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My Grandmother's Advice

When I was a teenager, my younger brother and I decided to interview my maternal grandmother, Clara Baker Cohen, to find out a little bit about family history and her life. We interviewed her on the afternoon of March 13, 1983. I know that, because I was obnoxiously meticulous about noting the exact date and time of the recording. At the time, my grandmother was 75 years old, and about to turn 76 on April 12.

Shortly after she died in 1992, I made a bunch of copies of the original tape, and I discovered both the original and the copies among the stuff in my Mom's house. Thanks to Nomi's new toy, we've now transferred the interview to mp3, which means I was able to listen to it on my iPod. Thanks to my younger self, I have some of the information about my mother's side of the family that I thought I had lost forever when she died. (I can ask my uncle Robert questions, but I've still lost my Mom's perspective on family history.)

(I've become much more interested in family history since Mom died. Her grandparents and great-grandfather are buried in the Pride of Boston cemetery in Woburn, Massachusetts, and Nomi and I are planning to visit their graves and photograph the monuments. But I digress.)

At the end of the tape, I asked my grandmother if she had a message for her future descendants. This is what she said:


First, I hope you have a happy life. Now, what is a happy life? My father-in-law used to say that life is just a dream, and some people are lucky and have a pleasant dream, and others are unlucky and have a nightmare dream.

That's true. But a great deal has to do with your own attitude. Of course everybody has sorrows, and problems, and setbacks; I had them too. But the fact is that always I measured my good fortune against my bad fortune, and I always felt as though I came out ahead.


Among the many other things I'll post about when I have more time is family history, as I come to discover it....
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That's great advice; it sounds a lot like something my grandpa would have said.

Actually, several months back, I found a tape recording of my grandfather from when I used him as an interview subject for an assignment in college. I listened to about 2 minutes of the tape, but I wasn't (and probably still am not) quite ready to hear his voice again. I'd love to know how to convert the tape to an mp3, so that when I am ready, I can have it on the computer...
If you mail us a copy of the tape, Nomi can use her new toy to make mp3s for you.

Or you can buy a toy of your own:

http://www.thinkgeek.com/electronics/mp3/85fb/
You're lucky. I made a similar interview tape of my father's mother, but she made me destroy it in front of her to prove I was doing so, immediately afterwards (and before I could make a copy). Part of the occasional paranoia that went with her past, I guess.
I'm sorry to hear about that.

I agree that we are lucky. I also found the tape my Mom made in 1997 at my request, reminiscing about when we went to see Star Wars; the tape of Dad's funeral and the subsequent news coverage; and another few audio tapes that may have Mom on them.

I just wish I had gotten more family history. But one of my grandmother's cousins turns 85 this year, and lives locally. I plan to interview him if he's willing.
That's great that you found the tape and have the technology to convert it.
Thanks for this post, Michael. It's a reminder to all of us who want to keep those family memories and wisdom alive.
It's wonderful that you have that. I wish that I had thought to record my grandparents.
*Waiting for more*

My grandmother loved talking about family history...unfortunately, she hated being taped, and wouldn't say anything if a cassette was running. So I know I've forgotten quite a lot of what she told me.
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