Grandpa and Bob Steele
Unlike other Bob Steele fans, I first became a listener by force rather than by choice. My grandfather, Truman Crowell, a Torrington resident, fire extinguisher salesmen and father of two, had three strong beliefs: English should have been declared the official language of the United States; "Made in the USA" was all he would buy; and Bob Steele was the only radio personality worth listening to. These were the three legs of the easel that my grandfather set his life on.
Bob Steele's radio program was a vital part of my grandfather's daily routine. When my sister and I visited, Grandpa would insist that we learn to appreciate Bob Steele’s mellow, educational style. This meant, of course, that we would have to suspend our love for modem FM stations with their pop music and "nonsense," as Grandpa called it, in favor of quality radio time with Bob Steele. I can't say that I ever did appreciate Bob Steele when I was a child, but there was no changing Grandpa's mind or my measure of respect for him. It was only as I grew older that I began to fully understand my grandfather's steadfast dedication to Bob Steele.
It was a sad day when my grandfather passed away. He had lived a full and long life. Still, my most often remembered moments with him are from the last few years that he lived at home. I recall sitting side by side on the couch with him, his head tilted slightly forward, his fading blue eyes peering up through his slim glasses, which would be sitting just at the end of his nose. His voice was more gravelly than in the past and he had difficulty speaking in more than a whisper, but he was still listening to Bob Steele, and when Bob Steele made a smart comment that my grandfather found amusing, his chuckle was clearly audible to anyone in the house.
Just a couple of years after my grandfather passed away, I was at a Connecticut Broadcasters Association meeting where Bob Steele was the guest speaker. (As an account executive for FM 97.3 WZBG, you could say that I never truly abandoned my love for popular music, or the talk and sometimes silliness of FM radio that my grandfather shook his head at.) My work had brought me to this meeting, and provided me an opportunity to hear my grandfather's radio idol first-hand.
Bob Steele's speech was simple, and his words may have contained more food for thought than I recall, because I wasn't actually present when he spoke. While I sat among my peers, all decked out in business attire and official-looking nametags, Bob Steele eloquently presented his speech—but I wasn't really there. I was on my grandfather's couch, once again enjoying time with him while Bob Steele's signature voice carried through the air. Bob Steele's voice was the vehicle by which I was transported back in time. I already knew that sound and the human voice were effective for conjuring up images and ideas in one's mind, but this was a personal experience that no song or commercial had ever tapped into before.
Because my memories of Bob Steele and of my grandfather were so closely tied together, when I heard of Bob Steele's death, it was, in a way, as if I was hearing of my grandfather's passing all over again.
I never listened much to Bob Steele after Grandpa went into the nursing home, but I connected to him through the memory of my grandfather. I will always have this memory of time with my grandfather, but now I will have to conjure up the memory of Bob Steele's voice, rather than tune into the real thing, to bring it all together.
The mind is a powerful tool, and I hope that, in some way, I will be able to bring both great men back from time to time, to remember them as they should be remembered: one on the radio with the Word of the Day, and one with a chuckle and a gleam through cloudy eyes.