Heard It Through The Laptop

Today, I heard some voices through my laptop.

No, it wasn’t Marvin Gaye. Nor was it Gladys Knight and the Pips. Nor did it tell me to plow under my corn and build a baseball field.

My dad sent me a link to an mp3 tonight, and with him and my sister in the room, I opened it.

And what I heard amazed me.

The crackle of the static and the whistle of the feedback yielded to the first voice, accented by the chirp of a parakeet in the background.

“Stanley? Stanley…Stanley?”

It sounded like a sweet old lady, but not at all who I thought it was. But as she began her recitation, it became clear exactly who it was.

“Dear children, and grandchildren, and the children who will come after we are gone…”

It was my grandmother. She identified herself, and announced the date as November 17, 1972, and began to tell the story of how she, along with my grandfather, great-uncle, great-grandmother, and aunt (a baby at the time) escaped Nazi Germany in 1938.

I’ve heard this story many times, from my grandmother before she passed away in 2005 at age 94, and then from my father. Even I have retold the story, a few times. First, shortly after my grandmother’s death, to a group of students from my college, and then one day to my friend Stacey over lunch at Franklin Dining Commons, during my junior year at UMass, who listened with wide eyes and a spoonful of cereal that never made it to her mouth. My grandmother openly told the story at school assemblies, in synagogue, and even on camera for the Steven Spielberg Holocaust Archives at Yale University.

But this was the first time I heard it through the voice that my father knew, that my aunt knew, before age deepened and roughened it slightly. She spoke slowly, with grace and dignity, adding dramatic pauses for effect and choosing her words very carefully.

After a few minutes, another voice emerged from the background.

It was not a familiar voice, but it was one that I felt like I had known forever.

My grandfather.

My grandfather, whose name is in mine, who died in 1973.

I had never heard his voice…until now.

For the next twenty or so minutes, we listened to the story that we all knew, now told by my grandfather. His voice was slightly more accented than my grandmother’s was, but it wasn’t hard to match the voice with the photos I’ve seen of him, notwithstanding the fact that I always imagined him speaking in a deep voice with a German accent, which is exactly what I heard.

But listening to him, it was like hearing the story told for the first time.

6 thoughts on “Heard It Through The Laptop

  1. So easy these days to record voices, and people today are so relaxed and natural with the act. We made recordings with a suitcase-sized recorder with a truly formidable microphone that terrorised newbies into gulping silence; tapes that even if we ever found them again are probably quite unplayable now.

    My advice, for what it’s worth—in the absence of permanence (who plays Edison wax cylinders these days?) spread your efforts across multi media. Tapes, cassettes, CDs, Dvds, flash drives, hard drive, MP3; anything and everything. And keep updating …

    • Hah! Edison wax cylinders…one of my favorite plays references those in the first lines. I took an acting workshop at the recent conference I attended and played that character, and that’s the monologue I remembered.

      There is someone in Wisconsin who specializes in transferring older types of media to mp3 format. My cousins sent him some stuff once.

    • Absolutely, I never knew it existed until then. We have a recording, somewhere, of my other grandmother singing a pop song from the 1940s; I heard it once, and I wish I knew where it was.

    • I do miss my grandmother, she passed away in 2005, 2 weeks before my 18th birthday. She was 94 years old. I never met my grandfather; he died in 1973, 14 years before I was born. I have seen three pictures of him than I can recall: his wedding photo, one in his twenties, and one in his forties.

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