The pioneer story is not so distant in my family, which perhaps explains the nearness of these ancestors for me.
Although I have a daughter who is only three, my great-grandpa and my husband Milan’s great-grandpa both crossed the plains when they were boys. I find this amazing. There is a remarkable spread between generations in both our families—a hundred years between when Milan and his grandpa were born.
After affluence in Denmark, when my great-grandpa finally arrived in Utah, they spent the first year living in a dugout on the banks of the Bear River. Mud dripped from the ceiling of their cave-like dwelling every time it rained. Can you even imagine that? It’s one thing to go camping and to deal with some rain, but an entire Utah winter in a mud cave? I have been told that when his mother arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, she wept. Not so much for joy and relief, but at the realization of how hard it would be to scratch a home from sagebrush, without tools or money or stores. My great-grandpa’s son, grandpa Anderson served in World War I—quite amazing to say since I, his youngest grandchild, graduated high school in the grunge-band era of the 1990s.
My husband’s great-grandparents have a similar story. They crossed from Denmark to Ellis Island and then by covered wagon to Utah. Their photos hang in our dining room, along with their young daughter who died on the journey. In their new town of Hyrum, Utah my husband’s great-grandfather become a personal friend of the great Shoshone Chief Washakie. His son Heber had vivid and positive memories of the Shoshone tribe visiting their town and home.
But although these pioneer stories are close in generations to us, neither my husband nor I got to meet our grandpas, making them still seem distant. That is, until we heard the audio I’ll share in a minute. I always felt a bit ripped off because the other grandkids talked about Grandpa Anderson’s jolly disposition and kind nature. What would I give for a recording of his voice? How I wished his WWI Journal contained more than a few sparse notes. The same was true for my husband.
What would you give to hear someone’s voice again, or for an ancestor’s story whose life details elude discovery?
Well, a few years ago, my mother-in-law entrusted me with an interview of Milan’s grandpa, recorded in 1961 on reel-to-reel. Tin in hand, I sped to Larsen Digital to have it digitized, and when I slid that shiny CD into my player and his voice spoke into my car, I felt I knew this man. I liked him right away. My first impression was how soft and polite his voice was, a gentleman. He tells of the Chief Washakie coming by the house for a cup of coffee and conversation. Heber describes the procession by their home when Chief Washakie’s daughter died. She had been a beautiful little princess, and the event had quite an impact on the boy. In the interview, we learn about growing up on a farm around the turn of the century. Imagine avalanches, the Depression, and losing his wife in childbirth. This left Milan’s dad without a mother, so common in those days. Think of it. When was the last time you heard of a woman dying in childbirth, leaving her young family? It happens, but it has become rare. The setting is Milan’s hometown of Hyrum, Utah and it paints a rich picture.
This audio is a treasure to me that bridges generations and makes me feel that someday if we get to meet on the other side, it will be a reunion and not an introduction. Recently, Milan was inspired to make this video vignette about his grandpa. I hope you will enjoy it, but more importantly that you will feel inspired to leave stories for future generations of your family to discover.
This experience was long before we started Evalogue.Life, but it had such a powerful effect on me that seeds for this work were planted. So although I am a writer by nature, audio is a favorite medium for its ability to evoke emotion and memory.
If you would like to leave a gift like this for future generations to discover, interview your parents, grandparents, or even write your own story, check out this article of questions to ask your parents or grandparents. It includes a free printable book that you can give as a gift and instructions for how to make one.
Do it now, and it will be enough.
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