The Connecticut Basement Tapes Project collects and brings to our airwaves the sounds of Connecticut’s past. Today’s basement tape segment takes us back to Hartford Connecticut in the 1960’s, and a family in crisis.
I was born Allis, A-l-l-i-s in Cleveland Ohio on December 8th 1911. Charlie my husband was born on October 8th 1912. I love my children, I want to be a good mother to them, but I am not a person to sit around and sew and decorate and paint and do things like that. I am not a house wife, I have never been a housewife.
Film maker Morgan Dews is the grandson of Allis. Dew’s award winning documentary film " Must Read After My Death" tells the story of his mother’s family by weaving home movies with these revealing, often painful audio tapes. Morgan says he grew up adoring his grandmother, a strong, independent woman who lived in a small farmhouse in Vermont, but was never told of this dysfunctional chapter of his family’s history.
I mean my mother would never talk about her childhood, my grandmother would never talk about her marriage to my Grandfather. The home movies were some kind of access I had to the past. My grandmother who I was very close to died in 2001, and I got all of the films, and I thought great, but what do you do with them? And I was talking about it with a family friend and she said, "oh you must be using those tapes". And I said what are talking about? She said "Oh Allis would bring this battery powered tape recorder with her in the car and make these crazy tapes…
Allis: It is time to put some things on tape. There are some things which are very much on my mind these days, which I want to think out for myself.
Morgan: When I heard that I thought, wow that’s pretty insane, and so I got in touch with my uncles and mother and asked them is that what the reel to reel box of tapes is in the garage, and they said yeah. The first tapes were these Dictaphone tapes which were these Dictaphone letters sent back and forth between Charlie and Allis when he was away on business. And basically every day someone in the family would make one of these ten minute records to Daddy:
But the happy family talking into the Dictaphone soon gave way to a more compelling story of a suburban Hartford family that was buckling under the stress of Charley, the father’s extended business trips to Australia, infidelity, Charlie’s alcoholism, and the confusing advice from marriage counselors. For reasons that are not clear, Morgan’s grandmother Allis recorded some of the family’s most painful moments:
Unintelligible yelling. Family Argument.
Ray: A lot of times it seems the tape was rolling during some pretty unpleasant family fights. From your family members, do they explain why the tape is rolling during these unpleasant times?
Morgan: Yeah, sometimes Allis will turn on the tape in the middle of a fight at a cocktail party, and go all of the way through the fight, and then kind of go "I just want you to know I have been recording all of this". I think what you are getting at is that you become suspicious of why all of this stuff is happening. And I always felt that in some sense Allis is not a reliable narrator, that she a very specific axe to grind about this.
Ray: Why didn’t your Grandmother destroy these tapes? Do you feel she wanted this story to be told after her death?
Morgan: Yeah. I think she went through and very carefully edited this material. It’s very quick at the beginning; the title of the movie comes from her "must read after my death" file. And her "must read after my death" file is 300 single space typed pages on onion skin, it’s about two inches thick. It looks like an amazing FBI file. It’s in a manila file, and it’s all the tape transcripts. She went through all these tapes, transcribed them. You know I think more and more I think she saved them intending to set the story straight about something she didn’t want to talk about again in her lifetime.
Morgan Dews, who crafted his Grandmothers’ audio tapes into his acclaimed documentary Must Read After My Death. We want to hear from you for the Connecticut Basement tapes project. Do you have an audio GEM that’s been gathering dust and mold? Let us know. Email me at
For more on Morgan Dews' documentary, visit his website.