Last Christmas, with the help of my son-in-law, I learned how to use my computer to make CDs from my old record albums and cassette tapes. Since I was a teenager, I have been an ardent music fan with a wide variety of tastes (jazz, classical, rock, folk, Latin, film scores, bluegrass, Tin Pan Alley standards, etc.), so I have built an enormous collection over the years.
After upgrading to a better turntable and amplifier, I went through all the cardboard boxes of albums and tapes, arranged them in alphabetical order by artist, and began the long process of preserving each of them on disc.
The software program that came with my computer enables me not only to create music files from my recordings and burn them to CDs, but also to scan the album covers and convert the images to covers and booklets for each CD. It’s been a pretty amazing experience. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to many recordings that time and technology had relegated to a dim place in my memories (and basement). Surprisingly, most sounded terrific upon rediscovery.
One of the albums I happened upon was That’s All Right, a recording by a guitarist named Rick Foster. At first, I had no idea who he was. But then I saw the inscription on the front. He had autographed it for me. That’s when I remembered that my father had given me the album after he and my mother had vacationed in Colorado and had seen Foster perform. I couldn’t remember if I had ever listened to it.
But when I put it on the turntable, I realized that I had a real gem, a beautiful collection of classical and popular tunes played on solo guitar. No wonder my father bought it for me. He was also a serious music lover who came from a family of music professionals, and I am sure he recognized Mr. Foster’s talents right away.
I called my mother about it. She said Dad had given me the album nearly 30 years ago. They had taken a trip to Colorado right after he retired. Thirty years! In that space of time, Dad passed away suddenly in 1981, my twin girls were born, went to school, went to college, and married (well, one so far). I went to my 40-year high school reunion, retired, wrote two books, and will celebrate my 35th wedding anniversary next year. And to top it off, I just reached a milestone. I am now 62 years old and will get my first Social Security check next month.
These are the kinds of things that went through my mind as I played Rick Foster in my car on the way over to North Adams. And those thoughts returned to my mind while driving home after attending the monthly meeting of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.
The meeting was devoted to a discussion of the needs of the elderly. In addition to the usual crowd of social service workers, community volunteers, and neighborhood representatives, officials from several elder service organizations were on hand to talk about their programs and the effect of the budget cuts on the delivery of services.
It was strange to recognize that they were talking about me, or at least what I will become very soon: one of the elderly. Oh, I doubt that it’s going to happen before Christmas. After all, I can still drive and walk around. But I can do the math. It’s coming.
My mother likes to say, “Home is where your stuff is,” and we certainly have plenty of that. My wife and I have finally begun the task of going through all of it. It’s in labeled boxes that were piled in our attic in Connecticut, and then stacked in the storage area of our basement when we moved to Massachusetts four years ago.
In a half-dozen large boxes, we uncovered all of the love letters we wrote when we were dating, all of the birthday and anniversary cards, newspaper clippings about our kids, high school and college-related items, tickets and playbills, and plenty of little trinkets that our kids made in school.
As I was headed over the mountain to North Adams last week, I was listening to a discussion on NPR about the Medicare prescription drug program that had just been passed. The commentators and politicians kept referring to older people as a “special interest group,” “AARP members,” “a political demographic,” “Medicare recipients,” and that old standby, “senior citizens.”
I don’t see it that way. First and foremost, every older person is somebody’s mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, or old friend. Each has special needs, wants, problems, joys, and talents. And each should be respected and valued as a unique person who still has much to offer the world.
No matter how much the government spends, no matter how many elder service organizations we have, and no matter what kind of a Medicare program we create, nothing is more important to older persons than plain, old fashioned, caring companionship, loving relatives, and the respect of younger persons.
As I continue to pour through the artifacts of my life, I hope that all of us will make sure that our elders are not left alone with only their memories to comfort them.