My oft-stated “reluctance to travel” stance (due to a flying aversion, partly) is beginning to seem at least a white lie since I’ve been elsewhere much of the last few months. And soon I am off to the “Rocky Mountain High” of Colorado to visit more family. This, despite my concern about the major altitude in general and its impact on coronary artery disease. But, no way out–the cardio nurse said there is no reason to not go for it (“yes, you’ll feel the altitude but just slow down and rest”), so go I will.
Before I fly into the great wild blue (or is it wide blue…), I wanted to share a more local fun adventure. Marc and I hit the road yesterday to see Trillium Lake by our own mountain– Mt. Hood, of the Cascades. I have been on the mountain, as we say, many times (another post was written about Mirror Lake, near Trillium Lake) but had never had the pleasure of experiencing our mountain lake from early afternoon til evening. I’m grateful we went. But next time I want on a kayak, paddle board or just a big donut “floatie.” We also did enjoy an easy 2 mile hike at 3700 feet.
I could elaborate at length about the grandeur of alpine forests and the towering majesty of Mt. Hood; undulating, gentle water; languid campers and picnickers and floaters (no motorboats allowed); and the drenched, ebullient dogs romping among freedom-crazed kids. It was all beautiful to witness. And oh the deeply quiet, redolent trails through forest and marsh circling the lake–perfect.
But it is best to just show you. There were so many great vistas and people to observe and record that it was hard to pick these few shots. Please enjoy Oregon’s Trillium Lake–named for my favorite wildflower–and ruggedly attractive Mt. Hood (which draws skiers from all over each winter).
The first look after we parked and paid our $5 fee:
And that nature-infused happiness billowed–even as I noted more and more people around the curving edges of the lake (that crowded parking situation highlighted that immediately). No matter; it’s just awesome.
Then a relaxing hike around the perimeter of the lake. There was much more forest we hiked but it is hard (for me) to get great interior forest pictures. That boardwalk through the marsh was caving in at spots and had been, we think, closed off. But someone had tossed the warning sign aside and we decided to proceed and safely managed it. The varieties of bird song was worth it as well as the views.
Back at lakeside we decided to really relax, cool our dusty, dirty, black fly-nibbled, sweaty bodies and drink lots more water plus eat a snack. We settled into camp chairs in the piney shade. It was still in the mid-80s (F)–in Portland it was close to 100 degrees Sunday, hence this trip higher up–but we were blessed with swift breezes. Wonderful to sit among such trees and close to tranquil water. This is actually Marc smiling–a too-rare thing these days with his endless long work hours. From our perches we watched countless families, couples and friends play–and what a good time they all had.
The light began to throw off its brilliant gold, sank behind the treeline bit by bit, and prepared to put on its magic silver character. I was mesmerized. (Please click on the smaller squares for better viewing.)
The long drive back home past forests and moss-encrusted cabins and fine ski lodges was quiet. We were satiated, tired out in the way that is a deep comfort. Surely you, too, can find your own diversity of delights the coming week. Look about; it may not be Mt. Hood and Trillium Lake (plan to visit) but I guarantee that life-enhancing moments hide in plain sight.
Well, this is “over and out.” Be well, be kind. Catch you in a week or so (that is, before or after our annual summertime Oregon coast trip)!
Now I am home, though still a little tired and saturated with images and thoughts of the last minute trip. Though we flew to North Carolina, a few days later we had a drive to make. The car trip to Michigan from North Carolina was 14 hours last Friday. The next day was spent with family and attending the memorial service for my sister-in-law. Then the third day: back another 14 hours on many roads and five states from N.Carolina to Virginia, W. Virginia, Ohio, MI., then reversed for return. I often passed the time–I read as well–staring out the window as my husband drove. (I’d have been happy to drive but he was caught “in the zone”, and refused my help. Next time it shall be different; he was too tired to endure this stretch of time behind the wheel. But when he makes his mind up…)
It recalled the road trips I’d taken with my parents and siblings as a child around our country, how excited I felt about each place we went. I gawked at the world, happy even though squashed between four siblings in the back seat. Each town was a story even then, every landscape a magnetic space. Everything crackling alive. And it still is, amid the dying…
Marc and I talked on the way there with some banter; we knew it would not be easy the next day. But we fell silent often, thinking of this second loss in two months. And our old lives in Michigan (several decades ago) and those places to which one cannot ever really return for long, not once grown up and gone. And yet those places and times cling like a tenacious aura of the Past, sometimes bright, sometimes dark.
