Saturday, January 19, 2019

The First Time I Heard Her Voice


The first time I heard my Grandma Nora's voice was 13 February 2017.

It was a cold evening and I had decided to finally pull out those old cassette tapes that I had found at my Uncle Art's house. Uncle Art had passed away the previous spring, and in cleaning his house I found a collection of tapes that I had kept in a brown paper bag for safe keeping. I just hadn't built up the courage to listen to the recordings yet.

What would be on them? What if they were just Art's favorite songs? But maybe...just maybe...there'd be recordings of my Grandma Nora.

So I borrowed my dad's old cassette player that he was going to throw out anyway, and that cold evening I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what I might find on those mysterious cassettes. (I later discovered from Tom Perry on Extreme Genes that you should *never* use an old cassette player until first cleaning it. One of the tapes got stuck in the cassette player!)

After not hearing my Uncle Art's voice for so long, here he was again. 

"Okay this is going to be a call to Mother here, in the hospital in Richmond. This will be calling from Manassas here and it's August 10, 6:15pm, that's Monday. Okay hold on....here goes the call!"

I quickly remembered hearing stories of my Uncle Art's love for recording. He would make audio recordings of conversations and thoughts. He was also a photographer, a journal keeper, a man who kept lists. So this didn't surprise me, though it did excite me! What would I hear next?

The first time he called the line was busy, so he tried again at 6:45pm.

"313, please."

Once the connection is made, the nurse hands the phone to my Grandma Nora. And just like that, I'm given a priceless gift that my Uncle Art never expected to give me. The first time I heard her voice.

"Hello?"

"Hi."

"Oh hi Darlin'!" She's so excited to hear from her first born.

"Mrs. Williams?" Art seems almost jokingly formal.

"This is Mrs. Williams!" She replies with a sing-song giggle in her voice.

They talk about how she just had her treatments. My Uncle Art wants to go down to Richmond to see her, but he's not sure if he'll feel up for the trip from Northern Virginia. She talks about the visitors that have come, and her roommate in the hospital. Between her cancer treatments and jamming her finger in the bathroom door (something she mentions in a care-free sort of way), you'd think she'd sound upset, frustrated. But she doesn't. She's jovial. Light-hearted. Youthful. 

"Everything's just fine!" she practically purrs. This is a woman who's clearly spent her whole life thinking of everyone but herself.

"I'd love to see you....I love you. You come when you can, yea, suga'?" Her voice drips with the beautiful non-rhotic sweetness of Virginia.

Sometimes I wish you could just frame a moment; to hold on tight to a particular time spent with someone special. Bottle up the smell of fresh biscuits. Frame the voice of my Grandma Nora. 

In the next recording, Art clarifies that it's 1987. It turns out he did take the two hour trip south after all. To where he grew up, in Moseley, Virginia: an unincorporated area - not quite a neighborhood nor even a town - that hugs the border of Powhatan and Chesterfield counties. 

I'm glad to find out that he took the time to visit my Grandma Nora. That was 10 August 1987 and she she passed away 6 October 1987, not even two months after this recording. 

I was born in the interim - just two weeks before she passed away. I met her only once. One moment with my Grandma Nora. She was so happy to see that I had "Charlie's eyes" - the eyes of my grandfather. She lived long enough to meet me, to see me, but not long enough to tell me her story. 

So every day I grasp at every thread of information, every DNA match, every record, every distant cousin, every story, every photo, every little thing so that I can attempt to paint a picture with words of a woman who gave everything to everyone. Who held on long enough to give her grandson that one precious moment with his Grandma Nora.

I may not have her eyes, but I do have her heart. And I have her giggle.

*****

This has been my first post in a year-long series that I'm participating in with the inspiration of Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. The first prompt was simply "first." I'll be catching up on the rest of January's prompts, and then hopefully afterwards I'll be on a more regular weekly schedule of blogging about a different ancestor. 

Thanks for joining me with my Uncle Art and Grandma Nora this week. I hope you'll join me soon as I strive to encounter my ancestors through family history and remember the past made present today.

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