A career US Marine who served in China and Korea after enlisting at age 14, my grandpa Albert Tidwell finally retired from military service in the late 1950s. He then became a teacher, professional writer, authored several books and wrote a weekly column in his local newspapers. He was a brilliant — and hilarious — storyteller with a deep, booming voice and expressive facial features when he spoke.
Every week, he clipped his newspaper columns and pasted them into a scrapbook. When visiting with him, after a round of family storytelling, he would quiet down, scoop a bowl of vanilla ice cream, settle into his recliner and motion for me to sit on the ottoman next to him, giving a nod to the scrapbook nearby.
I would eagerly turn to the page marked since my last visit and read his most recent columns aloud, accompanied by the soft clink of his spoon in the bowl. He loved hearing his writings read aloud. We laughed, cried, discussed the affairs of the world and complained about the typesetter’s frequent errors, page by page, story by story. I would read until he drifted off to sleep, snoring in that Grandpa sort of way.
He detested the telephone and rarely took our calls. But he loved written correspondence, letters. As far back as I can remember Grandpa and I wrote letters. Even as little kids, we’d get stamps from him so we’d have no reason not to write back. That’s the thing that jolted me most after his death: the letters, the thoughtful reflective correspondence; it just … ended.
After his funeral, my uncle lifted the stack of familiar scrapbooks, opened and read the inscription on the inside front covers, then handed them to me. At the time I probably didn’t fully understand how profound Grandpa’s gift really was, but as the years wore on and his voice faded from my memory, I’ve come to realize that his stories and their significance not only stayed with me but they’re part of who I am, warts and all. I can still hear his voice when I read his writings.
He passed away in 1991. I created a website for posting his old newspaper columns so the family will have access to them and can also contribute any stories about or by him they want. My thought is to hopefully pull together enough of his works to bind into a book for the family (who knows how long digital will be around or what the next tech looks like).
A biographer friend once told me, “When an old person dies, it’s like an entire library closes forever; we need to capture and listen to their stories while we can.”
To all you older folks out there reading this, we hope you will tell your stories — whether on paper, computer, tablet, recording device, or simply by sitting back in a chair and sharing with those who will listen.
And to the busy younger set, we hope you can sit for a moment and allow yourself the gift of stories told by those who lived them — meaningful, real-life stories captured before they’re gone forever.