Season 1, Episode 3: Crystal’s Hymn
Guest: Crystal Chandler
Crystal Chandler runs a media production company that highlights the underrepresented voices in society while providing production opportunities for young people of color to gain hands-on media experience.
You can follow Crystal on social media @TheCrystalLens. You can can learn more about her work and production company at www.TheCrystalLens.com.
Original music composed by Nate Sharples.
Sound FX, Foley, and mixing by Kenneth Donahue.
Story editing by Galen Beebe
Produced and hosted by Lori Mortimer
“Victory in Praise” by Cast of Characters; licensed from Soundstripe.
Visit www.MementosPodcast.com to see some photos of the memento in this episode.
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Follow Lori at @mortaymortay on Twitter and Instagram.
[00:00:00] Mementos … sometimes what you really keep is on the inside.
CRYSTAL: About a year ago, I’m moving to New York, and I want something of my grandfather’s. Like, I need to have something other than just a picture to remember him by. And I go back to my childhood home. My mom and my grandmother still lived there, and they had really cleaned out a good portion of his stuff at that point.
[00:00:31] And mind you, he’s passed for about seven, eight years at this point. And so I’m looking in the closets, and I’m looking past this plastic bag with like this gray thing in it. And I’m thinking, oh, it’s just some, like, I don’t know, like rain jacket, like, like, let me find something, you know, more of substance. And I keep passing it.
[00:00:47] I’m pushing the bag to the left. And to the right. And just looking around it. As soon as I’m about to leave, I think, okay, let me go look one more time. And for whatever reason, I don’t know if it was God or the universe or what, but something told me to open up that plastic bag.
And I just thought, like, this is worth a million dollars.
[00:01:14] I couldn’t have found anything better than this.
[00:01:25] LORI: Welcome back to Mementos. I’m Lori Mortimer, and I am so happy to return, finally, with some new episodes after an almost two-year hiatus.
That’s one reason this is a happy tune.
[00:01:44] But the real reason is because of the story my guest Crystal has to tell us today. It has moments of sadness. But ultimately it’s about deep love and bonds between a grandfather and his granddaughter.
[00:02:00] What’s more joyful than that?
[00:02:05] I’ll step out of the way now and let Crystal get back to telling us what she found in that plastic bag.
[00:02:19] My name is Crystal Chandler. I currently live in New York City, and I’m originally from Boston. My grandfather’s name was Aubrey Prescott Williams, and he was born in Barbados in the 1920s, I want to say. And he went to England and then eventually came to the United States and settled in Cambridge, where his mother was living.
[00:02:43] He was a pastor in Barbados, and then I’m not sure if he preached when he was in England, but he definitely preached when he got to United States. And he was a pastor at Cambridge Seventh Day Adventist Church.
[00:02:59] Growing up, I didn’t get to enjoy him as a pastor, but I got to enjoy, you know, all of the years of his, his pastoring through his sleep.
So my grandfather used to sing in his sleep and sing full choruses, full hymns. He would sing soprano. He would sing the tenor. He would sing the bass and he would sing the piano part and the violin and the trumpet part.
[00:03:24] I mean, he was just a one-man band in his sleep. I mean, fully dead asleep, but he was singing his heart away.
[00:03:35] I remember my cousin and I, sometimes we would laugh or peek and see what was going on, but it was just grandpa singing in his sleep.
[00:04:01] When he passed, I actually had his blanket. And I kept it with me, and I just never wanted to let it go. Until my apartment caught on fire. We didn’t actually lose anything. Like, the fire didn’t catch my things on fire. It’s just that the entire apartment smelled like smoke, and it’s really hard to get smoke out of any type of fabric.
[00:04:24] And so I think in the process of getting rid of things, you know, maybe a roommate of mine tossed it out by accident.
And so now I go back to, again, to my childhood home. And so I’m looking in the closets, and something told me to open up that plastic bag. And I open it, and it’s his pastor’s robe. And I just thought I hit the jackpot.
