Published Sunday, October 14, 2012
A few years ago I interviewed my parents.
With assorted family members behind the camera, I asked questions like any good newspaper features writer would ask.
At the time of the interview both were about 80 years old. They were sharp as tacks, witty and retrospective. They responded to the many questions and were patient when I guided the interview back to the topic again and again.
My reasons for the interview were many, but mainly because these two had lived through eras like the Great Depression. They knew a time when few people owned cars and food came from farms, not restaurants. They packed away the family radio in favor of the newly invented television. And one day they would use a computer to receive digital photos of their grandchildren.
Because I come from a silly family, there were plenty of antics during filming. Mom and dad playfully disagreed about some guy that was trying to “turn her head” about the same time dad was. Dad remembered his full name and said it with disdain, revealing that nearly 60 years of marriage still wasn’t enough to make him realize how lucky he was to snag such a catch. Songs were sung, silly poems were recited and in the background, my son and his fiancée performed a mimed skit while mom and dad talked. It was hysterical.
Neither of them came from wealth and times were hard. Both remembered as children how they would meet the iceman as he made deliveries. “We would be playing in the yard and see his truck coming. We’d eat the slivers of ice that broke off the blocks. It was wonderful,” mom recalled. I imagined being a kid on a dirt road in the heat of a North Carolina summer, watching that truck rumble to a stop, anticipating the coolness of a refreshing sliver of ice. Simple pleasures. Simpler times.
They told me about gathering around the radio with the whole family staring at it like it was going to do something besides broadcast the news or play music. As they talked about it they began to recall certain programs, their eyes lighting up with the happy memories.
Mom recalled her first job, one that she took during wartime in lieu of college. Her father died while his family was still young and it was the task of the older kids to help out financially.
Dad remembered joining the Navy with his brother Jack. One time, the two met up on some remote island in the Pacific, neither knowing the other was there. That story led to a flurry of memories of Jack and dad, teaming up for fisticuffs, getting matching “mother” tattoos, driving fast cars, going into business together and finally, a brotherhood that would end far too soon with the death of Jack at age 49.
Mom shared stories of her children growing up. One of her favorites was of my brother who was about four years old when he walked by as she asked if he wanted a cookie. He walked on, wooden screened door slamming behind him. She heard him pause on the stoop and repeat, “Son, would you like a cookie?” then replied, “Yes, I believe I would,” and returned inside to get his cookie. I absolutely loved hearing mom tell this, waiting for the rise in her voice as she told the same exact story I’d heard my entire life.
I asked them to give me a list of their favorite songs, and each named hymns I’d heard them sing since I was a baby. Without prompting from me they would interrupt the interview to burst into song. In the Garden. Amazing Grace. How Great Thou Art. It was beautiful, their voices blending, each one occasionally having to clear their throat as the years altered their ability to hit the highest notes.
Mom passed away in 2008, dad in September of last year. I think it’s time to bring out that video again to see the smiles and hear the songs and stories. I’m thankful for this gift they left behind. It is an inheritance worth more than all the money on earth.