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April, 2012

  1. Disembodied voices of the ancestors

    April 4, 2012 by Kaitlin

    So, I know it’s not really good blog etiquette to post promises of exciting stories, not deliver on those promises and instead drop in with reminiscences about a deceased grandparent, but that’s what happening.

    My paternal grandmother, Grandma Parker, died a year ago today, and I’ve thought a lot about her in recent weeks. She was always the grandparent I felt closest to. When I was younger, this closeness came from shared activities like reading and baking bread and everyone always telling me I got my blue eyes from her.

    A young Grandma Parker, sunning with her sisters at Lake Titus

    As I got older though, I came to realize we really were kindred spirits in a lot of ways. We both loved being outdoors and had a real curiosity about other countries and cultures. She always encouraged my writing and was quite the writer herself. We’d have lengthy email exchanges (she also LOVED technology and was rockin’ Apple computers and digital cameras way before they were cool) about our lives past and present.

    But it wasn’t just with me—she took a real interest in all her eight grandchildren’s lives. She was always emailing, Skyping, and in the later years, even Facebooking. She wanted to be up to date on our most recent achievements so she could brag to her bridge group. More than that though, she loved people and she loved being in contact and making connections with them.

    Looking back on one of those emails, sent shortly after I had moved to LA, I’m struck by what a forward-thinking, open-minded woman she was, especially given the time period and her surroundings. I don’t think she ever led any marches, but she lived her life in a way I really admire–a kind of quiet rebellion against the norm:

    When I hear about the experiences you have had and are having, I can’t help but contrast them with mine.  Born in 1922, I grew up in a town with about 6 Jewish families and no blacks.  When I was in high school our sponsor teacher resigned from our sorority because we invited Sara Cohen to join!!  When our Congregational church invited the Jubilee Singers to come to town, the local hotel wouldn’t put them up because they were black.  Church members took them into their homes.  I got through college without ever hearing the word “lesbian”, and gay meant we were happy.  I knew a couple of boys we called “sissies” but I never dreamed there was anything sexual about it.

    I was a part of the 60’s revolution when I went back to college for my Master’s and started working with disadvantaged children in the inner city, mostly black.  I started thinking for myself rather late in life and searched for a church that I could accept. I came to think that each person has to find his/her own spiritual path, and I believe now that the Universe (God) operates on basic principles that we have to discover. The law of gravity and laws of magnetism operate for everyone whether we believe in them or not!! I think there are many principles that we are discovering with our own bodies, even, and perhaps Yoga addresses some of these.  Now that I am facing the last years, months, days of my life, I will soon discover the answer to the final mystery.  I’m willing to take my chances thinking that I have lived a life full of love, have never knowingly done harm to anyone and strongly believe that my spirit will live on in some form.  If I’m wrong, so be it!!!  Sorry I can’t let you know!!

    There have been so many ups and downs in both Cape Town and London that I wish I could have shared with her. I had just started to really get into radio reporting before she died, and she’d always remind me to enunciate so her old ears would be able to understand. I think about her now, every time I step into a recording booth or struggle with some script writing: word it so Grandma Parker would get it.

    My time in London is drawing to a close, and I’m not sure what the next step will be, but whatever it is, my ultimate hope is that it will involve creating radio that will do justice to her spirit.

    It seemed fitting then, that during a Xhosa language lesson in Cape Town, we learned that when the Xhosa people first saw and heard radio, they called it “unomathotholo” or, roughly, “the disembodied voices of the ancestors.” In Xhosa culture, the spirits of one’s ancestors play an important role in daily life, so it makes sense that lacking any context, the voices coming from the radio could well be voices of their deceased relatives. In a way, they weren’t far off. There’s so much of what we do say and what we’re even allowed to say that’s owed to the voices of those who came before.