Seeking relief, I filled myself up with natural scenarios beyond the window, sometimes letting out the dry chilled air-conditioned air and letting into the car little gusts that dripped with humidity and was deeply hot: upper-90 degrees F.hot. It smelled good to me, as if rain that has been held back so long it has to sneak in, delicious-green and heady. And heavy.
I was struck, as I always am when traveling these areas, by the endless rise and fall of deciduous trees (far fewer conifers there) that took over foothills and parts of the Appalachian Mountains. Such abundance! The land rose up, split into graceful mounds, spread out in valleys and turned over this way and that, revealing changing light dabbed that daubed the landscape. I watched and snapped pictures, mesmerized. The clouds were astonishing, utterly magical they are from place to place. We also got through a sudden, bombastic thunderstorm.
So this is what I have today: pictures of daring cloud formations, rolling hills amid such old mountains and fecund, open farmland (with “corn at least knee-high by 4th of July”, as they say). A few bugs may be smearing windows. Not the best pictures, I am sure. They are more half-dreaming images of my perceptions along the way. The land and sky were witness to my sorrows and wonderment. And I, a willing audience for their dramatic displays. This life. This earth. The curious existences everyone does lead. And ever-reluctant me, traveling here and there, anyway– and I’m not even done yet for July, two more trips to go!
If you want a variety of sustenance, travel a little bit, or even take a decent walk. And if you want to see where I went, come along…
This is not the last day spent in the San Diego area but it seems a good final post about our felicitous trip. I thought of it all often since our return, realizing it was meant to restore, buoy and fortify us. That is the pleasure of travel, even in one’s home country or closer yet to one’s home. Getting out and away has the effect of an elixir, only better, as such changes of scenery can awaken the too-comfortable mind, startle the senses and arouse the spirit to greater appreciation of human life as well as nature.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a quick trip to La Jolla. The area, comprised of 2,000 acres of Torrey pines and pristine beaches, is a southern maritime chaparral. It is home to this rarest native pine in the U.S. Before tackling the short trails above, we enjoyed this stretch of the Pacific Ocean’s protected beach (California’s beaches are not all public as they are in Oregon). The sandstone cliffs are steep, textured by wind, water and tectonic plate shifts over innumerable centuries. Large flocks of pelicans were feeding and flying about as though with uniform and often urgent industry–remarkable to observe. They are so large yet graceful, as all birds, in flight. A young lady was embracing waves and sunshine as we strolled–tempting, though!
We drove to top of the cliffs to immerse ourselves in views while checking out this unique maritime chaparral. The first view looks out over La Jolla and the ocean. We stopped at the Torrey Pines Lodge, now Visitor Center-Museum, Pueblo revival in style. It was built from 1922-23 thanks to Ellen Browning Scripps, a newspaper woman and philanthropist. From 1908 until her death in 1932 she championed this reserve and bought more acreage to add to it. Torrey pines survive difficult conditions of drought and sandy earth, storms and unrelenting heat. Their roots reach down to 246 feet in search of moisture and to get a good hold on these windblown cliff tops.
Then onto the trails which meandered through cacti, namesake pines and other chaparral growths, lizards, flowers. It was, to me, a sort of beautiful desolation up there…
The sunlight amid gathering clouds kept us riveted for a long while. There were near-rhapsodic moments of opalescent, shimmering light cast upon the Pacific. Multiple shots of such beauty were unavoidable! It was not easy to pare it down to these… It was windy, wild, a little forlorn, mystical; heavens and earth and sea exerted full power as I stood steady but small.
By the time we headed back down, the clouds gradually began to clear and the sun resumed its potent heating up the air and our Northwestern-pale skin. La Jolla shone in the hills and San Diego was inviting in the distance.
The beach and surrounds gave us a vivid view at last glance.
