Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Voice from the Grave

My father died just over 20 years ago at the age of 82. Not a bad innings.
His father, mother and he had emigrated to Australia from a very economically depressed Scotland after World War 1.
I knew my grandfather for only a short time. He died when I was 5, my grandmother a little later.
In typical Scottish fashion Dad was a man of few words. I knew very little about his childhood or his early life in Australia. It was something he never seemed to want to share.
But when going through his stuff, I came across 20 cassette tapes about his life that he had made for his granddaughter. That’s 10 hours of oral history.
They had a very special relationship and the daughter was always reluctant to listen to the tapes.
"Too sad", she would always say.
But she has finally bitten the bullet and transferred the tapes to CD to preserve them and is sharing them with me.
I must say it was a very strange experience to hear his voice again all these years on.
And the story has been fascinating so far.
The daughter says that not only do I look like him now but we also sound alike.
I cannot disagree as I ‘see’ him in the mirror most mornings and ’hear’ him quite often too (without the accent) before I can stop myself.
So I will take the comparison as a compliment.

He only returned to Arbroath his home town in Scotland once, in 1952, with my mother.
I remember him often saying that 'people say the bagpipes always sound good from a distance and 10,000 miles is about the right distance to hear them from'.
He was always fiercely Australian but seem to quietly cherish his Scottish heritage. My adding ice to one of his beloved single malts would always earn a stern look.
I had visited some of the family in Arbroath in 1969. I really did not know who they were relation wise but I was welcomed with open arms at the time and spent a rather hectic day with them all. I do remember one older lady thought I was my father.
I have visited Arbroath twice since then, once with the daughter and once with the co driver.
Last time before I went, I put a small family history on the genealogy section of the town’s web site and asked for any family contact but heard nothing.
Then last year I got a call from a lady in Victoria who was researching her husband’s family tree and had come across my entry.
From the information she had, it turned out that my grandfather had five siblings, many of whom had also emigrated and that her husband and I were related.
Who knew? Not me. I was never told about grandpa's brothers and sisters.
But now with these tapes seeing the light of day I might learn a whole lot of new things.

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