My grandfather died before my first birthday, so I can't remember him at all. Growing up I was told that he died in an accident, but no one ever really said much about it. The story that I can remember goes as follows:

My grandfather was out for a walk one night near Toronto's waterfront and he somehow had either lost or forgotten his glasses, so he couldn't see very well. From certain points at the waterfront you can see Toronto island very easily and it's pretty close to the mainland. Apparently, in his eyeglassless vision, my grandfather mistook the lights on the island for the city's mainland lights and fell off a walkway into 20ft. water and drowned.

As a kid, I never questioned this. Only recently have I begun to think back and realize that something's wrong with the story.

It seems strange that he would mistake lights on an island for lights on the mainland. The mainland lights would be a lot closer and the walkways would have been lit. The noise factor would also have made a big difference: there would have been sounds of cars and other people nearby on the mainland, but the only sounds from the direction of the island would have been waves and seagulls and perhaps a passing boat.

The two likely scenarios I've come up with are that he was either murdered or commited suicide. Suicide seems like the most likely situation because I seem to recall that he had bouts of depression (although I don't know why I know this). He could have chained weights to himself and jumped in the lake. Of course, someone could have murdered him and tossed the body. My only real problem with that is the location: if I were going to murder someone I'd pick somewhere else to dump the body. The Scarborough Bluffs are only a 20 minute drive from there and would make an ideal burial spot.

I only wish that I could work up the nerve to ask my parents. I just can't find the words to say "did grandpa kill himself?"
I feel my grandfather sometimes, I feel his presence, or maybe it's wishing that I did causing that feeling. He died way before I was born (from mercury poisoning). I'm 20 now, and my mother was about 5 when the Nazis were raging around her country - Germany - trying to round up the Jews and other miscreants to shove in their death camps. My grandfather was a scientist - the villages' doctor, but a chemist first; when my mother and her sister were starving due to the rationing, he would make medicine and glycerine and rosewater solution along with soap etc in exchange for food. Apparently he was pretty funny too, but that's not what I'm talking about right now. Anyhow, he didn't join the army.

My grandfather, who was not Jewish, had a lot of Jewish friends. And when the SS came to round up all the Jews from the village, he got all his Jewish friends (and their friends and families) and put them in small cavities in the several massive piles of coal he had in his outhouse he had dug out. The SS came to the house and stuck their bayonets into the piles of coal (and hit a few people but they kept quiet). Undoubtedly, he was risking his life when he could have very easily turned a blind eye.

It is very hard to imagine what living under Hitler's regime must have been like. Apparently he once visited the village where my grandparents lived, and they all had to line up against a road whilst he was driven down it giving the ol' salute. When they got back from the rally, everybody swore that he was staring at them the whole time. And some of these people were on the other side of the road. What I'm trying to say is that he had a massive influence, over everybody in that country, regardless of whether you liked him or not. You may say that's a given, but I'm just pointing out that I'd probably go along with what I was forced to do... I wouldn't have had the courage he did.

A bit later of course, he was rounded up and taken to a POW camp in the USA. He didn't return until 5 years later, emaciated, and I would presume, pretty traumatised - and yet things got back to normal pretty quickly. As far as I know, he didn't let the experience affect my mother's family.

I consider my grandfather to be an actual hero, and he is very much a role model for me, although I have no idea what he was really like - or even if the story as I know it is true - nevertheless, I try to live up more to my grandfather than my father (and I've actually met my father... well, a few times), and I often hope there is in fact an afterlife so I can meet someone who, even with scant information to go on, I feel I have a real connection with, and a great admiration for.

Although I'd like to believe that I'm similar to him, I think were he noding this, he'd have the courtesy and mental discipline to remember his grandfather's first name, unlike me, the piece of shit that I am.

I love my grandfather. I did not stop loving him when he died. I wish that he was still with us, I wish I could talk with him about Physics, about research, and about life. Sadly, this can't be true, so I'm left with memories, and with stories.

During World War II, my grandfather drove a milk truck around the east coast of England, fixing radar arrays. He'd gotten his bachelor's degree in Physics at Yale right before he was called into service. One of my favorite stories of his goes something like this:

"One time, driving that truck, I pulled up to an Army filling station. These stations didn't have any attendants or any of that, you just pulled in, filled up, and left. As I was driving away, I noticed that the whole time I'd been filling up, I'd been smoking my pipe! I decided right there that smoking was a bad thing, and threw my pipe out the window of the truck while I was driving over a bridge."

Later he went back to Yale and got his PhD in Physics. He worked for years at Armour Research and then at SRI. He was on a team with the guy who invented magnetic tape. He was on the team that perfected the color television. He did some serious work in his day!

In 2003, his kidneys failed. They then put him on Peritoneal Dialysis, which let him have some freedom, but he basically couldn't travel. They moved to Santa Cruz shortly before this happened.

Oh, yeah, my grandmother on that side died of Hodgkin's Disease in 1971. My grandfather re-married years later to a wonderful woman named Beverly, who still lives in Santa Cruz, just over the 'Lost Boys' bridge from the Boardwalk. She's always been my grandmother.

In the fall of last year, my grandfather fell ill. He was in and out of the hospital for months. I'm really not sure what it was, finally, that killed him. He had several complications from the dialysis, including a fungal growth in his abdomen.