This was, as all our outings, satisfying. However, our very last day was spent on Coronado Island, right across the bay, over the bridge from San Diego. This was a visit I had quite looked forward to from the start. The town of Coronado offers many delights, not the least of which are renowned beaches of brilliant white sand due to a mineral, Mica. It was a pleasure to wander about the resort area as well as the rest of the charming streets full of sights and restaurants where we enjoyed a good lunch at an outdoors table. There are many elegant homes and gardens to take in. The world-class Hotel del Coronado was built in 1888 and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. It has offered luxe bread and board to countless famous and infamous people over the years.
I regret that I have no photos, however–of which there were a multitude–other than this one courtesy of Wikipedia and one my husband took of me at the hotel. The tree behind me is a dragon tree. It was a backdrop in the film “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, filmed at the Hotel del Coronado in 1958. (Please find it in a bigger photo as it is impressive.) Would that I could mimic a Marilyn Monroe pose and attitude but alas!
The final reveal of a couple more odd things that happened while on this trip: my trusty camera was stolen. Hence, all last day photos were lost. I was more than a bit upset when arriving back in Oregon that my deeply appreciated Fujifilm camera was nowhere to be found. I suspect it was taken at our hotel, as that is where I last saw it, lying on the bed. I’d asked Marc to grab it as my arms and hands were full but it was unlike me to not double check and pick it up if he did not. Rushing too fast to the airport, I guess.
We, of course, called the hotel but were informed nothing was reported left in the room. We called the car rental agency-no camera. I realized I never carried it on the plane, so didn’t bother to check with the airline.
I thought how the trip had rockily begun with a dissatisfactory room. How I had been tiptoeing about barely corralled sorrow from past and current losses. Then I contracted food poisoning the night before my birthday celebration. A few grim moments. Yet the ensuing times had become so much happier, richer in experiences.
So I had to talk myself away from that new, only material loss. Put matters into perspective. We had been offered, unexpectedly, shelter in the amazing Presidential Suite. My birthday had come and gone without further incident–another year winning the fight with heart disease. We had enjoyed several good meals. We had availed ourselves of sights pleasing, informative and entertaining. We had rested up as well as played each day.
It was, after all, just a camera. I could buy a new one. And have.
But there is a last surprising event (that I am half- afraid of mentioning): our entire trip ended up being “comped” (excepting a few meals sought when out and about). No charges for hotel food, rooms or car garaging and valet. Neither were there any car rental costs beyond gas. As many who have read the posts on this trip, we used many rewards points accumulated from my spouse’s extensive business travel–a perk of his hard work. But we did expect a few costs, of course, and it was not to be. I am truly grateful –not due to the money, no, but due to our more hidden needs. The getaway gave us stamina and gratitude to endure the sudden loss of my brother… and now another family member is critically ill.
Sometimes you get what you don’t even look for in life; this was the gift of deeper sustenance. I hope you enjoyed this trip with me–there will be more before summer is done!
I am a contented domestic traveler (barring trips to nearby Canada), so I can’t claim chalking up one more exotic locale or vast varieties of experiences in that sense. But I can say my trip to San Diego presented unexpected moments both disconcerting and gratifying. A trio of events plus captivating places and days with Marc have set my mind to pondering since the return home.
As we arrived at the Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown mid-afternoon, I admired its substantial facade. Yet I felt puzzled as a valet got the luggage. Where were the swaying palms, glittering oceanfront, jazzy street bustle? We were smack dab in downtown, merely six blocks from the waterfront. Though a very large city, there was hardly any traffic for a Saturday afternoon–unlike Portland’s city center, a beehive day and night. There were virtually no trees, and if I stepped into the street I barely made out a brief flash of water blueness. Construction was occurring in a couple of places. I wondered then about our “room with view.” Breezy balminess was soft on my skin and I was relieved to be there if a bit fretful for some irrational reason. I yet hoped for the best–a saying that would evoke more meaning later. I had no clue that I would go from 50 to near-zero to 100 very fast.
We entered the airy lobby of what was once the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank from 1927-1994. It still retains a bank’s milieu with original design features though modernized in style aspects. Designed by William Templeton Johnson, it is Italian Romanesque Revival style, a restrained extravagance. The main hall/lobby has 32 foot high vaulted ceilings. It feels medieval and substantial, elegant with marble, bronze, granite, wrought iron and large mirrors.
