I’ve been a bit out of touch this week (sorry if I haven’t yet replied to an email from you!) as I’m visiting my grandmother in Vancouver. It’s always really a treat to come over and spend some quality time with her, as we live so far away and even when I’m in Victoria the gap between the island and the mainland is always increasing (along with BC ferries fees…)
While I’m here this week, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time learning about our family history. I’m always curious to hear more stories, see photos, read old letters and notes, slowly building a greater understanding of where I came from and how our family fit into the larger picture of social change in the past century.
When I was visiting my grandma over Christmas break, my dad showed me this old box of reel-to-reel tapes that his father made during the late 60s and 70s. They vary from recordings of music to my great-grandmother telling stories and my grandparents’ 17th wedding anniversary party.
I was, of course, very curious to listen to the tapes, but my grandmother no longer had a reel-to-reel player. Thus, my dad began searching around for one, asking family and friends, and checking out Craigslist. He managed to find one that worked eventually, which you can see here (since I’m pretty sure most people in my generation don’t know what this is…)
It’s basically a giant tape-deck. You load one of the reels onto the wheel on the left, wind the tape through the different pulleys and wheels, and attach it to the wheel on the right. Then you can listen to the different sides and parts of the tape!
So, since I’ve been here I’ve been listening to my grandfather playing guitar and my aunts and uncles singing along as little kids; my great-grandmother tell stories about her own grandparents and her childhood; and some old jazz compilations my grandfather recorded onto tape also. Some of the tapes are worn pretty thin with age, and so you can’t listen to them any more, which is a pity. My dad and I are hoping to convert those that still do work to electronic versions so that we can share them with the rest of the family into the future.
In addition to listening to these old tapes, my aunt showed me how to work my grandmother’s old slide-projector, and we went through some old boxes of slides with photos of my aunts and uncles as kids goofing around at my dad’s 1st birthday party; my great-grandma giving out GreenPeace pins downtown Vancouver in the 70s; my oldest cousin as a baby; my grandfather and his sister at his 50th birthday, etcetera. It’s pretty cool to look at the photos with the projector rather than in a photo album, they’re so big and we could all look at once, commenting, comparing.
Of course, on top of learning about all this old technology and seeing these records made in the past, my grandma always tells lots of really interesting stories about her own life, my grandpa’s life, and the family history as well. She and my dad were telling me the other night about one of my grandpa’s sisters (Aunt Kate) who, at age 16 (although my aunt says she was 14), bought a flapper dress. Her father, who disapproved, threw it in the wood stove. In response, she ran away from the family home (in Illinois, I think), to California, where she worked a forklift at the docks during WW2, got married, and settled down for the rest of her life. Dad said she was always a lot of fun to visit–quirky, interesting, independent–and despite being seen by some of the family as too rebellious, she was very inspiring to all the little cousins.
Anyhow, just thought I’d share a couple things here for now. If we manage to make mp3s of some of the tapes maybe I’ll post a couple of good stories.