So, I’m carrying my laptop, microphone, and power cord, this photo (above), and some cookies, walking up to the front door of my dad’s nursing home, and I’m wrestling with gremlins.
“This’ll never work”
“He won’t talk to you.”
“There won’t be a plug for your power cord, and even if there is he’ll freak out about the microphone.”
“He’ll get distracted and you won’t be able to refocus him.”
I really wanted to follow through with this new project-attaching a voice 0f someone reminiscing while looking at a photo. A Talking Photo for my account with Legacy Stories. And I knew that if I succeeded with my dad, anyone after him would be a breeze.
I smiled at the receptionist, went up to the second floor, passed the common room where bingo was in full-swing, made my way around the nurses’ station, said hello to a lone woman in the hallway, slumped in her wheelchair, held my breath as some wonderful smells bombarded me, and announced myself to my dad and two empty beds in room #11, Nantucket Sound.
“Hey, Dad! It’s me, Betsy. I brought you some cookies.”
I jumped right in instead of explaining. I asked him if I could record his voice while I was already half-way through setting up my laptop, and he said I could. That was it. We were off and running in a few minutes. He wouldn’t stop talking! I learned to leave the recorder running because a few times he’d said he was done and then started a new story that I accidently recorded over as I scrambled to turn it back on. Editing can always be done later.
A lot of misinformation I’d believed for years was corrected, and I learned so much more than I ever knew about him. Most of it got recorded over, but now I know I can ask him to retell the stories and he will.
One that was lost was his year at the Adirondack School for troubled boys in upstate New York. “You were a trouble-maker, Dad?” “No, my adopted brother Peter was. He was already there. My mother sent me there when I was in the fourth grade.” When I asked why, he said matter-of-factly,” I dunno. I guess she had things to do. Maybe I was in the way.” My heart sank. He lived there for a year and never went home he said. We’ll revisit that experience soon. I want to know how it affected him. I know his mom wasn’t working. “She was loaded,” my dad told me.
When I saw my two boys out his window, back from the playground, I wrapped things up and promised to come back in the morning to cut his hair. I was curiouse if he would let me record him again, and he said that would be fine. We chatted about the Red Sox game that he’d turned off because it was too boring.
He then admitted that he’s bored every day. That’s the first time he has said that.
And it was the first time I had to cut the visit short with so much more to talk about.
I walked out of his room and down the hallway, passing expressionless men and women in wheel chairs, hoping to coax a smile out of them when their cautious eyes met mine. They were sitting at the ends of their roads with thoughts in their heads, most of them memories of happier times. And I wondered if they’d let me sit with them and record one of their stories for one of their loved ones?
I walked to my car happy and a lot lighter, a band of gremlins following forlornly behind. They’d failed in their mission to stop me from trying something new and connecting with someone I love in a meaningful way.
They’ll try again. I’m sure. They’re relentless.
I can’t adequately describe the transformation in our relationship as a result of this simple exercise. It’s more than showing a photo and recording memories. It’s about connecting.
Amazing that he has had all of these stories locked in a vault for the 50 years that I’ve known him, and I never heard one of them. Today I transferred them to a new vault that will not only preserve them but make them shareable with friends and family!
To see and hear the Talking Photo click here. Keep in mind that this was my first try and I was thrilled that he was even talking!