Friday, February 5, 2010

I let a song go out of my heart

As the song goes, "Little things mean a lot."  And they can also add up to a big meltdown.

Earlier this week, there was a story on the WVU homepage about "Hot Rod Hundley," a legendary basketball player here in the 1950s, whose number was being retired.  My dad had often told stories about Hot Rod's antics, and when I saw the story, I immediately thought, "Oh, I've gotta send this link to Dad!"  And then, I remembered:  Dad's dead.

A couple days later, I got a call from the "digestive specialties clinic" saying that they were ready to schedule my colonoscopy.  Though I'm only 44, I get the thrill of having this procedure every five years thanks to the fact that both of my parents had (and survived) colon cancer in their late 40s/early 50s.  I realized after I hung up, though, that I can't say my dad survived it anymore, apparently, since the doctors believed that the brain cancer he died of had probably metastatized from the colon cancer he had thirty-five years earlier.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, then, that watching WVU play its arch-rival Pitt on TV Wednesday night kind of put me over the edge.  It was the first time the reality truly hit me:  I'll never see my Dad again.  

Often since his death, I've become conscious of certain tunes being stuck in my head--and not because I've heard them recently, and they've simply gotten lodged there.  These tunes seem to float up from my subconscious, somehow.  On the morning Dad died, it was "When I Look in Your Eyes."  Later, "The Song is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On)."

That these songs would be archived in my brain isn't too surprising; Dad had his own dance band while in college in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and was a lifelong jazz afficionado and musician.  I grew up with this music as a soundtrack, piping through the radio on WOSU's Big Band Saturday show, or from Dad's collection of 78s and vinyl.

When Tom and I first started dating, he was astounded by the fact that I knew all the lyrics to so many of the old standards, but after many years of visiting my parents' house and hearing them continually himself, he's pretty good at recalling titles and lyrics himself. 

I'll never forget the tone of Dad's voice once when he told me about finally discovering a place he could go to hear (and make) music when he was in Army basic training in Texas.  Having been away from home--and his instruments, and the church choir, and whatever other musical outlets he had there--for months, he was, as he said, "So hungry for music!"  In many ways, I think it was the first time I genuinely understood how much music defined my dad--what a near-religious centrality it had in his life.

That was echoed again in his final days, when my brother and sister-in-law created a slide show of some old negatives that Dad had been meaning to scan and identify for a long time, and--almost as an afterthought--added a soundtrack with classics from Harry James, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and others.

We figured out how to connect Mark's mp3 player to the TV in Dad's room at the rehab center, and as Dad watched, I was astounded at his instant recall both of the people in pictures he'd taken sixty years earlier, and also of the title, artist, and lyrics of every single song that played.  When he tired and we got ready to leave, he asked us to leave the music running:  "I'll just drift off on that tonight."

That was just a couple of days before he died.  I'm glad to know that there was music in his life even toward the end of it, and I'm even more glad that even though I won't ever be able to enjoy watching him listen to and play music himself, he's left me with an enormous repertoire of melodies to remember him by.

Sometimes, in my more woo-woo moments, I even think his spirit is communicating with me through some of these songs.  I had one such experience this morning.  I'd actually been dreaming about Dad, and woke up with "Serenade in Blue" stuck in my head, for no apparent reason.  As I lay in bed slowly coming to consciousness, I tried to remember the words...When I hear that Serenade in Blue....da da da da da da da da daaaaa--to you?  Couldn't recall the exact lyrics.

An hour or so later I got in the car to drive to the gym, and turned on the Sirius satellite radio, which was tuned to the "40s on 4" station.  As I turned right onto High Street, what should start playing but "Serenade in Blue"?  I listened, carefully, to the lyrics I'd struggled to recall:
When I hear that Serenade in blue
I'm somewhere in another world, alone with you
Sharing all the joys we used to know
Many moons ago

Once again your face comes back to me
Just like the theme of some forgotten melody
In the album of my memory
Serenade in blue
Whether I choose to believe that there's some kind of supernatural communication happening through the music, or that it's a total (if pleasant) coincidence, or that I'm just in a place where I'm bound see what I'm looking for everywhere, it doesn't matter. The songs make me think of Dad.  They make him live, and they remind me that he lives on in me.  All I have to do is tune in and listen.


ej said...

I know exactly what you mean about those moments when the enormity of your loss hits you. They can sometimes literally take your breath away. But I'm so glad that you've found a way to continue connecting to your dad.

Pam said...

Grief is a funny thing.Always lurking out on the edges waiting to find a way in. Mom told me once that she never grieved her dad until months later she found herself standing in line at the grocery store standing behind an older man who had hands that looked like Pop's and she was so overwhelmed that she had to leave the store before she bought what she was there for. Some of my happiest and fondest memories of Dad are sitting next to him on the piano Bench and singing at the top of our lungs songs like "Straighten up and Fly Right" and "Angel Eyes" Dad and music are so interconnected that I can't think of them separately.
I don't think there is anything Woo Woo about it. I do think there are ways that people communicate with us when they are gone. And I find that very reassuring in a way

Kirk and Cathy said...

I'm thinking of you Rosemary.

Michael said...

I love your phrase, "woo-woo moments." I have them myself, often concerning late loved ones. No matter how rational we are, or much we pride ourselves on our rationality (especially in the face of Tea Partyers and creationists), I think most of us love those moments, whether they are truly "woo-woo" or just created by our little understood subconscious. Great post.

Rosemary said...

Thanks, all of you, for your thoughts. It's really helpful to write about these things...though with this particular post, I worried that folks would think I'd gone right around the bend!

And Pam, you'll appreciate the additional "woo woo"-ness of the fact that the song that started playing when I got back in the car *after* going to the gym was "Celery Stalks at Midnight."

Christy said...

Beautiful post, Rosemary.

Jane said...

Rosemary, your post makes me think of the work of cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, especially his book I Am a Strange Loop. What you call Woo Woo moments he might say are based on how your father, and his music, has become a pattern in your consciousness. In that way, your dad does live in you.

In A Strange Loop, Hofstadter spends about 200 pages explaining his ideas about human consciousness and finally shares a long personal anecdote: his beloved wife died 20 years ago, and the pattern of her behaviors and experiences are part of his consciousness. It's very moving and compelling and based in our physical reality. I'd say it's like we have heaven inside us.

Hofstadter, like you, is musical, and he also argues that music, as a pattern, lives in our consciousness, and thereby its composer or creator partly does too. (I'm not conveying the intricacy of his ideas -- "pattern" is a simplification.)

We really do contain multitudes: my consciousness is an assemblage of many patterns.

Janine said...

I get songs in my head with messages all the time. I don't think they're only coincidences or some sort of bio-organic burp from the subconscious. I'm not alone when I say this sort of coincidence isn't a coincidence. Think about a bigger plan, and why you may need to know there is a place where people live, even if they don't share your life in the world. God bless. I'm not saying, "It's Dad." I'm saying someone (maybe with a capital S) wants you to know for your own well-being that Dad's there, whatever message the song gives you.