A couple weeks ago when I visited my dad, he surprised me by handing me a stack of CDs he had made of cassette recordings of some of his relatives talking about their lives. They were from many years ago, and contained fascinating stories told by his mother, uncle and some aunts, some going back to their years growing up in Holland pre-WWII. I plopped the CD of my long-gone grandmother into a computer and half-dozed until 1pm listening with wondrous delight to a voice I had forgotten quietly reminiscing of her childhood on a farm in Chicago… in the days when there actually was farmland in Chicago. I marveled at a grandmother I never knew, who once was a little Dutch girl working hard on a farm, who married a young man who offered her a ride home in the rain, who then left her family and friends for a rougher and lonelier farm life on the outskirts of the city.
I went to Grandma’s house almost every weekend as a child, but never got to know her well as I spent my time there running and playing with my sister and my visiting cousins while our fathers worked on the house and our mothers kept Grandma company. Listening to the CD, I was overcome with a wistful sadness. Grandma had been in the background of my childhood; I had neither been old enough nor of the modern era to think about spending something called “quality time” with her. And so, I am grateful that my father had thought to conduct these interviews with his relatives at a time when this concept was almost unheard of. Listening to the voices from the past, eyes closed, I imagine I am there in the room hearing the stories first hand.