#127 The tape cassette – voices from the past

It’s 1976. My Mum is back in her homeland, with my sister who is 7ish. My grandmother – my Mum’s Mum – is unwell, and my Mum and my sister, along with a couple of aunties and one uncle, have all gone back to visit her and various other loved ones they left behind when they went to try their hand in the ‘lucky country.’

My Dad is not there. I can hear my sister, so little, her voice warbled and strewn out the way mine was when I was that age, talking about leaving her cat behind. She’s saying that she hopes Dad is feeding him. She was sad when he said he wasn’t going overseas with her and Mum. She was silent, curious at his statement. He explained to her that if he went, they would have no one to feed her beloved cat.

He also added, that he wants her to eat well while she is away. Because if she doesn’t eat well, he will know, and therefore won’t feed her cat well. And if he doesn’t feed the cat well, well God forbid, the cat could get sick or possibly die! Shock horror.

This is all relayed with much laughter on the cassette. I can hear my Mum’s brother and his wife laugh and joke over what Dad will do with her cat. She calls out “laze!” (liar). I tear up, fascinated by my sister’s voice and character back then. I wasn’t around. I perhaps, wasn’t even a thought. Until 7 years later.

It’s the present day. Thursday June 30, 2016. I am in my parents lounge room, and due to some unspoken, unexpressed, deep-seeded need, my Mum has spontaneously put an old cassette tape with writing all over it, into the player. She said “n0!” when I threatened baby girl with leaving, as she was being cheeky and getting into all sorts of things that she shouldn’t.

“Here’s Baba,” my Mum says suddenly as a new voice enters the speaker after a distinct break in recording. “Your Dad’s Mum.”

I listen ardently, straining to make out every word through baby girl’s bouncing and racket behind me. She is sending many happy wishes, positive words and sweet thoughts to the whole family. She wishes her son were there with them too, but adds in a glass half-full fashion that even seeing my Mum and my sister is dear and touching enough.

She starts to tell him, through the cassette recorder, in between countless kilometres of earth and sea, that his daughter is a joy. She is such a happy child. She ran to her without hesitation, yelling “Baka!” (Grandma). I tear up, hearing the way the woman I never met speak about my sister. I try not to look at my Dad, knowing what I will see; but I can’t help it. I look back to him sitting on the couch, and his face is a wretched twist of emotion. Gone, but his eyes and the tears are speaking ‘never forgotten.’

Baby girl jumps in front of Mum and I, trying to touch the player. I hear my Grandmother’s voice, and with sharp clarity realise the start contrast of life. I never met any of my grandparents. Not one of them. Yet baby girl shares the most beautiful bond with my parents. I wonder if she realises how lucky she is.

I’ve always wondered what my grandparents would have thought of me. Would they have been proud of me? Would they have loved me? I hear my Dad’s Mum speaking about my sister, and my heart swells with joy. I know my doubts are ridiculous. I can hear the love in her voice. But still, I was never there when they were. I always wonder ‘what if?’ Do they see me now? Do they care? I hope and pray that they are one of my Angels watching over me… maybe even baby girl.

I listen to my Mum on the tape. Her voice is so youthful, so beautiful. She is sitting there near me, and I can hear her now as she intermittently explains who has just spoken… but as her voice comes through the player, man oh man do I wish I could see her then. See her vibrancy, her beauty, her naivety at all that is still to come. The desire runs deep and wild.

The emotion that one little cassette tape can bring out, is unbelievable. I’ve always wanted to record my own parents on cassette tape, to capture their stories from their childhood, teenage years, how they met and then came to Australia, and everything thereafter. I guess everyone thinks their family history is pretty fascinating, but there have been times when I’m listening to my parents tell me something that happened 40 years ago, and I can just see the picture: it’s there. It’s playing out to me, LIVE, and it’s the most fascinating story I have ever seen.

Today’s unexpected recorded moments have lit a desire in me. I don’t know how I will manage it, but I want to somehow record my parents life stories. I have a cassette tape recorder, and with it I will buy time if I have to.

There’s one thing that gives me comfort in never having met my grandparents. I think of my grandmother’s voice, her glass half-full view on things… I remember what my aunties have told me, about how I share her physical stance, her disposition. And I think, even if I never met her, or met any of my grandparents for that matter, they all live on, in one way through me. There is a part of them, in me, right now. And that’s pretty damn cool.

And I really could convey what my Grandmother was like from just that little brief moment of listening to her today. I am grateful to the tape cassette, for it brings people oceans apart within ears reach, and brings those who have never met into each other’s hearts.

Those voices, long gone, were very alive today.

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