Up we went to the tenth floor. As we entered a nicely appointed, smallish room, I could see….grey tall buildings and a glaring pit of sandy earth where building was only temporarily halted. No water scene. No colorful streets. The room was dark, a tad worn here and there. I was disappointed–then snared by a cresting wave of sadness. It didn’t match what I’d imagined, okay–but why on earth plummet like this? Marc was displeased but lacking distress. He is a decades-long business traveler; a perk is the rapidly accumulating of various reward points. Vacations are usually very affordable due to his hard work with such travel. He is usually blase about irritating situations; a hotel room was just a hotel room, a necessary convenience or airport glitches, the expectation. I’m clearly more the neophyte.
I should be feeling happy, I mused. I stared into the rich blue sky above skyscrapers as tears spilled onto my cheeks. Sat on a chair, arms about myself. Oh, right, there it was: that inconvenient, oft-burrowed thing, a specter called grief.
“Today is the day my sister died three years ago, then she was interred on my birthday and this week I’ll be 68…and then Mom died on Mother’s Day…it’s not news that I do not much enjoy the month of memories. I just don’t want to stay here. I’m tired out. We both need a pretty view, a good room–don’t we? Or am I being ridiculous? I’m sorry, Marc, I’m way too upset by this.”
“Yes, we do, this isn’t okay,” he said quietly.
He tried to call the front desk but the phone wasn’t working. He called from another phone which was usable. Someone came up to fix the unfixable phone. Marc was annoyed but I felt foolish, embarrassed by such emotion over a hotel room as Marc started to look for other possibilities online. Except it was not just that–it was the deeper need of a sweetening, healing time away from his intense work and our daily stressors. Things going right and well. The past months had felt like a long breath being held as I waited to see if family would manage okay. I had also recently recovered from major bruised ribs after a slip on the floor when jumping off a counter. I’d anticipated fun walks, even a hike or two.
Marc talked to someone but was told they were at near full capacity, they were so sorry. He started to look online for another hotel in the area and when another staff person appeared at the door he told him we were likely checking out. I fought back more tears and slinked off to the bathroom.
The next events blurred. I worked to get myself together in the bathroom. There was the sound of a growing cast of employees at our door. I dabbed my eyes, blew my nose and told myself severely get a grip when I caught something about moving to another spot and all being taken care of by the customer service supervisor. I blindly followed with a bit of hope quelling the distress; maybe the phones worked well and there would be a pleasanter space, even view. I was morphing back into a composed adult by the time we arrived.
We were led to an elevator, then another and crossed the hall to a second one that required a special key card to take the last elevator to the second of two floor #14s. Through a door in a small hallway and then into a spacious, sunlit array of rooms. Like an apartment. The Presidential Suite. No extra costs. For the next five days we’d stay there; the last two we’d be in a well-appointed room on the top floor. It made no sense at first glance. We wandered about, wondering why we’d been recipients of such fine care. Marc has a good job and his company gives the hotel brand tremendous business–maybe that was it? Or we had an exceptional place and supervisor, yes. Or then again, perhaps we so needed a quiet oasis that somehow we were allowed a true gift. That is how it truly felt–as if we were given what was so needed: solace, rest, beauty. Respite from the world. I was stunned by the rapid turn of fortune.
The views from the long terrace were perfect, with streets of the city fanning out, a glimpse of reflective Pacific ocean, a few giant palm trees in the distance silhouetted against bright spring light. Relief filled us as we surveyed the lively scenes.
We burst out laughing and high-fived each other. What a peculiar, surprising start to our holiday.
That was to be the first of a trio of trying, unexpected experiences. The other two will be noted in future posts. Fortunately, 97 percent of the time was filled with days and nights defined by happy, memorable moments together.
Our first night ended well. We moseyed about the immediate neighborhood and ate at a cheery pub in the historical Gaslamp Quarter. The area sports Victorian style buildings that include restaurants, theaters, shops, clubs– and is always jam-packed. There were throngs of people. We were in the thick of it at last and enjoyed people watching. Wandering further we found a calmer area with bubbling fountain and attractive courtyards. I was elated by all the new things to see and do, hands held in one another’s.
