My grandfather, my Dada, was a storyteller. He would leap into a story at even the slightest prompt, and share it with anyone wise or patient enough to listen. Plot was never his priority. Rather, he was an impressionist, sketching out meandering worlds of character and place and, most importantly, laughter. Even the stories of his childhood, spent at an orphanage in rural Mississippi where he had been abandoned by his father, were tinged in humor and hope and that deep rolling laugh that would rock his whole body and crinkle his eyes.
Had he been a bit younger, a bit tech-savvier, I think my grandfather would have loved podcasts. Perhaps that is why I became so engrossed with audio dramas after his death this spring. Or perhaps it was that I yearned for the way I felt every time he would say “Did I ever tell you about the time…”, and I knew I was about to be admitted into a world tinted gold with his kindness, shining bright with his joviality.
Five episodes into Wooden Overcoats’ first season, I abruptly realized that I felt the way I did when my grandfather told stories: warm and safe and quivering with suppressed laughter. I could go on at length about this marvelous story about two rival funeral directors competing for the loyalties of the small island of Piffling Vale—the quality of the voice acting (some of the best I’ve heard), the sound design (uncannily immersive), and the writing (sharp, hilarious, unexpected). But my love for this podcast is rooted in its ability to create genuine moments of humanity in the midst of mounting absurdity. I needed that, as my family grappled with the yawning silence left in my grandfather’s absence. For, somehow, Wooden Overcoats’ quick-moving, drolly British hijinks captured the same kindness and joy that suffused my grandfather’s meandering narrative strolls through his childhood.
My grandfather passed after a long string of medical complications and organ failures, dismissive doctors and tentative nurses. And yet, his death did—still—feels shocking, like reaching back to clasp a hand that suddenly isn’t there. I had no idea how to process this sudden, gaping absence and so I didn’t. Or rather, I hadn’t, the evening I listened to Wooden Overcoats’ Season Three Finale.
Rather than spoiling a show this sublime, I will say only that this episode deals with the aftermath of a death of a loved one.
I have never experienced a work of fiction the way I did on that rainy evening in April, burrowed down in blankets, watching rivulets of water work their way down the window as I listened to the story unfold. Wooden Overcoats used the foundation of familiarity and humor accumulated over the course of three seasons to ask what it means to lose the ones we love, to explore death’s vast landscape of loss and pain with no point beyond the necessity of moving through it. And when the protagonist’s pain finally bled through her fog of distraction and busyness, it utterly leveled me—so true and profound was the simple agony that her loved one’s mannerisms and smell and future plans and laugh were just gone. And yet, the episode ended on a note of hope that was a steadying breath rather than a saccharine smile.
Podcast listening is, for me, an act of trust. Subscribing to a podcast feels like taking a leap of faith that its creator will not abuse the emotional investment I make in their creation. I have never felt so wholly rewarded for that trust and investment of time as I did listening to the Season Three finale of Wooden Overcoats.
After the final credits, I slowly took out my earbuds and set my phone in my lap. I stared at the window, riven by streaks of rain. For the first time, I entertained the possibility that maybe I could figure out how to grieve my grandfather. Maybe I wasn’t alone in my pain. Maybe, someday, I could assume the role of raconteur, passing on his stories—and my stories—for a new listener, rapt at my feet.
LAURA BETH HOOPER, LISTENER AND LOVER OF PODCASTS
Find Laura Beth: https://twitter.com/laurabethhooper