Monday, December 1, 2008

Twelve Gifts: #1 STORY

“...and now, Jana, you should be fast asleep.”

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother’s voice saying those words as she scratched my back, lulling me into a blissful slumber. Even in their tiny duplex, she had a special room set aside for the grandchildren to sleep over (which was frequent). She even called it the Children’s Room. The walls were the palest pink with flowered wallpaper. There was an old Victrola in the corner -- that still worked! An old doll, Sarah, from Grandma’s childhood (which I honestly believe she never outgrew) was sitting in a child-size wooden rocker. I used to lie there in the big, brass bed, bundled in handmade patchwork quilts and freshly-ironed cotton sheets, and listen to the train whistles through the open window, with a summer breeze blowing the lace curtains in billowing waves.

The best part of all was the stories she told. She was a master. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, any number of fairy tales, wonderful memories from her idyllic childhood...she even dabbled into Shakespeare and Alcott and Dickens on occasion. But the favorite of all was the story of Cozette.

(We all thought she made it up, but when I was much older and read “Les Miserables” I realized that Grandma’s Cozette may have been loosely based on Victor Hugo’s character of the same name.)

After I married and moved away, Grandma called one day to ask what I wanted for my birthday. Suddenly I thought of the perfect thing. “I don’t really need anything, Grandma. But someday I would love to have a recording of you telling the story of Cozette.” She was more than a little surprised. And probably wished that I’d request something less taxing. But to my magic Grandma (who was the very embodiment of Mrs. Santa herself, including the silvery bun, the starched white ruffled apron and droll little laugh) a wish expressed was a wish fulfilled.

So sure enough, a day or two before my birthday, a manila envelope arrived, addressed in Grandma’s distinct calligraphy. I tore it open, and inside was a white cassette tape labeled “Happy Birthday, Jana.” I popped it in our tape deck (yes, this was before we owned a CD player) and found that she had recorded the story at least half a dozen times, maybe more, trying to capture just the right version. I listened to every one, loved the differences and details in each, and felt like a little girl again clinging to the sound of her silvery voice. The tape has some static, and the recorder makes a rhythmic, mechanical click throughout, but none of that detracts from the magic of hearing that favorite story from my childhood, told and retold in my grandmother's own voice.

Grandma Winters has long since gone, but her gift of story lives on.

9 comments:

Melanie J said...

My brother spent hours a couple of years ago transferring old scratchy tape recordings to digital format. Then when we were in Louisiana for my grandfather's funeral, he gave the recordings to my uncles. We found them sitting in a truck in the funeral home parking lot, transfixed by their mother's voice on the CD, a voice they hadn't heard since she died when I was a little girl. They were so happy.

I loved this story. Excellent gift.

LisAway said...

I'm not really sure what it is about this story that is making me weepy. What is my problem.

This is really beautiful. I love the imagery and the expressions of your love and appreciation for a small but significant thing.

I have this strange sense of longing, for some reason. For the innocence of childhood, maybe? I don't know. It's strange, but I really loved this post.

Brillig said...

What a treasure! And you, of course, write about it gorgeously.

And yet, who is this Jana person you're referring to?

;-D

Eowyn said...

That is beautiful. I am going to work on getting my mom to record herself too.

Kimberly said...

What a beautiful gift indeed! Though I've never heard of it, I can just imagine her voice...

Heidi Ashworth said...

I love how you tell this. You make me want a room like that! And, come to think of it, a grandma like that (mine both died before I was born). What a wise choice you made when you chose that as a gift!

That Girl in Brazil said...

Thank you - I love it. And it gave me lots of ideas ...

Mrs4444 said...

Sweet post.

Every year, my mom calls and leaves a Happy Birthday greeting (sung, of course) on my answering machine. She knows I love it so much (and she doesn't do it for my 8 siblings, so it means a lot). Last year, I asked if she would let me record her singing Happy Birthday to me so that I could always have that treasure to listen to on my birthday. Great sport that she is, she complied. The recording is now saved in two places (digitally). You and I are blessed to have such treasures (the people, as well as the recordings...)

Heather of the EO said...

That gave me chills. Ugh, you are such a talented writer and story-teller yourself. Maybe thanks to Grandma Claus!

I love it.

Now I'm moving on to #2, this is so much fun.