To Those I Love

If I should ever leave you whom I love
To go along the Silent Way, grieve not,
Nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk
Of me as if I were beside you there.

I heard my grandfather's voice today. He died in 1998 at the age of 93. My brother, in a stroke of genius, recorded an interview he had with Papap in 1994. He'd been a widower for eight years.

In an intro to the interview, Rob recalled that Pap was in "good health and fine spirits . . . and he spoke in amazing detail recounting names and places from nearly seventy-five years earlier." He went on to say, that "one of his many canes, leaned against his chair and his ever present bag of chewing tabacco sat on the table between us."

Just before the interview begins, Rob admits, that his favorite part of the taped conversation is "hearing his voice again, which is unique, clear and resonant." He also makes reference to Papap's "unequivocal style of speech. You always knew where Papap stood on any issue because he always spoke with absolute and sometimes brutal honesty."

(I'd come - I'd come, could I but find a way!
But would not tears and grief be barriers?)
And when you hear a song or see a bird I loved,
Please do not let the thought of me
Be sad . . .
For I am loving you just as I always have . . .

As Rob prepares his questions, Papap asks if the device before him is a "recording machine" and mentions that he had, at one time, access to one as well:
I had one of them . . . I used it to record bird calls. I'd put it out on the back patio and all the different birds would sing their bloody heads off (chuckle). I'd record all of them.
Leave it to Grandpap! An early member of the National Audubon Society, he had no less than ten bird feeders in his yard at any given time. On the window sill behind his chair in the kitchen, sat a pair of binoculars. His seat at the table was positioned so that he had a clear angular view out the window to his right. When he heard a bird call that piqued his interest, he'd reach for the binoculars.

Papap studied birds the way a chef studies a recipe. and he never tired of sharing what he learned.

He had a special fondness for song birds, and for many years, my grandparents kept canaries. On one of my visits after Papap returned to Pittsburgh, I presented him with a young cockatiel which he named, Patrick. How he enjoyed that bird. It was my way of saying thank you to him, for sharing his passion with me. I never hear a bird sing without thinking of him.

You were so good to me!
There were so many things I wanted still
To do - so many things to say to you. . .

At Papap's funeral wake, Rob shared the audio-tape with members of our family. Unfortunately, I arrived late and missed most of it. I fully intended to ask my brother for a copy directly after the funeral but, as sometimes happens, life got in the way, and I never got around to it - until now! Better late than never.

I awaited the tape's arrival with great anticipation but, it wasn't until I had it in hand, that I realized I didn't have a tape deck upon which to play it. Rick resolved that little crisis when he remembered his workbench-boom-box was also a cassette tape player.

With a little fumbling and the push of a button, my brother's voice filled the room, followed by the unabashedly loud and richly resonant (perfect descriptive word) voice of Michael Kenneth Donovan - just as I'd remembered it. He speaks a bit haltingly at first, but the measure increases as he immerses himself in the story of his youth.

I did, as Rob suggested I would, laugh upon hearing some of his old catch phrases, like "fire-away" and "hell-no", but I most especially loved hearing the lighthearted lilt in his voice as he spoke of Grandma and their courtship.

It seems funny to me, that the very voice that now brings tears of joy to my eyes, was once the object of strife and embarrassment, particularly when it was raised in public, beyond levels considered socially acceptable. I can still picture Grandma, eyebrows knit and head cocked, imploring Papap to lower his voice. It was never his intention to be loud - he just didn't know how to modulate the strength of his voice. He told me once, that he'd never been able to whisper. It bothered him.

Papap's voice, as gruff and dissonant as it was, presented a strong contrast to the melodies of the birds he loved so much. Perhaps that's why he appreciated them the way that he did. He was a man that loved to talk and express himself. Maybe he wished he could have done so in a more refined manner.

I will remember my grandfather, as a man of words. When I visualize him, I see him seated - at a table or next to a radio. He always had something to say, and thanks to my brother and his recording machine Papap's voice will never be silenced.

Remember that I did not fear . . . It was just leaving you
That was so hard to face . . .
We cannot see Beyond. . .
But this I know:
I loved you so - t'was heaven here with you!

Papap and I in 1995, outside his home at St. Barnabas.

Footnote: Between June 1985 and November of 1986, we lost three members of our family, including my grandmother. On February 17, 1986, my aunt Lynn, sent a copy of the poem, To Those I Love, to each adult family member. It was written by Isla Paschal Richardson and published in Parade magazine.

Lynn's note said, "I'm sure this is what our loved ones would have said to us." I tucked that note away and forgot about it for years. Strangely, it resurfaced just a few weeks after Aunt Lynn's death in 2006. It comforts me whenever I read it, as it comforted her when she found it.


  1. You were luck to have known him that way.

  2. How wonderful that Uncle Rob recorded that tape. What a wonderful way to capture and keep a piece of someone we all loved forever.