Oct 07 2020

Small’s Eyes

Published by under Family,Video

Recently Molly digitized a lengthy VHS tape that features a series of three Kennelly School of Irish Dance performances at a St. Paddy’s day festival in Calaveras, CA, in 2000. I’m not sure who was behind the lens. It could have been Lila’s husband, Brad, or Shirley’s husband, Scott. I edited it down to a six-minute and two-second excerpt of the first of the day’s shows. Not long after her stellar performances, poor little Molly (age 10) developed a high fever and fell asleep on the concrete floor backstage. But until then, the show had gone on.

You’ll see a: light jig, three-hand reel, mother/daughter two-hand reels, Molly’s single jig, a hard reel and a hornpipe.

On to a different topic: Can you imagine waking up one morning to find that, all of a sudden, you can’t see much besides big shapes and colors? You can’t read so you can’t check your email. You can’t entertain yourself with a book, nor can you watch a video because, being a little deaf, you can’t understand what’s going on unless you read the captions, which you can’t. Plus, your eye hurts. You’re all alone. You can’t even look up the phone number of your eye doctor because you can’t see. It sounds like a nightmare, but it’s my mother’s reality. Luckily she has an almost photographic memory for phone numbers, so she was able call her ophthamologist. 

Small has macular degeneration in both eyes and gets shots in one every 10 weeks. My sister drives up from West Virginia to take her to the doc, as she did last week. All went will with the injection. It wasn’t until five days later—three days ago—that Ma’s trials began. Either the eye shot was contaminated or she’s having an allergic reaction to it. 

Luckily, her late-partner’s children live nearby, and they have come to the rescue by checking on her and taking her to the doctor, who gave her a bunch more nasty shots in the eye to try to combat the problem.

Small is brave and stoic. The doctor won’t absolutely guarantee that her sight will be restored, which must terrify her. But she doesn’t ever complain. In the meantime, when she’s not doing domestic stuff like laundry, she has to spend much of her time lying on the bed with her eyes closed, which would drive an active person like her crazy. Wish her luck.

Here she is circa 2006, responding to my announcement that it was cocktail hour.

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Oct 06 2020

The Mouths of Babes

As I was digging through old files on my computer the other day, I came upon one that got me curious. It was labeled “mollyisms,” and I tried and tried to open it but it was corrupted or just too prehistoric. Driven by curiosity I persisted, and voilà: documentation of toddler Molly’s quotable quotes appeared on the screen. Here she is at age two-and-a-half, 29 years ago:

Molly:  What’s this, Mama?
Ginna:  That’s a rolling pin, for making pies and breads.
Molly:  (A moment of consideration) . . . Is it for fixing doors?

11/21/91

Also…

Molly got into bed with me this morning, looked deeply into my supine face and said, “Me have wrinkles when me’s bigger?”

11/5/91

More on wrinkles later. And finally…

M: I don’t wannnnt you to wipe my face.
G: Why not?
M: Because you’re ugly.

11/5/91

Apparently I lied a minute ago. Because there is in fact one more I want to include here:

G:  What’s your bellybutton for?
M:  It’s from when I was strapped to you.

7/17/92

Now let’s come back to the present. After quarantining for two weeks I visited Chico, where I met tiny Ruby Star, who (at five days old when I arrived there) weighed 7 pounds 11 ounces. Eleni is happy that Ruby is no longer strapped to her, and that she is here for all the world to see.

I also got to hang with Jesse and, on numerous occasions, be shown all the rainbow things (curtains, wall decorations, stuffed animals, drawings) in his room. On my last day there he asked me to follow him into the living room where he snapped a picture of me with his tablet. Then, using that image as a source, he carefully drew me. “But I’m not gonna draw your wrinkles, Mama Ginna,” he apologized. Still, the likeness is remarkable, and he even got my glasses.

And last but not least, Ember celebrated her tenth birthday while I was there. She stayed with me at the AirBnB each of the four nights. She’s a wonderful little companion.

The other fun thing recently was working with my friend TJ Meekins on putting together one of her Hillbilly Jukebox radio shows for KVMR in Nevada City. She did most of the work, but I got to help pick out the songs. During the broadcast a couple days ago, a “Barbara from Delaware” made a contribution. It was, of course, my mother, who stayed up past her bedtime to tune in via Internet. She got to hear us dedicate Willie’s Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain to her.

