This time I welcome a guest writer introduced to me by my publisher, Autharium.com Kerry Kijewski kkherheadache.com is a Canadian writer who has a particular and unusual perspective on the world, because she’s blind. In this beautifully written piece she eloquently demonstrates how she perceives people, through their voices: by the timbre, the cadences, the pitch and perhaps, because as a writer she’s highly attuned to it, their choice of words.
Here, specifically, she speaks in loving remembrance of her grandparents. It’s her record of them, different from photographs: memories of their voices locked safely and lovingly away in her head.
When I was a child my grandmother and her younger sister sounded so much alike that I was often confused when they were both nearby. I just couldn’t believe or accept that they weren’t really twins. Their voices sounded so similar and I was sure of it. As I grew I was able to distinguish the subtle nuances that made them separate women, yet still extremely close.
It’s been almost ten years since my grandma died. I used to spend a lot of time with her and other family from her generation. Recently I had the urge to once again spend some time with those who tie me to her and who knew her best. I haven’t seen my two great aunts and my great uncle since my grandfather passed away, since the funeral that cold February day four years ago. There was just no situation in which we had the opportunity to cross paths, but one day I found myself wishing to see them and speak to them once more.
I have reminders of my grandma and grandpa all around me. I have my mother and my uncles, all of whom share their parent’s characteristics in one way or another. I even notice my grandma in myself. I noticed it for the first time a few years ago. One day I heard myself clearing my throat and there she was again, inside of me. However, there’s just something I don’t get from any of this and that is the feelings from my grandparents’ generation. It’s in everything: from how they speak, the sounds of their voices, to the words they say. I realized these people won’t be around forever, just like my grandparents before them and family is what links to the past in a one-of-a-kind way.
My grandma’s only sister was one of the closest people in the world to her and their brother’s wife was a sister just as dear to them as if she had been connected through blood. The three of them spent so much time together and with my grandpa and great uncle too. They loved to get together, to play cards, and to visit and talk for hours. I realized when each of my grandparents died that these three were losing precious family and dear friends all at the same time and that their loss was so much bigger than mine in so many ways.
Now all these years later, on seeing them again, it is as if no time has passed. They asked if I still remembered them and I hugged all three and felt close to my grandparents once more. My great uncle sounded, for the most part, just as he had the last time we spoke. My grandma’s sister always did sound so similar. Once I grew older I was able to recognize the slightly lower pitch. I didn’t know if others could spot it, but I always knew them apart, as my grandma’s voice had a slightly higher lilt to it. As I think about it now, I wonder if I thought today my great aunt sounded more like my grandma, simply because her voice has changed slightly with age or is it only that I have begun to forget, with time, what exactly it was my grandma really sounded like?
A sign of the times – apparent in the photo albums my grandmother’s sister brought with them as nowadays we live in an all-digital photo world on our computers and smart phones. I could not see these old pictures that the rest of them gathered to look through; I instead listened hard to every word my sister read of the poem someone had written for my great-grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was a snapshot into the world I hadn’t yet been born into, but of which I would come into and be connected to always.
Time has passed and the three of them are all in their eighties and slowing down, but I smiled as I witnessed my great aunts talking together about all the people they know and of whom my grandparents once knew. My great uncle may not be related by blood, but his way of speaking and his boisterous chuckle was closer than I’ve been to my grandpa since we lost him.
As I stood and talked with my great aunts, my grandma’s sister asked me what I thought my grandma would have thought about things as they are now. I often wonder what she would think about my house and the life I now live. Since recent events I miss her all the more. I know she would have known the absolute right thing to say, the perfect words to make it all better and the right outlook to have on love and loss, with my grandpa’s jolly jokes and sense of humour there to make me smile.
I don’t think anyone knew how much today meant to me, to spend even a few hours with the three people that knew my wonderful grandparents best. I know how nothing lasts forever and how the ones apart of our families and our past won’t always be here. I needed to take the opportunities I still have while I still can, before the past is unreachable and the ones tying me to my childhood and my history are no longer here. I didn’t want to keep thinking about it and talking about it and never making it happen, regret being all I’m left with. On this Memoir Monday I don’t underestimate the value of family, those who came before me, and the connections to the girl I used to be and the woman I am today.
Back to me. My own recall of grandparents is virtually non-existent. I have a faint memory of my paternal granny from small-boyhood, before she moved away from living next door to us in our village to Leicester. But, sadly, I didn’t know the other three at all. I presume they all died before I was born.
This picture shows my maternal granny with (I assume it must be) her mum and so my great-granny. The babies are clearly twins and I believe the next-oldest of my mum’s ten siblings (she was the youngest). That would date the picture at between 1908 and 1909, probably.
Kerry tells me that she’s written eulogies for her grandparents and read them at most of their funerals. Doing so, both writing and delivering, must be the ultimate expression of respect and love.
In my book Forebears askdavid.com/reviews/book/family-history/7988 I have the protagonist Jay writing a eulogy for his uncle, who’s died at roughly the same age that Dylan Thomas did, in the course of reading his classic ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood in America in 1953. But Jay is so choked with emotion that he can’t deliver it. (See ‘Writing a Weepy’ in my April archive). I know from personal experience that that’s the most difficult thing in the world to do.
Thank you, Kerry, for a beautiful and heartfelt article.