Dorothy’s tour of Olympia

Today marks a milestone for—the first BlackenedRoots video podcast. The reason? I think it’s the best way to share a long audio recording while simultaneously providing transcripts of the sometimes unclear voices, while offering pertinent commentary and clarifications, and being able to share relevant photos. Do let me know in the comments below what you think of this new presentation format to supplement the usual written posts?

My grandmother, Dorothy R. (McMurry) Black died over 23 years ago, and I (and I imagine the rest of our family) haven’t heard her voice in that entire time. As far as I knew, there were no surviving home movies of her, and no surviving recorded interviews of her voice that I could watch or listen to. Her family films were silent vacation reels that appear to have focused on recording beautiful panoramas for the folks who weren’t there. I remembered tape recording the conversations we had nearly 30 years, in late September and early October 1990, but I hadn’t seen those tapes in nearly three decades and assumed they were lost to time.

But two weeks ago I was systematically organizing and filing yet another box of hastily packed family history bits and pieces. Among other things, this box contained six cassettes, one of which was labelled “A tour through the city of Olympia with Dorothy Black (McMurry), 9/28/90.” I purchased a cassette player and learned how to digitally record the output, as I didn’t want to break or wear down the tape with unnecessary playing. Once in digital form, I could play and replay the recordings as much as I wanted without endangering the original recordings. For days, that’s all I did, scrutinizing the 45-minute recording of the first side of the tape over and over in 5-second intervals to transcribe everything that my grandmother, my father, and I had said.

Dorothy was 73 years old when I recorded her on this tape. When I first played this tape last week, I thought she sounded a little older and more frail than I remembered. But within minutes her voice became familiar again and she sounded just like I remember she sounded. She told me more stories and tidbits that day than I ever remembered. But thanks to the space age miracle of magnetic tape, I now have a second chance to listen and learn from her.

If you knew Dorothy and miss her like I do, listening to this video podcast may be an initially emotional experience. With me, those feelings were quickly replaced with the sensation of old familiarity. I felt like my grandmother and I were relaxing on her davenport (as she used to call most sofas) and were listening to this long-ago conversation together.

If you didn’t have a chance to get to know Dorothy, perhaps this will give you a way to start to understand the complex and fascinating person she was. In her youth, she was a social girl who was known to model fashionable dresses and go to debutante balls, but she was also a tomboy who loved fishing, gathering oysters, and collecting Native American arrowheads that were lost centuries ago in the muck of Puget Sound. She became a career working woman several decades before that started to become a normal thing to do. She excelled at math, and loved to travel. She loved city life, and also loved hiking and skiing. She had a wide appreciation for all that life had to offer.

And now I’d like to share the first side of this first tape recording with you. I’ll be making and sharing similar podcasts of the rest of the recordings in the coming weeks.

If you have the means to do so, please record and preserve some conversations with your older family members.

4 thoughts on “Dorothy’s tour of Olympia

  1. Wow, I bet you felt like you were back there again. Your voice and your Dad’s sounded the same but Dorothy sounded different to me, probably her age. Loved the rat story. The pictures made it come alive. So nice to have these memories.

    • Thank you! The rat story is definitely one of the highlights! And in her first job, probably at at 14-16. Yikes!

  2. Michael, What a treasure. Dorothy sounds pretty much like I remember her. Your Dad, Keith, sounds exactly like your Grandpa Vernon!. Brings back so many good memories. Makes me sad not to have done something like that with my Dad, Mom and Grandparents. You are so right, we all need to be doing something of the sort – Of course I AM THE OLD person. LOL
    Great job of editing and putting the captions and photos in. If this is your first attempt, it is a whopping success. Look forward to more.

    • Hi Linda! Thank you. This was indeed my first stab at video editing, and it was quite satisfying. A little more time-consuming than I had expected, but I’ve found a couple of shortcuts that may make the next one a bit faster to produce.
      I’m so glad to hear you say that Vernon’s voice was so similar to Keith’s, as I don’t have a great memory of Vernon’s voice.
      There’s nothing that says you can’t interview yourself! In fact, recording your autobiography sounds like an efficient way to get that done. And then folks in 50 years can hear your story in your voice. In fact, I might do that myself, too.
      Off to edit the next video!

Leave a Reply