Oh, well look-ee here. I figured out how to edit the audio in iMovie (which now works since Molly helped me update my Mac’s system to Catalina a few days ago) and toss it up onto YouTube. “Toss” is the wrong word, since it implies ease. I wrestled it up there and it took almost two hours to process.

In other news, Trump released himself from the hospital last night, claiming Covid is no big deal and that he knows all about it now. I’d been worried he would say just that if he ended up with a mild case. The election is less than a month away and I am among the millions who are agonizing over the possible outcome.

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Sep 26 2020

No Wood Fire

Published by under Audio,Family

As I’ve surely told you by now, when I was little my father occasionally gathered the family—Ma, my older brother Jay, younger sister Kate and me—around his big old tan Ampex reel-to-reel recorder for “Family Nights,” during which he’d interview us in turn and have us each perform little songs and answer a variety of questions. He was a ham. Put him in front of a microphone and he’d take off, in his faint Virginia accent:

“We have with us today a charming little three-and-a-half year old girl and I thought it might be appropriate to interview her now. She at this moment has a piece of bubblegum, and if you listen carefully you can probably hear the bubblegum being squashed in the little fat mouth. What do you have in your mouth, hmmm?

“Bubblegum.”

“Ginna, what kind of girl are you?”
“I’m a Daddy-girl.”

Later, Ma joins in with a question.

Ma: Ginna, what’s your new doll’s name?
Ginna: Dolly.
Ma: What’s your old doll’s name?
Ginna: Doll.

My creativity has always shone brightly.

Anyway, I loved Family Nights, because (unlike now) I was sociable and enjoyed it when we all hung out together, instead of being off in our separate orbits. Plus, it was fun to hear what I sounded like on a recording, when Dad would play it back: so different from what I heard inside my head.

I remember the rectangular plastic microphone that was attached to the recorder via a beige spiral cable like a phone cord, which we weren’t allowed to play with because it interfered with the recording quality. My first lesson in radio production.

There are forty hours of these recordings, on brittle quarter-inch tape, and I have them all. When I was producing my radio series about childhood, I went through it every bit of it—Family Nights and a lot more: duets of Stephen Foster songs, peppered with episodes of laughter, sung by Dad and his brother; Ma bashfully playing sweet tunes on the piano; Dad picking Wildwood Flower on his old Martin guitar.

After Dad died, when I was helping going through his things, I spent almost an entire week in his basement office, digging through his roll-top desk where he kept all kinds of pretty much useless stuff. In his drawers were business cards from forty years earlier, paper clips, an orange mechanical pencil with my grandfather’s company name on it, ancient postage stamps with clumps of lint stuck to them. If I look in my own desk drawer I see similar things. In his closet, along with the office supplies, I found some wrapping paper with scantily clad pinup models on it. It was weird pawing through his personal possessions, especially without him there.

Stuffed in one drawer I found a cookie-tin-sized cardboard box. On the outside, Dad had neatly printed in bold marker, “Microphone. Bad.” I opened it. Inside was another, slightly smaller box, nested like a Russian doll. On top was another label. It said, “Very bad.” Inside that was, of course the broken mic. He just couldn’t toss it, though it was unusable. He wouldn’t get rid of anything (unlike my mother, whom you have to watch out for because she “pitches” things you might want) because maybe someday he might need it.

[Editor’s note: I am my father’s daughter, it seems. I’ve been helping my friend put together a radio show and, so that I could get my voice into my computer, I plugged in my beloved Electro-Voice 635A. It’s the microphone with which I did pretty much all of my interviews back when I was producing documentaries. It’s captured the voices of “Mister” Fred Rogers and John Waters and Doc Watson, for example, and well over a hundred other folks. But today’s tests revealed that its audio quality is no longer acceptable. So I dug out another of my old mics. This one was entirely non-functional. What did I do? I carried them lovingly into the other room, zipped them into their special faux-leather case, and returned them to the shelf. I suppose I should attach a Post-It: “Microphones. Bad.”]

But the whole reason I’m writing this post is because: a couple years ago I digitized some of these archival recordings—the family interviews and songs—and as I was listening to them the other day, I found something I loved. It was Dad, alone with his (functioning) microphone. He was recovering from a cold and so his voice was especially deep. Thus, he decided it would be the perfect time to sing Burl Ives’ No Wood Fire.

Here’s my daddy in the 1950s.

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