The Grandmas Called

Man, were they wired.

Wire recording

Scribbling on the tape label of this roll of recording wire indicates its contents features the voice and stories of my great-great-great grandmother.

My father treasured his heritage. He loved the little things that brought him closer to his ancestors, particularly his grandmother, Lola World-Thomson, his great-grandmother Jennie Suprise (correct spelling) and his great-great grandmother Lola Amanda Guest.

I somehow ended up with one of the beautiful trunks that Lola Amanda Guest (our family knows her by the name of “Grannie”) packed up in Georgia when she moved west to Utah. A week before my dad passed away in 2010, he called me on the telephone. The subject was a beautiful 120-year-old picture of Grannie that hung on his bedroom wall in an oval frame with the original glass.

“Donna, I want you to have that picture of Grannie. She was just a kid during the Civil War. I can remember her telling me stories about that when I was a child. I want you to have that picture. I’ve written some remembrances of her there and taped them to the back of it.” There was a long pause. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and knew he was dying. He sounded so tired. Suddenly, he seemed to rally, “Don’t you touch it until I’m gone.”

He did go just days after and I have hung the picture above her trunk ever since (although I have moved more times that I would like to admit).

Webster-Chicago Wire Recorder

My ancestors must have been very determined to see that these wire recordings found their way back to my family.

Shortly after my dad died I came in to possession of an old Webster-Chicago wire recorder. It had once belonged to “The Grandmas” who sometimes lived under the same noisy roof. There were seven rolls of wire with it. The recorder was missing a plug and I had no idea how to use it. I set it aside as an interesting, but fairly worthless treasure.

At a Family History Expos event, I ran into a man who specialized in repairing items like mine. Knowing it was not worth much the way it sat, I entrusted it to him.

The following years were hard ones. Death seemed to beat at my family’s door over and over again. I lost my mother to dementia. Although she is still living to this day, I felt like she had gone with the rest of those who slipped away so suddenly. The recorder was a low priority compared to my responsibilities. During that time I moved. My phone numbers changed. My email address changed. After six years, I was too embarrassed to even try to find the man whose name I could not even remember. I considered the recorder gone, another piece of my family lost.

In April, I received a Facebook message:

Hello, I work at the TMC Multimedia Centers which is a video transfer service. We tried to contact you via phone but the numbers were bad. We have something that belongs to you its an old wire recorder with audio from people you know. We have some of them transferred to a disc that you can listen to and the machine is repaired and in excellent condition. So if you would kindly call us at 801-483-1717. Sorry for doing the internet stalking but this is the only way we can get a hold of you. Thanks.”

I was stunned. They held that recorder for me for six years. They had repaired it and digitized the recordings they pulled from those frail, rolled up wires; and then, they hunted me down to make sure the treasure found its way home. The cost of repairs was very fair, but more than I could afford on my own. I reached out to some of my dad’s family members who graciously contributed to the cost of retrieving our modest family heirloom.

Lola World Thomson

My Great Grandma Lola World Thomson – Oh how my father loved her.

I met my cousin, Holly Hansen, at TMC Multimedia Centers in Salt Lake City. We paid for copies of the CDs, had lunch at a fun Indian restaurant, picked the CDs up and parted ways. It happened to be the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, May 1.

I tearfully unwrapped the CD praying the voices would be audible and that I would recognize them to some degree. I prayed for a glimpse of my father there. I had driven 250 miles to get them. It was a long road back.

As if he had heard me, his voice was the first to come through my stereo speakers. He was a young man, much younger than I had ever known him to be. He acted out a scene from Dragnet with a female I’ve yet to identify for sure, maybe my aunt Diane? He sang and laughed and his voice was crisp and clear to me.

What followed was a steady stream of treasured family members – living and dead – who thrilled at the thought of a machine that could actually record sound on a wire to be played back later (much later in this case).

Uncle Bob Thomson

Even my Uncle Bob Thomson is featured on the recordings telling tales of his time in the Navy.

Aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and friends – even the old family parrot, Polly, paraded on the wires with poems, songs, piano solos and all at fun family gatherings. I ached for them. Then, I realized I was among them. They performed these little miracles for me. I listened and I sobbed, mesmerized by the clarity.

There is one roll of wire yet to be played. It is marked quite clearly, “Grannie.” Tiny tangles in the wire made it impossible for the technician to decode it without excessive time. I am determined to unwind it an inch at a time to hear the secrets untold there. You see, Grannie remembered the day the train carrying Lincoln’s body clacked through her town. Can you imagine? Memories literally recorded from that day. My father was mesmerized by her stories. I can’t help but think he has finally found a way to share them with me.

If you are a family member and would like a copy of this treasure, please contact me. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll occasionally cover your ears, but you will not forget how the past sometimes forces its way into the present without apology.


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