That night before we turned out the light we let our eyes take in the high coffered ceiling with colorful hand stenciled designs. We then slept deeply in a soundproof bedroom on a just-right bed behind French doors, excited to see what unfolded the next day. But I uttered a short prayer of thanksgiving for Jericho, the staff member who made it happen with such good will. I felt humbled and relieved at once.
And so our trip had begun. On Sunday we rose quite late, enjoyed a tasty all-American (eggs, sausage, potatoes, toast, juice, tea/coffee) breakfast and headed to the San Diego Bay and harbor. Along the Embarcadero we soaked up the warm and honeyed light cast upon all. It was breezy and comfortable the whole trip: “San Diego temperature.”
By evening I had forgotten mostly about the glitchy start of things. It is instructive that all grief can be reawakened, causing sudden vulnerability, a sense of being off kilter. The human heart is so tender if also tough. I recalled that Marinell, my deceased sister, had visited San Diego (her husband was a Navy and commercial pilot for decades) among other places–my extended family has traveled father and longer than have I– and how they’d have been pleased I got there. It was a comfort to think on it as I drifted off, my husband close by.
Please enjoy a few of the scenarios we found interesting our first full day. You may know that San Diego is the second largest naval base in the U.S.A. The many ships we saw were mammoth, both intimidating and awesome, and naval air traffic was a near-constant. Boating of all sorts abounds. Evident also in these photos is the Spanish influence on much of the architecture.
Next time: Mission San Diego de Alcala with its complex history and its quiet, mystery-laden spaces.
I listened closely and yes, it was for certain her hands on those ivory and ebony keys. Then her speaking voice. I pushed “play” on my iPhone’s voice memo files again. And again. Marinell, my sister, was playing an old standards song, “Stairway to the Stars”, on her lustrous grand piano. It took up a living room corner in one house, then inhabited its own room in another–and was sold, to my private dismay, before she and her husband moved to Texas.
The song was a little slower, more richly nuanced than it is often played or sung (Ella Fitzgerald did a more chipper version), and that was part of her piano skill with popular music, a more languid, casual, endearing coloration of notes. She had her own brand of soul stirred and shined up by a certain frisky but sweet touch as such a song as this deserves, if not requires. It lends a gorgeous sound, warmly so.
At the end of the song, she laughs–that light yet expressive sound– and says it wasn’t so good, but I shout out a muted exclamation of “Yay!” It has long been a favorite of mine and we long shared this love of standards.
As a child and youth I learned to sing whole collections from this era at Dad’s or Marinell’s elbow on the piano bench. I once thought this could be the music I’d sing for a living with luck and more hard work. Thus, the genre gives me uniquely good sensations as much as does classical music, my first old love and later, jazz (only a hop and skip away from the standards). I’ll find myself humming or singing snatches to myself even now when no one is near. I could only sing out with my sister’s accompaniment, though, as years passed. I trusted her, felt at ease making music with her.
To hear this, then, nearly three years after her passing from pneumonia and multiple heart attacks far from me in Texas is an unexpected treasure held close. Those simple and good times we had at her piano! And when more of our whole family gathered it made for a booming, harmonized chorus. She sometimes sang along as she played. I wish now I’d recorded the rare times we were all together.
Last week I was scrolling through ancient voice memos–all the way back to 2012 (I keep my phones a long while and obviously memos). When I came to two dated 4/16/13, it was a shock. I had forgotten I’d recorded her playing. I have some CDs of cello performances, a couple other recordings of her playing piano as she was a professional musician. But these were quieter personal moments in her home. In time, there were infrequent sessions due to her health issues and I was barely singing, anxious to not display how rusty I had become. Yet perhaps I worried that there would soon be no more live music and thought to record the songs her long, thin, strong fingers produced as they flew over the keyboard.
It seems appropriate timing to find that mini-recording. I have been wanting to talk to her but of course can’t, exactly. (I do communicate with her in the ways people do who miss their loved ones.) I needed to hear something good, reassuring. I wondered if she was still keeping an eye on things down here, along with our parents– both gone, too…if they understood what I felt.
