As a child, I was always afraid of my grandfather. Henry was a burly man with a crew cut, his skin darkened by the countless hours he spent in the Tennessee sun as a farmer. He wore overalls and a khaki shirt with dark-rimmed glasses that probably came from Sears or J.C. Penny.
He spoke in this gruff voice, always with cigarette smoke and I could hardly understand anything he ever said. I think this was why I was afraid of him, that he would ask me a question and I wouldn’t have a clue what he was saying.
Naturally, my Father understood him perfectly. They had labored for years alongside one another harvesting crops, driving tractors and tending to livestock. I would listen to my Father speak with him on their farmhouse porch or in his workshop and always wonder what my grandfather was saying. It was like a language I never learned.
My Father enjoyed a close relationship with my grandfather, always asking him for advice and listening to everything he said. He cherished his Dad’s words so much that he began recording their phone conversations.
A couple of years ago, while rummaging around in my Father’s desk, I found a handful of tiny cassette tapes he’d tucked away for safe keeping. Some held important conversations with clients or vendors. A couple were blank, and one was a recorded phone call with his sister from 2003. But the one that stood out had a sticky note attached. ‘Please Keep Conversation W/ Dad – 5-8-89’.
It’s just human nature for us to hold onto our loved ones. We hold onto their memories, their smiles and their gifts. We also hold onto their words.
When I moved back to Georgia to take care of my parents, I started recording my Father. I video recorded him singing Elvis and Johnny Cash at Grace Arbor. We captured him on film reciting one of his favorite poems, The Dutchman’s Prayer and playing with his grandchildren. I recorded our conversations in the car of his days in the Air Force or his boyhood pranks that always got him into trouble.
A few months ago, I started recording my Father’s prayers. And the more I recorded, the more I want to record. Because his words are fading. There are times he’ll pray with clarity. And there are times he’ll pray about things known only to God.
I imagine if a child heard those prayers, they might shy away, like I shied away from my grandfather. But to me, those words are priceless, just as his father’s words are priceless to him.