Posts Tagged ‘oral history’

I love when the obvious occurs to me, months or years after it should. It’s a great feeling, like showering with whips.

Last week’s post, in which I celebrated my maternal grandpa’s 99th birthday by posting clips of him talking, made me think: You’ve been writing a blog inspired by your paternal grandfather for more than three years. How has it never occurred to you to post clips of his voice?

It’s true. I’ve posted plenty of pictures, but never audio.

(I blame this on my upbringing in a Kodak family. We’re picture-first people.)

A post with my grandpa’s voice seemed like a natural follow-up for this week. But when I asked my dad to go into the family archives, it turned out we didn’t have a recording of Bill Blumenau telling his life story, the way we did with my other grandpa.

The problem (and I use that word loosely) is that his mother, my great-grandma Grossee, lived to be 107. We made several recordings of her talking about her childhood and young womanhood — usually with him in the room, chipping in from time to time.

But I think she sorta overshadowed him in terms of family history, in the sense that we never specifically talked to him, or to my grandma. And that makes sense; when you’ve got a centenarian in the family, you want to make tape of them.

Anyway, my dad dug up a tape from 1981 on which my grandpa — then 70 years old — descants his mother, then 95, on various matters of family history.

I remembered his voice better than I remembered my other grandpa’s. Not sure why — maybe because I had 10 more years to hear it.

But when I heard it again, there was no sense of “Hmmm. That’s what he sounded like.” I felt right at home.

His was an interesting accent. Not straightforward gravelly Bronx like my other grandpa, but something more distinctive, something bearing the stamp of growing up in western Massachusetts while having two native German speakers for parents.

Listen to the way he pronounces “corner,” for instance, in this recollection of catching a ride home with his long-deceased father:

Or listen to him discuss a wintertime treat kids don’t get any more. (My great-grandma cuts in, “I don’t remember,” and he ripostes instantly, “I remember that.”)

At one point, everyone joins in on a discussion of old-fashioned plumbing, including a wonderfully absurd moment’s exchange in which grandpa and great-grandma sound very pleased with gravity.

They don’t spend 10 minutes talking about funerals, as my other grandparents did; but not all the recollections are warm. My grandpa mentions going without steady work for a while during the Depression:

And a story about my late great-grandfather (Grossee’s husband, Bill’s dad) takes a sort of tragicomic turn at the end. It’s funny what people remember after almost 60 years:

So that’s what the guy who kept the calendars sounded like. Sorry it took me so long, but maybe this adds another bit of shading to my regular readers’ mental image of him.

It was high time I stopped running my mouth for a few and let him speak a little, anyway.


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