Voices From the Past

My mom teases my daughter Cassie whenever Cassie sends her weekly, sometimes daily, photos and video of grandbaby Claire, saying Claire is the most well documented baby in history. It’s true we take tons of video and photos of Claire, but it’s only because everything she does is new and cute and we don’t want to miss a thing.

We also do it because we can. Our cameras take photos and serve as mini video recorders, and we keep them near at all times.

Want to see Claire laughing at dandelions? Click here. Claire crawling and pulling out her daddy’s leg hair? Click here. Claire playing with the Musical Band Stand (and baby monitor and Thighmaster) and attempting to dance? Click here.

The earliest video I have of my children was from Carlene’s 5th birthday party. Cassie was 3. There might be two or three other videos of them after that, otherwise they are documented through photographs only. However, I was given the gift of the past – the voices of my children as babies – earlier this week from my sister Debbie.

When Debbie and her husbandn moved to Washington DC, my dad tape recorded every family Christmas from 1978 to 1991 so they could “share” in the festivities. Debbie recently had all the tapes converted to CDs and sent them to my parents and siblings. When I was in Pittsburgh last week, Carlene, Cassie and I listened to Christmas 1984, and I heard a memory that was fogged over in my brain. For the first time in 24 years I heard my children’s tiny baby voices, and while I recognized them immediately, I’d forgotten what they sounded like because I only know them as I hear them now, as grown women.

Carlene and Cassie loved hearing their voices, too, since no one remembers what they sounded like as babies. (Except, perhaps, Jill Price.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen my kids more mesmerized as they were listening to themselves for the first time.

This morning I listened to Christmas 1978 and 1983. In 1978 I was 15, my brothers were 25 and 12, and my little sister Emily was 3. When Emily sang “Away In A Manger” in her little toddler voice, I remembered that moment so clearly, along with other things from when she was 3, like playing Barbies with her and being awakened early every morning to the sound of her Toonyville Choo Choo. It was fun to hear my own voice, too, an awkward and kind of dorky teenager talking into a tape recorder. I laughed when I heard my dad exclaim after my sister opened a gift, “I think she digs that train all right!” Ah, Dad. Ever the hip lingoist.

In Christmas 1983, our first Christmas after Bruce died, Carlene was a little older than Claire is now – about 9 months old. Carlene’s laugh is so sweet and heavenly. Its sound reminds me so clearly how I felt that evening – a little sad, but mostly happy, loving Carlene and my family and missing Bruce, but apparently dating some tall skinny guy named Tim that, even after hearing his voice, I can’t for the life of me remember in any way. I can hear myself in the tape, too, talking to Carlene so casually, like a mom does, and giving out instructions to my brother who’s holding her. These are memories I’d never have so vividly without the audio recall to coax them out of my head.

While I’m grateful we have the technology to document Claire’s life so minutely, there is something really profound about hearing a voice you never expected to hear again. It dusts off the corners of your mind and takes you on a surprise escape to the past. These CDs document times that I sometimes remember differently. They are the truth and they are helping reform my memory so that I don’t recall the past in a revisionist way.

Thank you, Debbie, for the priceless gift of the voices of my children and our sister and brothers and parents, frozen in time, in good times.

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone. I hope your memories of loved ones are as rich and vivid as the ones I’ve been blessed with this week.

2 thoughts on “Voices From the Past

  1. Claire is just impossibly cute. That laugh!! I just love to hear a baby laugh, it always makes me feel better.
    I have various video clips of my kids, I really need to find them and get them onto dvd. My mother in laws last message to us is on the answering machine (she’s been gone a year and a half), my dad I have some video of. It is an amazing thing to hear those voices isn’t it.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. I have a couple of those recordable picture frames that have the kids’ voices on them as toddlers. It’s so strange to push the button and hear exactly what they sounded like again. It’s hard to believe that they were ever that small and squeaky.

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