncle, the eldest of the three, was about 13 when they immigrated. He remembered the most, but still, his memories were filtered through a child’s eyes, and sixty years. That he knew they arrived in Baltimore, not at Ellis Island, and that he refused to budge when my grandfather tried to insist everyone came in at Ellis Island, gives me confidence about his other memories.

They talked a little about their first few years in Chicago, but nothing after that, and I wish I knew more about those years.

There is a mine of information at the end of the tape as the three of them try to recall all the names of uncles, aunts, and cousins. Many who remained in Transylvania. I write everything down, but I think that it would have been better if they had written it down. There’d be no issue of me writing down names phonetically. And on the tape, when they couldn’t agree, they moved on…on paper, they could come back to it a week later.

The best part of the tape is hearing their voices, and the interplay of their personalities.

2) Both my paternal grandparents were interviewed about their memories of childhood through adulthood.

These tapes are heavy on information. I write it all down, though they could have written it down, too. Maybe the interviewer gets them to remember things they wouldn't otherwise have remembered. I don’t know the interviewer. My grandparents are relaxed, but their personality doesn’t come through as much as I would like. I love listening to their voices, though.

3) A cousin of my paternal grandfather was interviewed by his alma mater about his medical career. (This I found online.)

I never knew this individual, and he's not a direct ancestor, so this tape means less to me, but he mentions a few things about his family life, and his career, that I write down. His comments about life in the 30s are also interesting in a historical sense.

4) On my grandmother’s 80th birthday my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and myself crowded into a van and drove her around town, driving by old homes, old schools, etc. The entire trip was recorded. It's been twelve years since we did this. It's been five years since she passed away.

The conversation was chaotic. There are people speaking simultaneously, arguments, and hilarity. Informationally, I actually think this contains the least of any tape, but I love it the most. Everyone’s personality comes through in full force. I also know that while it’s going to be difficult, I have to transcribe the tape, because someone who recognizes all the voices needs to do it.

I think the next generation, even though they won’t have the pleasure of recognizing all the voices, will get pleasure out of hearing everyone having such a great time, and will certainly appreciate knowing who is saying what as they match personalities with names.

It didn’t take me much thought to come up with the easiest way to reproduce the results of the fourth tape. We didn’t have to wait for a birthday or anniversary. All we really needed to do was bring a tape recorder to Thanksgiving Dinner. Or any Sunday Dinner at my grandparents when I was a kid would have been grand to hear played back.

It wouldn’t matter that the conversation wasn’t about family roots – and it might almost be better if it wasn’t. All that stuff can be written down. The tape recorder (or now the video recorder) captures us as we are, for posterity. Talk about politics, talk about sports, talk about the weather. I’d love to know what my great-grandparents talked about around the dinner table.

No comments: