In 1961, my father toted a tape recorder the size of a sofa pillow to Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother’s house. His plan was to have everyone say a little something to my Uncle Kent, who was on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The tape was made. But I don’t know if it was mailed. I’ve been dragging it to and fro for 50 years now.
A couple of weeks ago I had it transferred onto a disc and then popped the CD into my player.
No one had heard the words on it for half a century.
My cousin Steve, age 13, was on there. He told about his dog dying, then told about finding another dead dog near his house. Steve had death on the brain.
He would grow up to be a funeral director.
Cousin Greg was on there, too, saying how much he loved football and basketball and couldn’t wait for baseball season. Greg was Mr. Sports.
Today, Greg’s grandson, Chayden, is a back-up kicker for the University of Utah.
Aunt Cleone added a spiritual note to the tape.
Cousin Marge chipped in some domestic gossip.
And I’m on there, chirping about Box Elder playing Payson for the state championship. I sound like a real smarty-pants.
I’d love to go back and give that kid a swirly.
My father’s sense of humor came out in full force on the tape.
“We’ll try to record a little more confusion for you later,” he tells Kent, “though I doubt confusion makes you very homesick.”
At one point Dad handed the microphone to my grandmother and — I remember this — he moved us all away so she could speak to Kent alone.
It feels odd today listening to the private thoughts of Grandma Ivy.
She describes the dinner, teases Kent about the way he used to like his food prepared and says one of his mission companions had come by to visit.
She says she peppered him with questions and when he left, she felt he'd taken Kent away from her for a second time.
She was grateful, she said, “For the elders who’ve been so kind to you.”
We all were.
In the 1940s and '50s children could be very cruel to kids who were different. And Kent was different.
He was what we coldly called a “dwarf” in 1961 — a little person.
When he applied to be a missionary, the family figured the church would keep him close to home.
He was assigned to Asia, where he valiantly met his special challenges.
When he stepped off the plane in Hong Kong, he would say later, people ran up and asked him for his autograph. They thought he was a “midget wrestler.”
He signed his name: “How much to you know about the Mormons?”
Kent's voice isn't on the recording, of course, though it's a voice I'd love to hear again. It sounded like a river running through a cave.
Still, as I listen and re-listen to that tape, I marvel at the sunniness in the voices that are there.
John Kennedy was alive and well.
Roger Maris had just hit 61 home runs.
“The Parent Trap” was in the theaters.
As Aunt Cleone tells Kent, "All is well in Zion."
Especially in a Clinton, Utah, farmhouse where — amid chatter about cats and football, dead dogs and hunting dogs — a family celebrates their lives together.
Some say the innocence we see in those days was really an illusion.
Perhaps it was.
But I'll take it.
For me, Thanksgiving 1961 will forever seem sweeter than candied yams.