For this week's MP3 I'm going to share with you the audiotrack to a television interview that was done with my great-grandfather when he was ninety-eight. I'm almost too young to have known him. His hundredth birthday occurred when I was just two-and-a-half. That birthday party was the last great family reunion to occur before the different lines went their separate ways. And I remember it -- and him.
I certainly don't recall everything. For example, the drive to California is a complete blank in my mind. What I do remember is having just arrived at his house. My parents were headed to the living room to greet all the relatives, and I was frightened to go into that big room with all those loud strangers. As soon as I appeared at the doorway, all these old ladies started staring at me and going on to each other and to my mother about how adorable I was. It was quite frightening.
Then, from across the room, my great-grandfather said in an authoritative, but very friendly, voice, "Come talk to me, Kinsey". So I did. He was sitting on a sofa (or perhaps an armchair), and I sat at his feet, and we talked. I don't remember a single word of that conversation, but I do remember that he was extremely easy to talk to. He asked me questions and listened to and understood my answers. And I could talk to him, and he would listen. At my age, it was rare to encounter an adult who would or could have a meaningful conversation with me.
He also didn't just talk to me for a couple of minutes and then dismiss me. We talked until we were done. (And considering that all these people were there to celebrate his birthday with him, I find this extraordinary.) The conversation may have ended when my mother brought me a slice of cake, and I was too busy eating to keep talking. By this point, I was no longer the center of attention in the room as I had been upon entering and during the first part of the conversation. I felt a lot safer and no longer had to contend with the old ladies as a group.
My great-grandfather passed away just a few months later. I've always wondered if he took the time to talk to me, so that he would be remembered for another generation. If so, he succeded brilliantly. (I had a grandfather on the other side of the family that I last saw two or three years later and of whom I have no memory at all whatsoever.)
My father has served as the keeper of the family records since he was a child. He's had in his possession, since before my great-grandfather passed away, a couple of reels of tape that were from a television interview of him when he was 98. Without a reel-to-reel tape player, there was no way to play them. A few years back, I purchased a gigantic super-duper multi-function player on eBay. It took me some time to learn how to thread it and adjust the speed, but once I had mastered the technology, we listened to the first reel. As far as we know, this is the only sound recording of his voice ever made.
The second reel was a problem. It just wouldn't play. I finally surmised (by reading the label on it) that it was actually videotape. Apparently videotape used to be threaded onto reels. Who knew? Through a local camera store, my father was able to find a company (the only one remaining in the US) that could convert it to VHS. They took months to complete the task. Of course if we'd waited just a couple more years, we could have had it put on DVD, but I've since taken care of that.
Watching the video that went with the audio was great fun. We were surprised to recognize the chair he was sitting in. My parents inherited a number of pieces of furniture from his household after he passed away, and that was one of the pieces. It still sits in my parents' living room, but it's been in their possession for so long that we barely remembered its origins. It's not very ergonomic and often goes for years without a human being ever sitting in it. (As children, my brother and I used to take turns riding it as we spun it around.) It's really a chair for cats. All cats love sitting on that chair.
So this week's MP3 is the half-hour audio to the interview. Even though he's not related to you, I think the interview will still be interesting to some people. Historically, it's interesting to listen to someone that old talk about the hippy and Vietnam generation. There are more screenshots from the interview below.