My mom came and went, wanting to be by his side in Dominican Hospital. My aunt and cousins flew in from Corvallis, Oregon, and we made a group journey down.

Dominican is a strange place. They had a Nativity scene in the lobby, and crosses everywhere. It's a large sprawling concrete building, but there's no one around, seemingly. The halls were quiet, and empty.

Throughout my life, I'd seen my grandfather as a very strong man, not physically, but emotionally. So when I saw him lying in a hospital bed, weak and vulnerable in a gown, it struck me pretty hard. I was rattled, but it was OK that I was quiet, because my Aunt Caroline, a hospice nurse, was talking a mile a minute with my grandfather. From the moment she got there, Caroline took over his care, asking to see his doctor, etc.

Beverly said to him, "Be strong, Bob!"

".... I've been strong for so long, I don't want to anymore.... I just want it to be over...." He was crying.

This outright admission of wanting to die was too much for everyone in the room (we all started sobbing), except for Caroline. She works in this situation every day.

"You don't have to, you can stop the anti-fungals, and all the rest. It won't be immediate, but it will end."

"Ok..."

"I'll talk to your doctor."

We had to get out of the room, us grandchildren (there were four of us, my brother and I, and my two cousins), so we went to the cafeteria and had lunch, quietly. We couldn't talk.

The next morning, he woke up to see Caroline looking back at him.

"I thought you were going to take care of this for me..." he said. (Always with his dry sense of humor...)

They discontinued his medications, and within a week, he died. My mother was by his side, but I was seeing one of my favorite bands when it happened, and I didn't find out until I got home. I didn't really feel anything new, as I'd come to terms with it when I heard him in the hospital.

And that was how things lay until we held a memorial for him. He was cremated. Beverly had a boat chartered, and we went for a cruise of the bay in his honor to scatter his ashes. The whole side of the family came, including his son, Peter, and his family, who he hadn't gotten along with the best while he was alive (Peter's a bit of a pot-smoking hippie).

So we went out on this glorious sailboat on a glorious day, and talked about him. When we were far from shore, we finally set about spreading his ashes. His ashes were in a plastic bag, we all took turns going to the stern and spreading some of his ashes and throwing a flower over that place in the water. I remember the surprising weight of the bag, the not quite consistent texture of the only physical remains of my grandfather. When everyone had had a chance to spread some of the ashes and say their goodbyes, Beverly spread the rest, and then brushed off the ashes that lay on the step of the stern. She's always been pragmatic.

It was very quiet, and meditative, but it was not sad. We were celebrating the man we loved. Afterwards, we went to The Crow's Nest and had a big meal, all of us, and swapped stories, and generally made merry.

I miss him. I remember how, as the years went on, his voice got more and more like a grandfather's should, and how he always dressed like an engineer from the '50's (he was one!). How his huge glasses made his eyes seem the size of lemons, his eye's reassuring dark brown color. His ugly wool plaid shirts he wore when he was being 'informal'. How we used to play croquet in his backyard, when he lived in Los Altos. The smell of their old rambler, their huge old garage. That metal firetruck with the spring-loaded ladder that we were always afraid would hit us when we released it...

this writeup, in its current version, was done for Bob Giges' personal narratives class at UCSC

My Grandfather, AKA "The Grandfather Passage", is one of the most common standard reading passages used to test an individual's ability to produce connected speech. If you are having a thorough speech evaluation, one of the last things the evaluator will do is hand you a paper containing block of text for you to read. There's a good chance that that text will be My Grandfather.

It was designed to contain almost all the English phonemes (by my count it's missing ʒ and the glottal stop). In this it is closely related to Arthur the Rat, a block of text used for studying accents and dialects. There are minor variations, but it goes something like this:

You wish to know all about my grandfather. Well, he is nearly 93 years old; He dresses himself in an ancient, black frock coat, usually minus several buttons; yet he still thinks as swiftly as ever. A long, flowing beard clings to his chin, giving those who observe him a pronounced feeling of the utmost respect. When he speaks his voice is just a bit cracked and quivers a trifle. Twice each day he plays skillfully and with zest upon our small organ. Except in the winter when the ooze or snow or ice prevents, he slowly takes a short walk in the open air each day. We have often urged him to walk more and smoke less but he always answers, "Banana oil!" Grandfather likes to be modern in his language.

The reading will be recorded and can be analyzed in terms of fluency, speed, spectrographic analysis, jitter and shimmer, and appropriate pitch changes. For all of these, and for any other qualities of speech that are being targeted, the goal is not perfection, but being sufficiently close to the norm. All human voices have shimmer and jitter, and would sound very odd if they didn't. Hesitations, self corrections, and pauses are common. This one of the reasons why the passage is so long, so that the clinician can get a sufficient amount of data that one or two errors wont mess up the results.

Having said this, My Grandfather is actually a pretty short piece. The other particularly 'famous' standard reading passage is The Rainbow Passage, which is about twice as long (although it also has a short version). On the flip side, researchers and clinicians will often take only a short segment of a passage to compare. For example, as a rule of thumb it should only take someone about two seconds to say the first line, "You wish to know all about my grandfather."

My Grandfather is also used as a sort of vocal 'Lorem Ipsum' for checking the sound quality of recordings, acoustics of buildings, and anything else where a random segment of speech is useful.


This particular version of My Grandfather came from The Audiologists' Desk Reference, By James Wilbur Hall and H. Gustav Mueller.

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