On Memories of Grandpop and a History of Court Reporting

I was pushing my office hours tonight. Cold beer in hand, having eaten a late dinner, I pounded out word after word, sentence after sentence, for my contract job that typically entails various blog posts, e-newsletters and the like, not too different from what I’ve pursued for work in the past.

I’d written quite a few blog posts for a court reporting client, but this post was different. I’d subconsciously saved it for last on my list, judging by the topic that it would be the quickest to write. A few google searches later, though, I realized the topic wasn’t just different but it plucked a chord that went deeper than expected.

Since moving close to the beach… memories of Grandpop Walker, my dad’s father, always come to mind. Whether we were crabbing off his pier or playing in the water around the little island he’d take us to, we spent many summer vacations as a family at his house in Maryland on the Patuxent River off the Chesapeake Bay. Much of my informal maritime education started with him and with my dad and mom, who boated throughout my youth. My grandfather, a jolly, friendly kinda guy, was always a reader, his office lined with shelves of books. He’d rise long before anyone else, likely 4 a.m., and would have finished a pot of the blackest coffee while reading the Washington Post on his porch. My brother and I joked that we could read his lists. We couldn’t, though. He wrote in shorthand.

My grandfather, George Russell Walker, was the chief reporter and editor in chief for debates for the United States Senate from 1974 to 1988, two years after I was born. My father and mother occasionally remind me of the story about visiting his office in D.C. and some tour we went on of the Capitol building, but they’re all memories lost in my very young childhood mind.

Beyond being who I see now as a rockstar political court reporter and editor in chief in his career, he was an incredible grandfather. Russ, my grandpop, was a fan of living for the moment, especially with our family, which is small. I remember one summer my brother and I were visiting for the week without the rest of the family. While I can’t recall exactly what we got at the grocery store on that storied trip, I remember sitting on his tall barstools in the cool basement eating an ice cream sundae next to my brother watching an Orioles game. On that particular visit, we blew the typical blue crab feast out of the water—Grandpop already had crabs he’d caught in pots before we got there, and I’m sure Andy and I spent hours out in the sun catching crabs with our tried and true method of chickenneckking–using chicken necks and a fell swoop with the net to catch crabs.

There are countless stories and photographs from Grandpop’s house and of his life, especially of the time we spent there with him. These stories, etched into my memories, resurface when I’m by the ocean, when I listen to my dad talk about his maritime pursuits, when I find myself in the Keys, kneeling in the water watching hermit crabs scuttle around my feet, just a bigger, grown up version of the little toe-head blonde child floating in a pink hippo tube off my grandfather’s pier, looking down at the creatures around the cattails and crab pots pulled up in the grass.

In the cool office, trying to finish my work on this Thursday night, I began to research court reporters. My search quickly evolved to the history of court reporting, and I couldn’t ignore the glimmer of an idea.

“Russell Walker senate reporter”

The first two hits were mentions of his service as a court reporter in historical books about the senate. The third was his obituary. It took reading all three of the results and seeing his title again and again for it to sink in.

Grandpop died when I was in high school, maybe a sophomore or junior, gawky, preoccupied and angsty, like most teenage girls are. He was 77. The remnants of the house he lived in that I remember are spread between my aunt and cousin’s house in Atlanta. I visited Amanda and Travis, my cousin and her husband, for the first time for Thanksgiving last year and choked up at the site of the bench that used to sit in his kitchen. My grandmom, who died years too young because of breast cancer caught too late, would tease the grandkids relentlessly when we’d fall or hurt ourselves on that bench. “Did you hurt my bench?” she’d ask. Her dry sense of humor only caught up to me after her death, hearing it in my siblings’ voices, my own voice.

I don’t know exactly what my grandfather’s job at the senate consisted of. I can only imagine it was hours upon hours of recording shorthand and doing transcription. What kinds of debates did he hear? What information did he soak up? How did it affect him, his life, his opinions, his family? Did he think in shorthand? And damnit, what did all those notes all over his house say?

Feeling regret at not knowing him better or remembering him in a professional sense isn’t worthwhile. I remember him the way I do, as a writer, a romantic, and as a passionate person with a booming voice who loved the water. He was a professional communicator, an editor in chief of proceedings at the Senate. The list of questions I want to ask my dad and his sister are growing; I only hope to transcribe and take down the notes to pass onto my own children, to share the stories of his past and the details of his life.

There is no doubt in my mind that my talent, my love of words, my wit and my passion for editing stem from my Grandpop. I can’t change the past, but I know in my heart that he’d love what I’m doing and my pursuit of communicating, no matter the form. I’m living forth my own version of an editor, a role he may have helped foster when I was still in diapers on that first trip to the Capitol.

Tonight, I let my heart do the research and stumbled upon sweet memories and the beautiful realization that I am my grandfather’s granddaughter, a writer and editor in my own sense. And I am forever grateful for that gift, Russ. Thank you.

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