#52Ancestors Week 8: Heirloom

When everybody knows you’re the one who cares, you end up with a lot of heirlooms, papers, and ephemera. I’m like the Little Mermaid of my family, with who’s-its and what’s-its galore: from great-granny’s giant wooden spoon, knife, and fork set hanging on my kitchen wall (not to mention her biscuit pan and rolling pin in the cabinet), to a Shaker-style quilt which belonged to my step-great-great-grandmother, to my grandmother-in-law’s genealogical research files, to my great-grandmother’s high school yearbook, to my great-granddaddy’s shellback ceremony photos–you want thingamabobs? I got twenty! But who cares? No big deal. I want moooorrreee–

I’m sorry, where were we?

Right. Heirlooms. I’ve got a lot of ’em and I’d be hard pressed to name a favorite, but I think the most meaningful “saves” I’ve ever made are recordings of my late grandfathers’ voices.

My maternal grandfather (Granddaddy) died about six years ago. I’ve got a little brother over twenty years younger than me, and when he was tiny, Granddaddy and Grandma gave him one of those record-able Hallmark storybooks. Grandma and Granddaddy recorded Lightning McQueen and His Winning Team for my kid brother less than a year before Granddaddy died. Granddaddy’s maternal uncles were professional race car drivers in the twenties and thirties, and he was an amateur driver in his own right as a young man, so you best believe listening to my granddaddy read the page about Doc Hudson in his Southern baritone is something I can only do about once a year. (And let’s not even talk about how much I thought about my granddaddy and cried through Cars 3).

H.D. Lyons aka Granddaddy racing, circa 1960s; digital image January 2012, privately held

I bought a copy of the same record-able storybook for my own son, thinking I’d use Grandma and Granddaddy’s rendition of Lightning McQueen and His Winning team for his book too, but since I burst into tears every time I hear it, I think it might be better to get a new rendition from my in-laws. My husband made a recording of the audio just in case something happened to the book, and I’ve got that file backed up every which way.  I’ve got an actual tape of Grandaddy in my files too, one of my mother and some of her brothers with him back in the seventies, but the audio is heavily distorted. We haven’t been able to rescue it yet, and may never be able to. But at least we’ve got Granddaddy reading about the denizens of Radiator Springs.

My paternal grandfather (Papa) was only sixty when he died back in 1999. When his stepfather, the man I called Church Papa because he was a preacher–who functioned as a great-grandfather to me even though he was actually my great-grand-uncle; a story for another day–died in 2011, I helped my grandmother and great aunt clean out his house. In a stack of old cassettes, I found a tape that my Papa, Grandma, bio-father, and uncle recorded from Okinawa in 1979. Papa was stationed at Kadena Air Force Base at the time, and they’d recorded a solid hour of themselves just chit-chatting and talking about their lives to send back to Church Papa and Granny in North Carolina.

When we realized what it was, my grandmother and I were in a bit of a shock. We took the tape home to her house and played it. For the first time in over a decade, we heard Papa’s voice. It happened to be my birthday. We cried. A lot. Hearing my Papa’s voice again was probably the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten, bar none. I took the tape home with me to California, where my husband digitized the audio. I don’t listen to it often, but I like knowing that my son will one day be able to “meet” my Papa, who at one point jokes about going back to work in the cotton mill after his retirement from the Air Force–which he’d joined partly to get away from the cotton mill in the first place. Later on, he even talks my grandmother into singing a gospel song while he accompanies her on the guitar.

Speaking of, I’ve got a CD full of gospel songs Church Papa recorded with the other musicians at his church some time in the early 2000s, but I’ve lost track of the back-up. I guess it’s a good thing this prompt came along to remind me.

And now that I’m on the subject, we’ve also got a gospel record my husband’s grandfather cut in 1964. It’s one of several copies, but my husband wasn’t given his own until, well…the funeral. He babied the thing through airport security, and it hung on the wall in our son’s room until our little Destructo-Bot broke the frame (but thankfully not the record or his skin). If you’re into that sort of thing, enjoy: