"Tom Gainer—Folks Songs & N.A.S.A."
films by Holly Clegg
"In the Family Music Archive"
Tom Gainer & Family
About the Filmmaker
WE WALK UP THE DUSTY WOODEN STAIRS to Tom’s study. On the walls are Tom’s college diploma, a West Virginia University tapestry and a drawing of a plane given to Sheila from her father, who worked in the headquarters of NASA. The room is small and contains two bookshelves full of books on cooking, losing weight, finding happiness, mathematics, computers for dummies, and the folk song books by Tom’s father. Tom shows me the old faded records and he pauses on the one with his father’s picture.
Tom sits at his white Mac and clicks on different icons until he finds the YouTube video of his father singing an old Irish folk song. A screen with text appears and his father’s voice crackles out of the computer speakers introducing a song. Then he begins to sing, “A few more months…a few more years…”
The room is silent except for the jangling of the collar on Sheila’s dog. I watch and listen, feeling uneasy, as if intruding on something private. The air in the room feels thick and heavy as the strong tenor voice belts out through the small speakers, memorizing all three of us, maybe even the little dog staring at the computer screen intently.
As the song comes to an end, Tom stalls a moment then turns his chair towards me. His pupils are so large they seem to fill his entire eyes, making them appear shiny and black behind his glasses. “Those are the real folk songs,” he says. “You can’t re-write folk songs much like you can’t re-make an antique.”
Tom Gainer—when younger
Q: “Do you enjoy being a father?”
A: “Oh yeah…there’s nothing like it!”
TOM GAINER LIVES IN NEWPORT NEWS, Va., with his wife, Sheila Gainer, and their two Chihuahuas. Tom Gainer worked for NASA for almost fifty years before retiring. His major contribution was working on wind tunnels and solving equations to improve the speed and flight of different planes. Sheila also worked for NASA as a “computer,” documenting all the data that was being collected. The two met at work and fell in love and have been together ever since. Sheila grew up in the Hampton Roads area, while Tom grew up in Parkersburg, W.Va. They have three children, two girls and a boy, and four grandchildren. They are both retired now and enjoy visiting with family and sharing their life together.
Sheila Gainer—when younger
“The best part of being a mother is getting to play again”
Patrick Gainer (Tom father)
Folksinger (see "You Can't Write a Folk Song" video).
Holly Clegg is a student at Christopher Newport University studying English and Studio Art. She spends most of her free time walking outside, cooking and drawing. She has a passion for sustainable living and hopes one day to be able to use this to help others live a healthier and happier life. Doing this project helped her realize that everyone has a story and everyone’s story deserves to be listened to and documented. She has become curious about what hidden life stories exist in her own family history and would like to do some for documentary work on her own time.
"You Can't Write a Folk Song" (5:58)
"Memories of Childhood & War" (3:32)