I recently read an advice column about a woman who wanted to record her aging mother’s voice for posterity, and her mother was resisting. She didn’t like pictures taken of her current self, thought her voice sounded “old”. There followed some advice I’d like to share, and if you haven’t been in this situation yet, chances are you will be one day. But first some short tales of my own on this topic.
When I first became active in the women’s movement in the 1970s, I interviewed my mother for a “Herstory” project (in case you didn’t catch that term, it was a wordplay on HIStory). I was guided by a list of suggested questions to delve into her past, her thoughts on her present life, and her future aspirations. She told me that I climbed on my grandfather’s open coffin to see why he was sleeping in a box, during his wake in the parlor of their cold water flat, when I was three years old. How she lied about my father’s age to her parents when they started dating, because at age sixteen they wouldn’t approve of a man six years older than she was. About all the mistakes she made in her first job, as a waitress, at the Jersey shore. A few days after she passed in 1998, I found the typed text of our interview in a file cabinet. I retyped it on my computer and shared it with my children. We treasure it to this day, and I only regret I didn’t ask her more, and more often.
After that, in the last few years of my father’s life, I interviewed him as well. I learned that, since his parents were from Lithuania, he was seldom exposed to English and didn’t speak the language until he went to kindergarten. That his parents bought their first home, a prefab, from the Sears catalog for $3500. How each of his brothers joined the military to get out of working in the Pennsylvania coal mines. My father was stationed with the Army in Panama, and only his oldest brother returned home, to work in the mines and live out his days in the prefab from Sears. Again, I often think of all the other things I should have asked him, things I’ll never have the answers to.
One first suggestion from me: Because of travel restrictions, like many, our family had a zoom Thanksgiving gathering. My four sons, all their children and a new grandchild, my brother and his daughter were all online from Georgia, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Australia. I am now kicking myself for not recording the event, and will definitely do that for our upcoming Christmas celebration. What a treasure it will be for the whole family.
So, highlights from the advice column of what you might think about doing this holiday season, or anytime, include:
- If someone doesn’t want to be recorded, with audio and/or video, have one of the children interview them. Elders are more likely to agree to that.
- They might also be more agreeable to answer questions asked from a script which sounds more like an authority, vs. direct impromptu sounding questions that might seem “nosey”.
- If you have old photos, especially from when he or she was young, ask the person to identify who is in them, what was going on at the time they were taken, and record their responses.
- Be ready for on-the-fly opportunities to turn on your phone’s video, like when someone is reading to a child, or singing along with the radio, or engaging in any everyday events that will one day be precious.
Have a safe and happy holiday, and be sure to record as much of it as you can.