Posted on 6 Comments

O is for Oral Histories

Yes, I know O does not come before N, but I decided that O and N needed to be switched, for reasons that will be come apparent eventually. Or maybe not. Doesn’t matter – it’s my blog and if I want to re-arrange the alphabet, then so be it icon_wink-flickr-7 Shall we get on with it?

My grandfather

In the Encyclopedia of Me, O is for Oral Histories, and that is mainly because, when I think about my grandfather, who would have been ninety years old today, I mostly remember how he liked to tell stories. And I liked to listen. This picture was taken at my nephew’s 2nd birthday party in the Summer of 2000. That’s my 7-year-old on his lap, who was a plump 5-month-old at the time. My grandfather had a very technical mind and loved to solve puzzles. I remember him sharing his thoughts that day on how to get the water to flow uphill in the moat that Neil wanted to dig around our home. Neil never did dig that moat, but it always amuses me that Grandpa had given so much thought to the logistics of it, even though he surely knew it was not going to happen.

I am having trouble finishing this post. I composed the whole thing – quite eloquently, I might add – in the shower a few days ago, which is where I do some of my best work icon_smile-flickr Somewhere between thinking and typing, words become a completely different animal, charged with more emotion than one might initially have expected, or just not coming together coherently at all.

I had some general observations about the old and the young and storytelling, but I can’t make the words say what I mean, in the non-preachy way that I mean it. I wanted to draw parallels between some of my grandfather’s interests and my own, and how, in thinking about it, I have realized that I am more like him than I may have realized. He had a whole basement full of things he made – some useful, some just decorative, most made of salvaged materials. Had I been thinking about it when I was last at my parents’ house, I could have illustrated this post with an image of the windmill he made for my mother out of an old metal cigarette ad. He was full of projects like that.

My grandfather and my son

I wanted to talk about how many times I dreamed about him when I was expecting son #2. I wanted so much to name the little guy after him, but there were several reasons why using his name was not practical, so we went a different direction. I spent the first few months of my son’s life with a feeling of his familiarity. Now he just looks like himself to me, but initially I felt like someone else was looking at me through his eyes. When we dug up a photo of my grandfather from his babyhood, I knew where I’d seen my guy’s eyes (and much of his face!) before. For fun last year I “aged” son #2 on a website whose address I now forget, and it was uncanny how much he, as an old man, looked like my grandfather.

I wanted to talk about the memoirs he wrote, which I found fascinating, entertaining, and funny. I could hear his voice as I read them. When I discovered he had been writing down some of his stories, I emailed him and asked for a copy, which he gladly sent along. [As an aside, how cool was it that I could email my grandfather?! Six years ago, How many thirty-year-olds could have said that their grandparents were online?] Those memoirs arrived in my inbox just a few months before he died, and I read them during the weeks leading up to his passing. I haven’t looked at them since, but I keep them in a safe place. I hope that my own kids will find it interesting to read some anecdotal family history some day, even if one of them never knew him and the other one was only a year-and-a-half when he died.

O is for Oral Histories (which, I realize is stretching it, but coming up with another O word for this wasn’t easy…)

This post almost didn’t happen. If the weather had been cooperating, I’d have spent this morning getting ready for the boys’ water party, the afternoon having the party, and the evening recovering from it. I’d likely have gone with the much easier “O is for Open Windows” post, and chatted lightheartedly about how much I enjoy feeling a breeze coming into the house or the car, even though I’m not much of an outdoorsey person. I’m glad I was unexpectedly presented with the time to go a bit deeper. Even though I really do love open windows.


Posted on 6 Comments

6 thoughts on “O is for Oral Histories

  1. This is a lovely entry, and a nice tribute to Grandpa. I would suggest that you email it to my father becuase he “doesn’t read blogs,” and he and I aren’t really speaking right now. He would quite enjoy it.

    I spoke to Grandpa in the weeks before he died and we spoke about you. He seemed pleased at how crafty you were/are and very much like his mother in that regard. I, of course, do not fit that mold, and the idea of collecting more stuff makes me want to go screaming for the hills! The basement in Lyndhurst to me is cause for alarm, and not wonderment, and I guess that would all keep me out of the craft stuff, even if I did have any talent, which I do not.

    As to oral histories, my father, as I’m sure you know, would be pleased to talk your ear off at any moment with his oral histories. I’ve developed, um, a low tolerance, let us just say, for it all, and he would surely love to learn that he has another audience :-).

    I have been consdering posting/reformatting Grandpa’s memoirs for many years. I think they would make interesting blog entries and might even find a minor following. The problem is that there are too many people currently still living who might not be as amused as we :-).

    Personal aside on his memoirs – my father was struck at how much Grandpa had to be a go-between for his parents. I mentioned that I empathized :-), and my father was not amused (bwhahahaha).

    AAAnyway, thanks so much for posting this – I don’t know that I had seen the pic of him holding Aidan, and it’s quite sweet. Both my grandfathers died in that year – my other one, who’s birthday was on the 15th, would have been 92. I hope they’re friendly in heaven and enjoy the fact that we still think (and even write) about them.

    1. You know, I have considered re-formatting them myself – that fact that they are in all CAPS drives me bonkers. There’s got to be some utility out there that would fix that.

      I hadn’t realized he talked about me – that’s nice to know. And it’s interesting to hear that his mother was crafty, although I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. I have a box of her beads somewhere. And as far as that basement goes, I have to admit that it makes me claustrophobic for the most part. There were some nifty things to come out of there, though.

      I have occasionally corresponded with your dad about some family history stuff when I’ve emailed him asking for pictures, but I usually end up hearing a lot about people I only ever knew by name 😉 I did get some images of our great-grandparents (Granny’s mother and Grandpa’s father), whose faces I had never seen before, and that was something I appreciated more than I realized I would. I could email him this entry but I think I’m still smarting from the “Fat Air” comment of Thanksgiving 1998… 😉

      I wonder if the memoirs would be an interesting read for anyone not related to us? The names could always be changed to protect the living (notice I didn’t say “innocent”) 🙂

      1. Re: CAPS – fun little function in Word that not many people know about – you highlight the text and hit Shift F3, and it cycles through different combinations of capitalization. Fun!! 🙂 By the way, do you think your sister inherited the ALL CAPS gene from Grandpa, then?

        You’re right, probably best to leave my father out of it. You are very wise, grasshopper.

        I think the memoirs would be an interesting read for anyone who is into early 20th century NJ/NY history…I don’t know who those people are, but there must be some :).

        1. Ooh, nifty little function! I didn’t know about that but I figured *somebody* must have written one at some point. Thanks for the info.

  2. Isn’t it funny that we all thought of reworking Grandpa’s memoirs. I chucked the idea long ago because I think they are a better reflection of him as they are. They have a quality that is much more verbal than they would if all the punctuation were corrected.

    As for that windmill, Lisa, I see it out my kitchen window everyday and remember that he made it for me when he was actually very near death. And I believe that when it turns in the breeze that he is waving to me and is pleased and peaceful.

    Thanks for posting this. I needed a good cry. MOM

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