“I’m just going to do a quick test to make sure the microphone is close enough to you.”
“What is that?”
“Oh, this is my iPad. I’m going to use to to record our sessions together.”
“Technology is amazing.”
“Yes, it is! OK, here we go, can you just say a few things?”
“This is just a test. Start off with where you were born, Grandma.”
“I was born in Wadena, Minnesota in…”
“That’s good, let me check to make sure it’s picking up your voice.”
“Oh, the sound of my voice is horrible!”
“No, it’s one of my favorite sounds. OK, here we go, for real, I’m pressing record.”
“Start with where you were born, Grandma.”
“That’s good, Jen, you’ll have to keep prompting me. I was born in Wadena, Minnesota in…”
As it turns out, I didn’t have to prompt her (this will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows GP). In fact, when I turned off the recorder an hour later, the only audio evidence that I was in the room was an occasional chuckle or gasp. During that hour we traveled back in time. She told me stories of growing up in small town USA, working at the soda fountain, smoking behind the bleachers, The Depression, WWII, late nights working at the V.A. hospital, beauty pageants (“I didn’t win either, even though I stuffed my bra [throaty laugh]. I was too short, I guess. Long legs are a real asset.”), love, loss, raising kids in the 60s, caring for ailing parents. As I pressed “save,” she smiled and sighed. We had finally begun the “epic” memoir project.
“I was just rambling. I can’t believe I talked for that long.”
“No, you were archiving. And I can believe you talked for that long. There’s a lot in there. You’re like a time capsule.”
“Haha! Whatever you say. How are you going to write all of this down? How are you going to make it interesting?”
“I was thinking of organizing it around central themes that have run through your life: faith, community, family, travel, etc.”
“I like that idea.”
Last night I was looking for something to read. I have a habit of buying most of my books in French (good intentions…). To tell you the truth, reading in French is the last thing I want to do right before I go to bed (unless it’s Colette, I could read Colette all day and all night). I paced between my three bookshelves for about fifteen minutes, pulling out volumes and shoving them back into their “spot” (“abstract random” seems to be my dominant organizational style). Finally, Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies caught my eye. When had I purchased that? I had just finished Bird by Bird, so I was primed for more of Lamott’s evocative, personal prose. I slid it out from its position wedged between two West African novels. Still confused as to when and why I had bought this (I’m typically not a big consumer of spiritual books), I opened the front cover. In her unmistakable script I saw: “To Jen, Merry Christmas. I love you. Grandma Pat.” As I sunk into Lamott’s narrative of her spiritual journey, my mind filled with ideas of how to shape GP’s memoir. Keep it honest, keep it focused, but not too focused. Retain her voice, make it a gift, a tribute in her own words.
As I listened to her stories today, I realized how fortunate I am to be working on this, what a gift it is to me. We are creating a time capsule (both audio and textual), a way to remember not only her story, but the stories of her parents and siblings, her children, us. It is her story, it is our story, and it will live on through our children someday.
I can’t imagine a better way to spend Tuesday afternoons.