CAUTION: BRAGGING AHEAD
5 September 2003
"Well, that puts the perfect finish on it," Walt's mother said when the tape
had ended, referring to the celebration of her 90th birthday.
We had been sitting around for the past 45 minutes listening to the tape. I had been
watching the expressions on their faces: Walt, beaming; his sister Alice Nan in rapt
attention, that expression of eager interest always on her face; his mother, Alice, with a
huge smile on her face, talking back to the tape from time to time.
The longer the tape went on, the more I beamed myself, thinking about Jeri, Ned and Tom
and how each, in his/her own way, had helped to create the perfect birthday celebration
for their grandmother.
Jeri had been unable to come to the party. She lives in Boston and had just been out
for Tom's birthday party in July (and to spend a month here for vacation). She will return
in October for Tom's wedding. Adding a third flight--for just a weekend--was more than her
teacher's salary could support.
But it killed her not to be there for the party. She loves her grandmother and she
loves the family gatherings.
What she was doing that weekend was driving a car for a friend from Boston to Chicago,
so she had a lot of alone time on the road and what she did during her alone time was to
take a tape recorder and just record a conversation with her grandmother. She pointed out
scenery along the way, talked about how she was feeling, reminisced about experiences they
had shared, told her grandmother about some of the things about her that she admired.
As she listened, Alice would answer questions Jeri posed, make comments on things she
was saying--it was too bad that Jeri couldn't hear the other end of the
"conversation" she was having with her grandmother--or see how happy the tape
had made her. It was a uniquely "Jeri" gift and one that her grandmother (whose
eyesight is failing, so can't actually see a lot of things) will enjoy over and
Jeri even included a song she had started to write, but hadn't quite finished, having
given up because she wasn't happy with it--but it was absolutely perfect for what
it was, and her grandmother loved it.
Tom had been busy writing music too. At the big party
on Sunday, Alice's three children, Tom, Ned, her nephew Ernest, and Alice Nan's boyfriend
Joe all sang a song which Alice Nan, Joe and Tom had written, but they told me it was
really Tom who had done the bulk of the writing. He was traveling for his job, but would
be in motels on his laptop e-mailing lyrics back and forth with Alice Nan and Joe.
The resulting song was wonderful, hilarious, and had Alice both laughing and crying. It
was just fantastic.
Ned, who doesn't live near any of the planners for
the party, works as the producer for a radio station in Sacramento. His contribution to
the party was to bring down sound equipment and recording equipment and he set himself to
the task of interviewing (almost) everyone at the party, asking for memories of Alice or
how they were connected to her. He recorded the group performing the song that Tom wrote,
and at the end of the performance, he recorded the bunch of them sitting around
reminiscing about the writing of the song and laughing about their performance.
He's going to take that disk and get it all transferred to a CD and will give her an
audio record of her party, something that she will be able to enjoy over and over again,
in a way that she would not be able to do with photographs.
Watching how hard all of these kids (I call them kids even though they are all in their
30s) worked and how much love they put into making the celebration a wonderful one for
their grandmother just makes me so incredible proud of all of them.
We have really terrific kids!