[00:04:49] I mean, it still smells like him. It has his name in it, on the tag, on the inside. And I can really still just feel his energy in here, even though I didn’t actually get to see him actually wear it. But his spirit is all throughout every fiber of this pastor’s robe.
[00:05:15] So my grandfather was definitely not only the rock, but I’d say the super-glue of our family. And after his passing, you could definitely tell the difference. For me, he was always that person I could run to when I was upset or even if I had good news or I just wanted to relax. I would just sit there and watch TV with him.
[00:05:37] But specifically, a lot of times, my mom and I would get into, like, arguments and I would grab the key for upstairs and I would run out and run upstairs, and he would just hold me.
[00:05:51] And there’s something really warm and loving and just safe about being in your grandfather’s arms, despite his trembling from the Parkinson’s and whatever other ailments he was going through. It really didn’t matter because I could just feel his love throughout all of it.
[00:06:19] So from a really early age, you know, my mom had to work nine to five. And so who’s home when I get home from school at 2:30 in the afternoon? My grandparents. And my grandfather was just really good at math. So we would sit there at the dining room table and he would help me with my homework. And he was also a historian and had all these random facts in his head.
[00:06:41] So I think you definitely get a different type of relationship when your grandparents live at home with you. And specifically when they end up being your caretakers. You know, even on the weekends, sometimes I just wanted to go up and hang out with my grandpa, just, just because.
[00:07:06] When I was young — elementary school age, I’d say — I knew that he had Parkinson’s, but I don’t think I could comprehend exactly what was going to happen to him over the years.
[00:07:21] One of the first memories that I had was he actually fell in the backyard. My cousin and I, we had our bikes out there, and he wanted to ride a bike. And so he hopped on our bike. And I just remember watching him from the back window on the second floor. And we’re like, oh, grandpa’s on the bike and not thinking much of it.
[00:07:44] And so he fell over because he couldn’t peddle on our bikes. And I remember running over, running downstairs, busting through all the doors and just running to him and making sure he was okay. That was probably the first time that I realized, okay, like this, this disease is something. And it’s something that he’s gonna need some help with.
[00:08:09] At first, he could pretty, pretty much still get around on his own. And then it turned into, okay, like he needs someone to kinda like hold his arm, you know, when we walk around. Not a problem, but still pretty mobile. And then it kind of turned into, okay, well now you need a walker, you know? And then it turned into, okay, like either you have to take the walker or someone has to be with you because we don’t want you walking without it.
[00:08:35] Sometimes when he was eating, his jaw would lock up, and there’d be food in his mouth. And you know, your number one goal is to get that food out of his mouth or to unlock his jaw. And I remember having to learn from my mom and my aunt, just how to massage his, his jaw and his cheek so that it would actually loosen up because it was such a choking hazard for him to be sitting there with food in his mouth.
[00:09:08] You could see in his eyes, he would want to talk. And, you know, he was still very alert, very aware, but his body wasn’t doing what he wanted it to do. And I think how children can communicate is such a big thing because the moments when his jaw was locked, we could communicate through our eyes. You know, it’s an unspoken type of communication that you can’t just develop with anyone. It’s, it’s a special type of communication that you just can’t recreate.
[00:09:43] I don’t think my grandfather ever verbally got upset about the disease that I can remember. But I could see it. I could see it in his eyes. I could see it in his attempts to open a pickle jar or his attempts to change the channel on the remote and his thumb can’t get the button to press. And so I think I saw it in those ways where he would attempt to do something and he wasn’t able to do.
[00:10:17] There was never a thought that crossed my mind that said, oh, okay, we need to put you in a nursing home. I actually, I don’t know. I just thought, I always thought it was a little strange to just kind of have your grandparents in a nursing home. You know, it’s like they raised you. And so now it’s their time that they need help.
[00:10:36] And so you return the favor, you know? And so I grew up putting my grandpa to bed. You know, he started off putting me to bed, and then I ended up putting him to bed.
