Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ghosts are us

My dad just finished converting miles of reel-to-reel tape from my childhood and teen years to CD's.
It is so strange.. I'm used to looking at old photos and the memories they bring. Listening is completely different. It feels like hanging out with ghosts, in a way. And the ghosts are us. It's very, very strange.

For example, the teenage party is shadowy.
The voices remain, shrieks of laughter, boys and girls teasing each other, the sound of the music in the background. The mental images that come to me seem to flit in and out, transparent figures of lively teens no longer with us in the dim basement rec room with a hi-fi stereo at the bottom of the stairs and Chinese lanterns strung along the ceiling.

Anyway, I recognize the teenage party. It had to be in 1966 or 67; when I was in 8th grade. The girl with the loud, shrill voice is Barb M*** I think the goofy boys are Larry B*** and Bill M***. I heard Jenny's and Lyle's name in the background. It's not always easy to figure out who is saying what, but most the time it's pretty clear which one is Barbara. "I'd sing a little song, but I don't know one." So typical of her sense of humor.

I hate to admit, but I'm the one who was singing the "fatty fatty" song. I remember this. I thought it was clever, making up the words to go with the tune of a Beach Boys song, and then thinking about the sizes of the doorways of the different rooms, and how she could get through if she turned sideways. I can still remember what was going on in my head when I sang that! It was stupid, and it sounds stupid, but my teenage brain didn't think it was stupid, and I remember it.

I also heard my voice mention Cathy S*** in the background. Donna is mentioned, and I think I remember her, if she's the Donna I'm thinking of. When Barb says, "Terry," and I say, "What?" I think my voice sounds identical to how it sounds now.

The music from the record player puzzles me, because I don't remember who the group was that did most of those songs. Of course there were the Beatles and Paul Revere and the Raiders, and another pop song that I recognize. But there were several songs that sound oh-so-familiar, but I don't know what they are. One was "Gather all Black Roses," and I do remember we had an album with that title. I don't think it was ever a hit. I think maybe the songs from the party that I don't recognize came from that album. I kind of like the music now; it sounds a lot like the stuff kids are listening to these days. I think back then I considered it too heavy metal for my taste. It was my sister's album.

Another fascinating thing I notice is how language has changed in 45-50 years. When I listen to the tape of myself as a child, listing off the titles of all the books in our room, I sound like a little girl in a 1950's movie. The vowels are pronounced just a bit differently. It's really a kick to listen to. I even criticized the quality of the bindings on the Little Golden Books! So funny! And we still have a bunch of those books I was listing off! I really remember doing that. I spent a lot of time alone in my room with the tape recorder that evening and I remember being annoyed at the interruptions. Mom called me and I said to the tape, "I'll be right back," and then I called my sister and told her she was supposed to take a bath. I was really immersed and had set my mind on listing off all of the books in our childhood bedroom library. I didn't want to stop, and I think I was made to stop before I wanted to.

Daniel says my child voice sounds just like our daughter when she was little. Another thing he commented on was how peoples' voices don't change over time. Mom at the age of 35 sounds just like she sounds today. And my teenage voice is pretty identifiable - not much different from now.

It's really interesting to listen to Mom talk on tape, extemporaneously; from my point of view now, as an adult, to see her as a parent of young children, as she recorded her voice in audio letters to her own parents. She describes how it felt to make a spoken letter, different from the experience of writing.

There are probably 20 hours at least, of sound recording. I know I will enjoy listening to all of them, of my grandparents Peterson and Varner, and the other ones of Mom and Dad and our family friends, the Weinbergers. That my dad and mom had the idea to try to capture some of the history of their own lives by interviewing their parents on tape, is pretty unusual; it's a treasure, really. It's really amazing and cool.