Thursday, November 28, 2019

Voices Past and Present

I'm at that odd moment on Thanksgiving Day where things are cooking, but it's too early to cook the final things, and we're still waiting for guests to arrive. There's a short lull before the next flurry of events, and no one needs me right this second. In this bit of quiet I thought I should write.

We've been working on doing a real cleaning of the house this week in anticipation of hosting the big meal today. We have most of the downstairs looking presentable. We organized the game cabinet and moved furniture and dusted all the Mold-a-Ramas. Part of all that cleaning involved pulling all of my old collection of cassette tapes out of a few drawers. It was at the end of the night, and Aden and Quinn were the only ones still up with me. They helped me sort what was there.

I explained the fun of mix tapes. There was real effort to making a good one, often having to tape things off the radio, or a record. I have several old mix tapes--a few from an old boyfriend, a bunch from my brother when he lived in California, one I even made labeled "Baby Tape" that I used to play in our old kitchen as I danced baby Aden around in my arms to calm her when she was fussy. Do kids still compile songs they like to share in a digital format? Or is that completely passe?

I found some embarrassing recordings of my friend Gabby and I making "radio shows" in my basement. Oh we were annoying children--I don't know how our parents could stand listening to us laugh at nonsense all the time. I found bootleg tapes Gabby made for me in the parking lot of Pine Knob where I went to hear concerts by Sting and Nik Kershaw and Depeche Mode. Gabby was more interested in the pre-concert fun we had at those events than the music, so she'd wait out the show with a boom box and make recordings I could enjoy later. (She was and is a good friend, and we are still probably annoying to listen to when we get together and laugh at nothing, but thankfully there is no recorded evidence of that.)

Among the old tapes, I found a few I made of conversations with my grandma. One in particular stands out where all seven of her grandchildren were gathered in her kitchen in Ohio and she was making us breakfast as she told stories. I'd forgotten just what a good storyteller she was. I think of my grandma as more of a listener, but I loved hearing her talk.

I played that tape for my kids in the only working tape player I currently own--a small voice-activated thing I used for recording my lessons before they were born. I only intended to play a few minutes of that tape, but we all got caught up in the story of my grandma getting her first dog, and then about how she met grandpa, and what it was like when he was preparing to leave for the war. We listened to the whole first side of the tape before I decided they really should go to bed.

The tape I keep thinking about most was one from when I was about two and a half, maybe three. My brothers were babies who would occasionally squawk, but for the most part it's my grandpa asking me to recite nursery rhymes. My grandfather had a deep, friendly voice. Aden looked up in wonder when he spoke through my cassette recorder and asked, "Is that my great-grandpa?" She'd never heard him before. He died when I was fifteen. She teared up and listened intently.

In the background on that tape, somewhere behind me and my grandpa, are my dad and grandmother, who sound like they are at the kitchen table. They are chatting and laughing.

It's wonderful to hear, but at the same time overwhelming to realize how many people in that recording are gone. Even little toddler me doing a dramatic rendition of Little Miss Muffet doesn't really exist anymore. I miss my grandpa, and grandma, and dad. I miss the world where that littler me used to live.

I'm looking forward to dessert tonight, when we can break out the tapes for everyone at the table. We can listen to my cousins messily reciting the alphabet and adorably singing for my grandpa. We can hear Arno plunk out simple songs on the guitar, and me and my brothers doing a screamy version of Frere Jacques because we thought it was hilarious once upon a time. And we can listen to my grandma tell stories again. The way she used to at Thanksgiving dinner.

Time to take the turkey out, and start working on potatoes and beans and rolls.

Have a wonderful day, however you celebrate. And remember to be thankful for the people you share your life with. They aren't around as long as we'd like.


3 comments:

  1. Beautiful! You are fortunate to have those tapes.

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