When I record people’s voices, it’s usually for the pure novelty and silliness of it. I’ve always enjoyed eavesdropping, and the pocket-sized ability to document little snippets of other people’s lives and replay them for my own amusement opened up a whole new world of audio voyeurism.
It’s more daunting to think about audio recording as a real preservation of voices. When my grandma was recovering from a stroke, my cousin and I decided we better take the opportunity to interview her while we still could. We set up a recorder and asked her about growing up in the Philippines, moving to America, and if she really thought Obama could win the 2008 election just because he’s handsome. She turned out to be fine.
When my mom was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer not long after, I knew I should do an audio interview with her, too. I knew I should ask her about growing up in Okinawa, crying when she first rode a boat across the Pacific Ocean and saw that the Golden Gate Bridge was not actually gold, and raising my brother and me — all stories I know but wish I could hear again and again.
For two years while my mom was fighting sickness, undergoing chemotherapy and altering her diet, I knew I needed to record her, but I couldn’t. It meant it would be my last chance to ask her questions I always wanted to ask. It meant admitting to myself that, soon, she wouldn’t be around to tell me stories.
The last time I talked to my mom, it was a Gmail video chat while I was in Okinawa and she was home in Sacramento. It was a short conversation — the sun had just come out after days of rain, so I showed off my new Japanese haircut and told her I better go to take a walk. I couldn’t have known that was it.
That was three years ago. I’ve searched Google in hopes that they secretly archive video chats (they don’t). I’ve gone through old cassette tapes in case of some long-lost home recordings (none, yet).
Each Mother’s Day, I try to find something to put on this blog in memory of my mom, but the only audio I’ve dug up is this from our home answering machine:
So here’s the real Mother’s Day message: Don’t wait. Don’t wait until your mom is sick or it’s your last chance. Document her voice now, frequently, whenever she wants to tell you tales about her life. Get a voice recorder, download a phone app, or unearth your Walkman, because these are stories worth preserving.
It’s nice to think you can rely on your memory of a person and everything they’ve ever told you, but, even if you can, it would be comforting to have some audio memories backed up.