Today on NPR someone was talking about telegraph operators. My grandfather was a depot agent for the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. He lived and worked in towns in western Minnesota and eastern South Dakota. Among the interesting things in my grandparents' basement was an old telegraph key and a number of strange looking glass jars. They were actually telegraph insulators and apparently are a collectable nowadays.
Because Grandpa was used to typing out telegrams, his letters to us were always in all caps. ALL CAPS. It wasn't screaming in those days, just a way to expedite getting the message through. The letters frequently came on railroad note paper used to relay the messages sent to the depot. I still have a few in my old jewelry box of treasures.
Grandpa was also a banjo player. He almost missed the birth of his second child because he was out playing a gig. It was a way to make some extra money and he loved entertaining. At the wedding of his youngest daughter (a 25 year span from eldest to youngest) I remember he played a number of his own creation, "The Lutefisk Rag." Old time jazz with a distinctly Norwegian sense of humor.
As a little girl I always wanted to play with the telegraph key, but somehow felt it was too special for me to use as a toy. I wonder now if I had asked for lessons, if Grandpa wouldn't have taught me the tapping magic of the Morse code.
I also used to wait and wait for him to play the banjo. When we would come for our annual visit, we were almost guaranteed a small concert. And if he came to see us, the banjo usually made the cross country trip. As much as I wanted to hear my grandfather play and sing, I would rarely ask him to play. I though it was an imposition. How silly! The man was born to entertain! I imagine he was just waiting to be asked.
The songs were always fun. "Five foot two, eyes of blue.... has anybody seen my gal?" Stuff from the 1920s or things that he sang with the Glee Club. He had a wonderful tenor voice.
My grandfather died when I was in college. It was 29 years ago this September. My grandmother, a spritely young thing of 97 continues to amaze us all with her energy and vitality. Ah, but we miss that banjo player.