Like so many of you, I never got to meet all four of my grandparents. But Alexander Graham Bell has reminded me how the grandchildren of today can have a better idea of their grandparents, even if they have never met them in the flesh.
I heard a recording on the Internet by Bell, the inventor of the telephone, saying, “Hear my voice – Alexander Graham Bell.”
That resurrected recording was made on waxed cardboard 128 years ago. Bell was not as clear as a bell. In fact, he was mushy as a wet pancake. I could barely make out what he said. But it is astonishing nonetheless to hear the voice of a man who made his mark by finding a way to let people talk to each other from miles (and now years) away.
Bell’s words remind me of how little I know of my paternal grandfather who died before I was born. I have seen two still photos of my father’s father. He had kind eyes, a slight resemblance to a walrus and he looks like a guy with some attitude. That would coincide with the facts. He was a veterinarian/farmer with nine children It takes a strong personality to ride herd on a brood like that.
Except for a handful of family stories, that’s about all I know of him. There are no home movies and no voice recordings from the man who is one quarter of my being.
But how different it is today if you have a grandfather you never met. Many grandchildren today are able to hear and watch videos of the grandpa who died too soon.
That thought first occurred to me some years ago while visiting my friend J.P. Munson, a jolly, warm-hearted family doctor. He showed me his new contact with the unborn grandchildren that he might never live to see. He was using a tape recorder to record his voice while reading books for grandchildren who lived elsewhere and for grandchildren not yet produced that he might never know.
But they would get to know him. They would hear the love and kindness in his voice on those recordings. They would sense his blatant concern for others. And they would know him well by the books he chose to share with them.
It occurs to me that, with the help of his grandchildren, I could hear that voice again today – a best friend who used to sit and converse with me for hours about what makes people tick, about the state of the world and about the lucky lives that he and I have lived.
In one such session, he looked out the window of his home at the river and the evergreen woods below, speaking proudly of his children and of his grandchildren. Borrowing from the title of the famous Welsh novel and movie by Richard Llewellyn, he said, “Oh, how green is my valley.”
He is long gone now. And I am torn by the realization that I could hear his voice again – if I want to. Surely his grandchildren still have those tapes. But I wonder if it wouldn’t be too painful, too deep a reminder of his absence.
I would be more likely to enjoy listening to his words in my memory where, without electronic recording equipment, we hear the blunt verdicts of long-gone friends and relatives who speak to us in kindness or in disappointment when we do something well or wrong.
Some future time, small people will experience my words.
“Hear my voice, children. I am your grandfather.”Bill Hall can be contacted at email@example.com or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501