This week I am remembering my dad. It would have been his 88th birthday and on his birthday a year ago, his youngest sister passed away. She was the last of that generation and it had been 85 years from the time the first sibling died. Little Ellis was just 4-years-old when he was hit by a car.
We knew my aunt’s death was coming a year ago, but somehow the news of her passing on my dad’s birthday caught me off guard and a fresh wave of grief hit. I felt like a little girl missing her daddy all over again. I was at work and had to fix smudged mascara before retreating for the rest of the day. Later at home I pulled out an audio recording of my dad singing, and tears flooded me again.
In an uncanny coincidence, the date was also exactly 87 years since the passing of my great-grandmother, my dad’s grandma. She died only hours after my dad came into the world. They always felt that she waited until the baby arrived, and my dad’s take on that was, “There’s some coming and some going all the time.”
When I learned that my aunt had died on my dad’s birthday, not only did I listen to his voice but I pulled out an oral history interview I had done with her. In that moment, I was very grateful for the blessing of having so much family history recorded and to pull out when I felt lonesome for those I missed. A week earlier, I had pulled out my Grandma Anderson’s life history and re-read it. What a gift she left us in that book! She finished it in her late 80s. As an aside, I was so grateful to whoever in the family painstakingly typed it up on a manual typewriter, bound and gifted it to the entire family. It wasn’t so easy to move sections around or edit a typo using that equipment.
Remembering my dad and his sister through their voices and laughs
After remembering my dad through his voice, I cherished hearing Aunt Adrienne tell her own story in an oral history interview I did with her back in 2012. It felt like a priceless treasure to listen to it again, and was surprised how much I had already forgotten since recording it. Details aside, what delighted me most about that audio was her laugh. You just can’t capture that any other way than with the sound of someone’s voice. It made me think of the family party happening on the other side. At every family party on this side, it had been a cacophony of laughter by Grandma Anderson and her two daughters and they each had the same tone quality, just in different shades. It was like how my brothers and dad sang campfire songs, hitting genetically matched harmonies. Aunt Adrienne’s husband Uncle Harvey always described the three women as a brood of hens, a spot-on description for how they sounded to my ears. Delightful.
My grandma cried out loud to her deceased mother, “Go away, you can’t take my son!”
Aunt Audriene also spoke of an intriguing family gift – some might call it a curse – of receiving visitations from the dead. When my uncle Nathan fell ill in his 20s, my grandma Anderson received a visit from her long-deceased mother. My grandma cried out loud to her mother, “Go away! You can’t take my son.” Her mother’s spirit did leave, but her son Nathan still passed away shortly after that of leukemia, leaving a young wife and infant daughter. Grandma reported receiving later visits from her dad and others, but that was the last time her mother came. In that recollection was a sense of regret for having spoken words in haste and grief.
Another great moment in the interview was when Aunt Audriene described how she grew up in a very matriarchal family. She never remembered her parents arguing, and some in town joked it was because Mary was the boss and Alvin just let her. In the interview, I asked Aunt Audriene what the Danish culture was like in their town, she didn’t hesitate, “Easy going.” I was a little puzzled by the juxtaposition of Grandma’s strong-willed personality with an easy-going town. Grandpa’s jolly nature was right in sync, but Grandma was Danish too, was she not? Aunt Audriene didn’t hesitate, “Well she’s half English.” Right you are.
Aunt Adrienne then talked about how strong the women were that she knew from that era. I couldn’t help but ponder a stereotype of men in power calling all the shots, but she gave me the sense that stoic pioneer women were a force to be reckoned with indeed. She spoke of women in town serving in the legislature “when women didn’t do those things,” and I was reminded how Utah was the second territory to grant women the vote (after Wyoming.) No state had yet granted this right.
Perhaps one of the most tender parts of the interview was when I asked Aunt Audriene why she thought her life was still being preserved after cancer and so many blood transfusions. Not one for sentimentality, she laughed and then joked, “I guess because somebody’s giving blood.” I pressed her, saying I believed she must still be here for a reason. Uncle Harvey, who had been pretty quiet most of the time jumped in then. “I’ll tell you a reason I think. She’s a good woman. She has been one all her life.”
As the anniversary comes again, I find myself remembering my dad and feeling grateful for recorded voices and stories that take me back.
For this reason, I urge you to take the time to record your loved one’s voices and to write down their stories. The time will come when these reminders mean the world.
Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden, Utah and work together in it, weaving family and business together. She especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her latest book Remember When, the inspiring Norma and Jim Kier story.
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