Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Preserving Memories

Tomorrow is the last day of school. I've been a little overwhelmed with all of the year end activities--concerts, plays, class parties, slideshows, school carnival, etc. There has also been a whirlwind of year end committee meetings before we adjourn for the summer (healthy lunch changes are still on the priority list), and of course, occasionally I have to produce some income.

I'm excited for the boys to be home for summer. Mostly. It's very hard for me to work during the summer, but it will all work out in the end. I think.

I'm excited to get them out of the germ pool, to take trips to the swimming pool, hiking, the park, library summer reading program, our trip to Ohio and Virginia, etc. Bring it on.

I wonder if I'll be saying that next week.

Anyway, a few things have me in a reflective mood these last few weeks. First, next year is Declan's last year in elementary school. I can't believe it. I was similarly reflective when he turned 10 and so I created a photobook on Kodak Gallery for his birthday. I keep going into his room and looking at it. But I feel this need to preserve memories for them.

When I was young, like Finn's age, I remember being at my cousin's house and my Dad's grandparents being there--my great grandparents. My Dad was tape recording (tape recording--tee hee! Wait, we just got rid of our VCR two months ago. I shouldn't be tee hee-ing.) my Great Grandfather talking and telling stories. I didn't really get it at the time.

Similarly, Tara recorded my Grandma Moffitt telling some stories once. Again, I didn't get it. But as I get older, I get it. First, I miss hearing people's voices when they die. And I hate it that the great stories of their lives go with them. And I guess when I say "great" I just mean the little stories that made up their lives.

So last year when we were in Ohio, I videotaped my Grandpa and my Dad talking about a pretty scary incident from 1960 when my Grandpa was using a chainsaw and cut himself. And I use the work "cut" loosely here. He nearly died.

I'd heard my Dad talk about it a little, but had never really heard the whole story. Not that I'm into the blood and gore of it, but I did want to hear it in their words. When we got to Ohio, I bought a new video camera that doesn't use tapes or DVDs. I was totally psyched to be all high tech. And then I discovered that I bought a camera without a light, so unless you're in a nice bright setting forget it.

Ah well. Such is life.

But I did get about an hour of footage of Grandpa talking and just telling stories of his youth.

Before we'd ever taped last summer though, my Dad wrote down his own recollections of September 1960:

I graduated from OSU in August 1960 and immediately left for Florida for a couple of weeks. When I returned, Dad and a carpenter, Herman Dean, were working on a project putting new siding on a section of the east side of the barn. One afternoon I was at the barn and Dad asked me to go to the hardware store. [Timing is somewhat relevant here so I will relate some otherwise non-essential information]. It probably took me 30 minutes to walk to the house, talk to Mom briefly, drive to the store and make my purchase. As I left the store I was accosted by one Wilson Evans, the renowned town bloviator, from whom there was no escaping in less than 15 minutes of sound and spittle from a slobbery cigar butt.

I returned to the house and talked with Mom for a few minutes and left for the barn. As I went through the gate into the pasture I heard a shrill sound. I couldn’t identify it so I walked slowly for a few steps and the sound recurred. Then before I could hardly move it came again with a greater intensity. As I thought back on all of this later I don’t know why, because I had no inclination of what was to come, I dropped the materials I was carrying and started running as hard as I could toward the barn literally throwing myself over the gate instead of opening it because at that point I could tell that the shrieking sound, not a human yell, was coming from the barn. I came through the door immediately next to where they were working.

Dad was sitting against a post 6 feet from the wall where they were cutting an opening for a window. His left leg was stretched out with the pants leg torn away at the knee exposing a huge cut in his leg at the kneecap. His left arm was severely cut on the underside about where a watch band would be. He was totally lucid. He had made a tourniquet for his arm with his handkerchief and a wood rasp and was holding it with his right hand. He said something to the effect that “I am in pretty bad shape and so is Herman.” Herman was lying inert to Dad’s left. Dad said he thought Herman may have had a heart attack. Dad said that he had done something to try and help Herman but I don’t remember what that was.

I ran back to the house to get help. June was there and I explained to her and Mom and went back to the barn. June called Dr. Thompson and he directed her to get Herman to his office and to take Dad directly to the hospital. She called West Mansfield and Richwood ambulances however both were involved in funerals and could not respond. She called Bellefontaine and an ambulance was dispatched. She then brought the pickup truck to the barn.

We put Dad onto an old door and got him into the back of the truck. We then lifted Herman into the truck and headed for town. He didn’t make a sound while we were loading him and appeared to be totally unconscious. We met the ambulance at the grain elevator at the edge of town. Dad was transferred to the ambulance. June took Herman on to Dr. Thompson’s office.

On the trip to the hospital Dad was still lucid and reminded me to loosen the tourniquet periodically.

I later learned the sequence of events leading up to the accident.

After the siding was installed they were preparing to cut an opening for a window. This entailed standing on a sawhorse while operating a power saw. Dad saw that Herman was very unsteady while he was preparing to perform this maneuver. Dad told Herman to let him do it and took Herman’s saw. And here starts the unwinding of the resulting saga. Dad noticed that the spring on the guard on Herman’s saw was not in operation. He hesitated initially to use it but for reasons he later explained and I have forgotten, decided to proceed.

Dad was standing on the sawhorse and bracing himself by having his left knee against the wall he was working on. This placed his upper left leg parallel to the ground and under the area of work. The saw pinched and jumped out of the grasp of his right hand. He instinctively tried to catch it and it dropped onto his left arm and then onto his leg probably still operating close to 1200RPM. The cut on the arm did not show as much but it was bleeding profusely. His presence of mind in getting the tourniquet applied may very well have saved his and Herman’s lives in the judgment of medical personnel I talked with.

So it's definitely not a "fond" story in family history, but it's an important one. Next week, Grandpa will turn 97! He's much more cautious with a chain saw these days.

Anyway, I'm still working on preserving people's voices and stories. I hope my Mom doesn't freak out when she's next.


sheila said...

Wow. Our parents and grandparents have such interesting stories and it's so important to get those stories before it's too late. My mom just said last week that she got a lot of information from Grandma, but another question just came up that she had never asked her. I'm glad your Grandpa was ok and is still around to tell those stories, but how did Herman fare?

Theresa G said...

My family has so many great stories. Some of them told so often that we could all recite them word for word, gesture for gesture... but I am afraid time will erase the memories of those stories.

1dreamr said...

Yes, yes, yes! Follow through on this. You'll be so glad that you did. My mom started writing down thoughts about her childhood sometime after retirement... just on a pad of paper. She didn't get terribly far before she started to decline swiftly, but that tablet is so precious to us now... her words, her handwriting. Who knew such a seemingly small thing could mean so much?

I bought this -> http://tinyurl.com/27468r2 at the end of last year - I need to pull it out and get started, too. Thanks for the reminder. :-)

Lucinda said...

Did you know since Grandpa's recent heart attack, he's banned from the chainsaw? According to Kathy (I think), he was NOT happy about that.

Leeann said...

I feel similarly, Natalie, and it happens more and more often. I really get the notion of walking around with my heart on my sleeve lately!

I need to get cracking on a new photo book too.

jean said...

Let me know if you want me to interrogate your mother while we're on our trip - we'll have lots of quality bonding time since we're going to be roomies... :-)