Earlier this evening a guy named Hugh, who is in his 70s, showed me a pocket watch case that had belonged to his great-grandfather and been passed down to him. That case was special because there exist no pictures of his great-grandfather, no letters or other writings from him and no other memorabilia. So all Hugh knows about his ancestor is that the man must have owned a pocket watch.
Thinking about my ancestors, my father came of age during the Great Depression. He served in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He joined the Marines and was stationed at Pearl Harbor on that infamous day, December 7, 1941. He fought at Guadalcanal and elsewhere in the South Pacific before contracting malaria. He worked for years as a railway postal clerk. He loved coaching youth baseball, and did that until he was about 80 years old
My mother was valedictorian of her high school class. She was one of the first Women Marines. She was named Arvada, Colorado’s “Woman of the Year” because of her charitable activities. She ran several successful businesses after she had pretty much raised her family.
My paternal grandparents came to this country from France, with their children, shortly before World War I. They eventually settled in Western Illinois, where my grandfather was a railroad mechanic.
My maternal grandparents came West from Mississippi in a covered wagon. The wagon broke down in East Texas, so they stayed there and spent the rest of their lives farming.
One or more of my great-grandparents may have owned a pocket watch. I don’t know. Hugh has more knowledge of one of his great-grandfathers than I do of any any of mine.
My mother passed away five years ago this week. My father only lived about three months after that. Back about seven or eight years ago, I asked my parents if they would write down some things they thought were important in their lives; but they said they didn’t want to take the time to write.
Next, I bought them a small digital audio recorder and suggested that they simply talk about those things because someday their grandchildren or great-grandchildren would wonder about them. They did record for about 15 minutes, but then put the machine in a drawer and never took it out again.
My own life has not been very exciting, but one of the reasons I wrote my 65 Years in 65 Days series of blogs a couple of years ago was to have at least some record that I passed through this world, in case one of my great-grandchildren may want proof somewhere down the road.
I know, of course, that the 50,000+ words that I wrote are just as limited in their ability to convey to some future descendant what my life may have been like as are the 15 minutes of talking my parents recorded or Hugh’s great-grandfather’s watch case. I can see why my parents were hesitant to try to tell something about their lives. Except when used by a rare master, words are generally inadequate to describe a life. What anyone’s life really meant is another story that maybe you don’t need to know right now; another story none of us quite know how to tell.
“That’s Another Story” is also the title of a song from the first album by a group called Lothar and the Hand People. They only recorded two albums, releasing one in 1968 and the second in 1969. Although the group did not have much commercial success, they were quite influential in the way they melded rock, or even country and Baroque, with electronic music.
The group formed here in Colorado, and played regularly at such venues as the Exodus in Denver and the Mad Dog in Aspen during the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s, they moved to New York and were part of the experimental music scene in that city. The personnel changed a bit over time, but for most of its existence the band members were Paul Conly, John Emelin, Rusty Ford, Tom Flye, Kim King and a Theremin named Lothar.
For those who don’t know, a Theremin is an electronic instrument that is played by moving one’s hands near two vertical metal antennas. The musician does not actually touch the instrument; but since his or her hand movements are what produce the sounds, it was natural for Lothar, who had no hands, to think of the humans in the band as “hand people.” The Theremin is the instrument that plays out the “vibrations” in the Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations.”
Lothar and the Hand People’s music also incorporated Moog synthesizers and more traditional instruments like guitar, bass, keyboard, percussion and harmonica. I could go on about the group and its music, however I think it is time to move on to another story.