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.
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 blueWhether 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.
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