This week I unearthed two tracks I love to have but never listen to. I was inspired by the questions about oral tradition and storytelling raised by the short documentary Cry Rock, in which the filmmaker wonders whether or not to record her grandmother's stories, and I played a few minutes from interviews given by my Granny and my grandfather in the early 1970s. A few years ago, my dad had the old reel-to-reel tapes of the interviews digitized and gave my brothers and me each a copy. I have never really managed to listen to the interviews: my grandfather died long before I was born, and Granny died in 2001, and it has just always seemed really painful to listen to these interviews. They evoke such loss.
I am really proud of my family history. My great-grandfather (who has come up on the radio before) was a speculating adventurer who amassed something of a fortune by first running, and then selling for a healthy profit, a tramway around the Whitehorse Rapids during the Gold Rush. He later lost almost everything in a recession--except for a "vacation" property on one of the Gulf Islands. When my dad was growing up, they grew almost all their own food. Granny worked as a teacher, and my grandfather was (among other things, I think) a telephone lineman. They knew almost everyone on the island and threw great square dancing parties. The farm is now in its third iteration--retirement home for my parents--and while I never grew up there, it functions as a sort of ancestral home and is important to me emotionally. I'd rather hear, however, my father's reports of how much rain has or hasn't fallen and how the Christmas trees are doing, and would rather listen to my mom talk about having to mow the lawn (there is a lot of it), than listen to these old interviews that could put me in closer touch with an era I would love to know more about. Hearing Granny's voice is particularly painful. Her voice is very distinctive--even forty years younger than when I knew her best, when she was frail and loopy, it sounds so familiar. I think in some ways it is her voice that I remember best.
Seeing Cry Rock for the first at the film festival back in April (it won the Audience Favourite award) got me thinking about the interviews, and seeing the film again during Arts Fest a couple of weeks ago made me want to listen to them. I'm a little jealous of Banchi Hanuse; I grew up thousands of kilometres away from both of my grandmothers (and in lots of ways I never really had a grandfather--my mother's father died when I was quite young, and I actually think my one memory of him may be just... made up by my grieving child's brain). Learning stories from that generation first hand--hearing them so often as to create an oral tradition--wasn't possible. I understand the decision Hanuse reaches in her film, and have great sympathy for First Nations struggling to preserve their cultures, but I'm glad someone recorded my grandparents while they had the chance.
And then I made people listen to it on the radio. I also played some music:
- Beach Boys--Kokomo
- LCD Soundsystem--Dance Yrself Clean
- The Rolling Stones--Under My Thumb
- Chester Knight--Love Me Strong (requested by Charlie, who walked in off the street)
- Bruce Springsteen--I'm On Fire
- The Band--Ophelia
- Opening few minutes of the interview with my grandfather, Arthur
- The Vern Williams Band--Oh Susanna
- The Be Good Tanyas--The Littlest Birds
- Hank Williams--Move It On Over
- Opening few minutes of the interview with my Granny, Florence
- Helen Humes--Song of the Wanderer
- Bing Crosby--Mister Gallagher and Mister Shean
- Ethel Merman--You're the Top
- Okkervil River--A Stone
- Neko Case--Lion's Jaws
- Jenn Grant--Britt 'n Kip
- Chic Gamine--Don't Think That I Can Stay
- Elvis Perkins in Dearland--Shampoo
- Patrick Watson--Big Bird in a Small Cage
- Alex Ebert--A Million Years
- Wil--Tell You Twice
- Gowan--Midnight Desires
The family farm... as of a few years ago.
I looked for a more recent picture--the gardens have come a long way since this was taken--but for some reason whenever I'm on the Island I only take pictures of all the partying we do. It must be the legacy of all that square dancing back in the day (but I don't think my mom wants those hilarious photos from our Christmastime vodka tasting put on the internet).