A few weeks before Christmas we received a flyer in the mail about a local firm offering digital conversion services (Memory Magic). The quite reasonable services included conversion of reel-to-reel audio tapes. I thought, finally, here’s a way to listen to my Dad’s old tapes, now sitting on a shelf in the basement. I had rescued his Wollensak reel-to-reel recorder from the early ’60s – an inordinately heavy silver machine –and three tapes that went with it.

My father, who died five years ago, had used the recorder to practice speeches for his DuPont sales job and his Toastmasters’ class. But I also remembered he had recorded my older brother and I as kids reading passages from a book. How cool it would be to hear our little kid voices. A few years ago, my husband had tried to get the thing to work, without success, but this time, with the help of the slim instruction manual, he got it to play.

Not only did we find the sales meeting practice sessions and a humorous Toastmaster’s speech about my Dad’s life, but his recordings of my three siblings and I at sporadic holidays and birthdays spanning 1961-1967 (when I was aged 3 to 9), including cameos from my mother and grandparents.

A gift through time

In the end, we did the digital conversion ourselves, and I burned the recordings to a CD for my mother and siblings for Christmas. It wasn’t the sound of my own voice, though, or the voices of my siblings (none of which I recognized) that so moved me, but my 30-something parents’ voices and their accompanying personalities.

Though he was mostly just introducing each of us, or asking his four kids what they wanted or had received for Christmas, my Dad’s relentless humor shone through. And it was the strong, capable voice I’d heard most of my life, not the feeble voice of his later years. It was so good to have that voice back in my head. Just thinking about it chokes me up. My mother is mostlynot on the recordings, as she, no doubt, was caring for the youngest child or cleaning up, but it makes her short bits even more special.

When we first started doing our Audio Keepsakes three years ago, I admitted to a friend how great it would be to have a recording of my Mom talking about her life as a mother of four young children, or my young father expounding on his career aspirations. Here, at 31, in an awestruck “Mommy” voice brimming with emotion, was my mother describing her best Christmas ever. And my father, at 37, jazzing up even the simplest of tasks (identifying my brother and I before we each read a passage). To listen to both, click HERE).

This wasn’t everything I’d wanted, but even with so little substance, it was a lot. And it confirms for me the value of getting something. If you want advice on how to do that, check out our blog post “A story worth saving is a story worth hearing” (click HERE).

When Christmas day came, we sat in my sister’s living room — our two families and my mother — and listened to nearly 50-year-old found recordings from my family’s past. It was the best gift I could hope to get. The moral of the story? Plan ahead. Because the only way to give such a gift to your children in the future is to record yourself in the present. Now there’s a new year’s goal worth doing!