I remember I was downstairs in my part of the house, and I was watching, Finding Nemo. And I went upstairs to help grandpa, you know, eat his food.
[00:11:02] And I want to say that he was doing okay. Like, he wasn’t in a bad spot where he couldn’t eat by himself. And I told him, okay, grandpa, just sit here at the dining room table. I’ll be right back, I’ll be right back.
[00:11:19] And it’s late in the evening, and I was so tired. I just remember I was so tired. And I went back downstairs, and I fell asleep. And I woke up to this loud thud. There’s a certain sound that the house makes. There’s a certain tremble that the house makes when a person falls. And whenever I heard that specific thud, I always knew that it was grandpa.
[00:11:48] This time was different because we did have to call the paramedics. And he went to a rehab center, and I’m thinking, okay, cool. Like, he’s going to the rehab center, they’re going to rehabilitate him, and he’ll be fine. And he’ll be back home, just like always. But he didn’t come home. He had fallen in the rehab center, but this time he fractured his hip. But when you’re 80 years old, they can’t really operate on you.
[00:12:17] I don’t think I realized that definitely meant he wasn’t coming home. I just thought it meant, okay, we’re going to have to figure out a different way to fix his fractured hip.
I remember that it was a Saturday morning, which is ironic, too, because as Seventh Day Adventists, we celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday.
[00:12:33] So the rehab center called us and said, Hey, like, you probably should come up here. You know, we’re not sure if he’s going to make it through the day. We get there and his eyes are closed. He’s in a room by himself, and he was still breathing and all that. And I just remember sitting there –we’re holding his hand and just talking with him.
[00:12:56] Cause they say that the person could still hear you, even if they can’t respond.
[00:13:04] And I remember I had a iPod dock that played all these like nature sounds. And I remember playing him the sounds of what you would imagine the Amazon forest to sound like. You just feel like ou’re in the middle of some type of like paradise with all of these just natural animal sounds.
[00:13:26] The last moment I had with him, we were just telling him, I’m okay. You know, my cousin’s okay. My aunt’s okay. Just running through the list of everything that he might be worrying about. And again, he’s not responding, but we know he’s listening.
[00:13:49] And I’m holding his hand, and he shed a tear and then just [breath] and took his last breath.
[00:14:03] It’s sad in the moment because you’re, you’re losing someone as you know them. But you’re gaining them in a different sense. You’re gaining their spirit. You’re gaining all of the lessons that they taught you. You’re gaining a sense of how to continue their legacy. You know, when he first passed, I was beyond devastated.
[00:14:24] I’m maybe like 14 years old, so that’s a lot. But it definitely shaped me. Even in the moments after and learning how to plan a funeral and learning how expensive funerals are. And, you know, all the family politics that come with that. You know, even in his passing, he was still teaching me a lot.
[00:14:51] Honestly, it’s been a lot easier, I’d say, now that I have his pastor’s robe. There was some weight that was lifted off of me or something that just, I don’t know, something that was relieved once I had this pastor’s robe. And I didn’t know that I needed it.
I feel warm. I feel safe in it. I feel empowered in it.
[00:15:11] I just feel all of the positive feelings.
[00:15:17] He’s with me forever now.
[00:15:41] LORI: Thank you, Crystal, sharing your story with us. And an extra thank you for being so patient with me during our interview, when I forgot to hit record during your interview, and we had to start over.
Galen Beebee’s my editor. Galen, thank you so much.
Original music is by Nate Sharples. Kenneth Donahue handled Foley, sound effects, and mixing.
Alyssa Duvak was my summer intern.
Wait, hold on. Oh, okay. Here it comes. I thought I was running out of music there for a second. Nope! Here we go.
Of course, my husband, Steve, who has listened to no fewer than, I don’t know, 10 versions of this while I was working on it.
Thanks to my buddies at the Pod Prod for all the help they’ve given.
And thank all of you for being here to listen. I really appreciate it.
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Thank you. See you in two weeks.