“...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.