I heard my grandfather’s voice for the first time in 30 years. It sounded just as I remembered it. My eyes misted and I smiled as I heard his gentle Southern drawl right in the middle of a story I knew well, and was afraid I would never hear again, about Charlie Bates, “a big ol’ bear of a man.”
I thought I had lost the cassette tape recording labelled “Granddaddy’s Memories, ” the one that told of his adventures growing up in southeast Arkansas when it was still wilderness. The one that stored tales of the Dermott hunting club, including the one with Mr. Charlie.
I had hidden my tape recorder in the hi-fi-cabinet during dinner in the hopes of capturing Granddaddy’s stories, but even more than that, the sound of his voice. Not sure how well it would work, I was surprised when I played the tape back later that evening that even amidst the clanking of forks and the occasional cough, there he was, laughing as he enjoyed telling the stories as much as we loved hearing them.
But that tape was recorded more than 30 years ago. Even if I found it, what kind of shape would it be in now? Perhaps those stories, that voice, were now only mine to remember. And if so, that would be enough. I had “played the tape” often in my mind, memorizing every word, every inflection.
So when I discovered the tape, hidden under other treasures, I couldn’t wait to dig out a cassette player and see…listen…if it still worked. Would it sound the same? Could I understand the words? Could I hear his voice?
My heart beat faster as I pressed the “play” button. I caught my breath as I waited. Then there it was, just as I remembered. Granddaddy’s voice. Mr. Charlie and the other hunters sitting around the campfire, unsuspecting, then throwing his arms up in the air and falling backwards as just a few yards away, a hollowed out tree stump exploded. The story went on. My grandfather had sneaked away from the campfire, filled the stump with dry leaves, doused it with gasoline, and then flicked matches into it until…Kaboom! Sparks and flaming twigs shot into the dark Arkansas night. He remembered doing it “just for fun.” Granddaddy laughed at the memory. Others at the dining room table remarked that he was lucky: a) the forest hadn’t caught fire; b) the other hunters hadn’t (at the very least) kicked him out of the club; or c) killed him.
What a joy to find that tape! Astonishing how completely I remembered the story word-for-word. Remarkable how the tone and inflection have stuck with me. How grateful I am for the memory and now for the tape. I’ve played it over and over.
But I have listened to other tapes and regretted it. I have memorized the tone, the meter, the inflection of words and stories that have wounded me. I have stored these tapes in my mind, kept them in a safe place where I can easily get to them. They do not wear out or rot over time. I recognize the stories. Some of the tapes are my in own voice. I have played them over and over.
These tapes rekindle flames of anger, shame, hurt, and bitterness. They spew burning missiles into my soul. They sap my joy. I don’t want to play those old tapes any more.
You know the ones. Your stories may be different but you recognize the voices and the words: “You’re not enough. You miss the mark. You blew it.”
I wish you would join me in not listening to those tapes any more. It’s okay to let them go. In fact, it is wise to let them go. There are better tapes for you to hear. Listen to the ones that tell you truth, not just someone else’s opinion. Listen to the ones that don’t label you for all time based on your past. Listen to the ones that offer you grace.
You know the ones. Your stories may be different but you know the voice and you know the words: “You are loved. You are forgiven. You are clean.”
Those are the tapes worth listening to, my friend. Those are the ones to memorize, every word and inflection, especially if they come in a gentle Southern drawl.