Monday, November 2, 2009

Inviting them in

The fall is so inspiring in its dramatic changes, full abundance and depth of emotion. It has always been a favorite of mine, but in the last ten years it has taken on a more melancholy color, as it holds the memory of the passing of three dear grandparents of mine. This year we added their beloved faces to our nature table, turning it into an altar of sorts, in the spirit of the Day of the Dead. There are also photos of Dan's grandparents, the last of whom, his Grandpa Bill, passed away this summer. We have been talking a lot about death and birth and how remembering someone who has died can be a joyful thing. Eliza in particular wants to know more about Grandma Eliza, with whom she shares not only a name, but a largeness of soul, a percolating energy that practically shines through her very skin. She is also named after Grandma Jane, and has recently asked that I call her Jane once in a while. It is alternately her renegade, piratey side and her more proper girlish side, either of which would have made Grandma grin. Grandpa Chet is present in so many stories, in the recipe behind the pickles sitting in jars on our kitchen counter, and in the beautiful housing for the clock that is ticking on our wall. Their presence in our home is even more remarkable this time of year.
Years ago my uncle and my dad gave my sister and I an incredible Christmas present: they had transferred to CD a dozen or more tapes of my Grandma Jane interviewing my Grandpa Chet, and her mother, Irma. I was close to my grandparents, who passed away in 2000 and 2001, and the thought of hearing their voices again was kind of devastating. I confessed to my dad this summer that I hadn't been able to listen to them yet, but was toying with making that an autumn project, and he assured me that I would do more laughing than crying.
He was absolutely right. I listened to the first of the CDs last night; it feels just normal listening to them talk to each other, my grandma asking thoughtful questions about grandpa's family and his childhood, he doing one of the things he loved to do best: talking. So I sat here on the floor and sewed and listened to them talk, listened to the cane chair he is sitting in creak, listened to grandma putter around the kitchen as he talks, listened to our dog, who lived with them while our family was overseas, listened as she whimpers to be pet, and barks when a neighbor comes to the door...
I am so grateful that my grandma, who lived a very ordinary life, had such a sense of history, of the importance of everyday people, and wanted to record that for us. She kept a journal for much of her life and recorded everything - how much she paid for chicken and where she got it, what the weather was doing, and who she received letters from (or more notably, did not receive letters from - there is a long stretch in one diary of notes in red - while my mom and dad were in Ethiopia in the Peace Corps - "no letter from Mike"). I would encourage anyone who has the inkling to do so, to interview someone you love about their life. Not only are the stories of these ordinary people just incredible, I am also hearing the voices of people I loved so much, and it seems like they are sitting right here with me. Such a wonderful gift.

note: I should mention that I get my, ah, sensitive side from my dear Grandpa. He will be talking about a favorite uncle or a gesture from a friend that moved him and you can hear the "click" of the tape recorder as he shuts it off to blow his nose or take a moment to wipe his eyes...then a click and the story resumes with gusto.

another note: yes, that is a picture of a cat! We said goodbye to a huge lovey character of a cat, Doughtious, when Eliza was a baby. We all still talk about him, even the girls who never knew him! We secretly think Charlie may be his reincarnation, but in a much more congenial personage, some of you will be happy to know...

2 comments:

Merry said...

This is a beautiful tribute to people who loved you with their whole hearts, and never ceased to let you know of that love.They are all so proud of you and your little family - I only wish your girls could really know them.Someday, ask Papa Marzo about a tape he has of Mom playing the piano and then, as she heads upstairs to bed, calling down to him.I confess I haven't been able to listen to it yet - 10 years later - but maybe this will be the year I get the courage.I love you, sweet thing.

Kerry said...

How wonderful to be able to soak up these memories through hearing their voices, their environment, everything. You picked just the right time to listen.