This is my grandmother Audrey, mother of my father, when she was ten years old, and this is the picture that moved me to tears when it was given to me recently. If ever I saw innocence in my life, I see it here in her face.
Audrey was born in 1900. Her childhood, from all I've learned, wasn't a particularly happy one. She was the only child of her father, whom her mother divorced when she was very young. Subsequently, her mother remarried and had four more daughters. As the oldest girl, Audrey no doubt had a lot of responsibility for the care of her younger sisters, and there must have been times when she felt like Cinderella among her half-sisters (although I doubt they were wicked ones).
Audrey grew up and married a kind, gentle, hardworking man, and together they had nine children. As you can imagine, that wasn't an easy life either, but she did what it took to get the job done and then raised three grandchildren besides.
I remember my grandmother Audrey clearly from family get-togethers, but I never felt I knew her well. I know she must have been a patient person, because she let me play her upright piano for long stretches of time. She didn't stop me as I tried over and over again to pick out simple tunes, even though my wrong notes and frequent start-overs must have driven her insane.
I was 16 the last time I saw her. The fact that I'm possibly the worst communicator in the world may be the reason why the letters we exchanged, infrequent even in the beginning, eventually stopped altogether. I'm sure she wrote to a lot of people who took the time to write back to her, and I didn't hold up my end of the bargain.
Recently, through aunts and uncles and cousins, I've learned a lot more about my grandmother's life. I've learned that my own love of writing may have been inherited from her and that all the time she was managing her large household, she dreamed of becoming a published writer. My aunts have sent me copies of some of her stories. All I could think of as I read them was how much she'd have enjoyed living in the Internet age, where a fledgling writer has so much access to an audience. I think she would have been thrilled at the endless possibilities.
Even though my grandmother's written words haven't been published, the Internet has given her a taste of immortality in another way. I didn't know it, but when she was 70 years old, she participated with many others in a very special music project. I discovered this years and years later, more than a decade after she passed away, when I googled her name one day. I'd done it before without interesting results, but that day I struck gold. I clicked on the link, paused for a few moments to grasp what it was I'd stumbled across, then scrolled down until I found her: Barclay, Audrey. I clicked again on a title below her name and, for the first time since 1959, heard her familiar voice. That day, for the first time I could remember, I heard my grandmother sing.
The project is known as The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, and I'm grateful beyond words for its existence.