Two of my other older siblings have been wrestling with life challenges as they age. It has been like gripping a seesaw most days the past few months, and tossing and turning at night as I contemplate their lives, who they have been to me and others and what may be ahead–for us all. Time finally takes us to task, demands we face mortality. My only living sister has an unfortunate penchant for accidents–has all her life, with many broken bones–and has more often fallen this past year at age 73. Many times she also has endured car accidents and now deals with memory glitches due to concussions. My oldest brother is a lifelong, die-hard performer, a jazz musician, playing until six months ago though he is now 79. But now he has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and is not well and has significant mental health issues to manage. My husband works furiously hard at a demanding position and suffers wear and tear the last years before retirement. I have felt often sad, picking at the problems, making them more noxious and sore while not having any brainstormed breakthroughs for healing solutions. Then I turn them over to God’s wisdom and grace, hoping for better. And this is just how it is to be the youngest of a large family, I remind myself. I may just lose them one by one–this, although I also have heart disease. But we cannot know–perhaps for the best– what lies ahead for certain.
So I’ve needed to call up Marinell and have one of our heartfelt, no-nonsense talks or better yet, visit her (I’m in Oregon, she lived near Seattle with–also deceased–her spouse). But that isn’t feasible. Hearing her play and that brief measure of laughter–our sharing a few comments–is the next best thing. It felt like a small hello from her. I have this to listen to any time. Without that voice memo I might have one day forgotten the manner is which she played, along with the heartening energy of her laughter.
Sometimes a most efficient and satisfying way to recall the best of life is by revisiting the past with our senses. It often these days is by way of fast-posted photographs or silly-good videos, yet think of the variety of scents associated with people and places; the tongue’s recollection of tasty foods; the feel of something we touch that is so familiar as well as sounds galore.
I had a butterfly dress when I was perhaps seven years old. Whenever I gather and smooth between my fingers a highly polished cotton fabric it brings the dress back to me and how special I felt, My mother made it for me. The cotton gave off a soft sheen (or it seemed) and I was enthralled by those colorful butterflies flitting across a white background, and the attached belt that tied in a floppy bow at the back. There was even a soft tulle underneath so that the skirt puffed out. I felt like a butterfly-swarmed flower of a human kind, swanning about in that beautiful church and party frock. I still find myself looking for butterfly decorated fabric, seeking a way back to love of my mother, that elated moment when I tried it on at first.
I appreciate all types of sensory cues, but it seems to me that the audible captures can be especially vivid, a gateway to memories of certain kinds. At least for me. A family can compile a history of valuable data or personal stories via recordings. I have been mindful of this option. Having sounds attached to facts and visuals is enlightening at the least and satisfying at its best.
I began recording my writing years ago on tape recorders. In 2012 when walking or driving I began to use the voice memo feature on my iPhone to record ideas–first lines, titles, a paragraph here and there. It is a handy help for writers. I’ve composed whole poems dictated from short memos. I have written, then recorded and posted a couple of poems on WordPress but haven’t yet perfected the process so it sounds really crisp and true. It can be helpful to my creative forays to record and replay a piece–the rhythms of words, pacing of line lengths and the internal and ending sounds of language in orderly sequence–it is all magnified, for better or worse. With music that value is self-evident, so useful for critical evaluation, a way to hone in on the faulty notes, a diminished execution or lack of emotive power.
Still, I use this ploy in everyday life. I have recorded nature sounds: from crickets to trickling streams and roaring oceans to bird songs and wind in a number of trees– so much more. On a hike I once desired to record a mother bear’s “huffing” sounds after I heard her cubs and their interchanges but became too anxious about proximity to pause a long moment. Drat that lost opportunity but I recall it well. I’ve recorded my children’s and grandchildren’s laughter, playful banter, music making. My husband’s twelve string guitar compositions as he played (valued more as he doesn’t play now). My youngest daughter’s soprano ringing out at concerts, belting out during performances with her old bands. I have on tape, also, a 1997 community radio broadcast of me reading my writing. It was fun and instructive. I am pleased to have it.
My father’s concerts were recorded by others often enough. Even though I can’t hear him conducting, I can in the sense that I visualize him standing on the podium in his suit or “tails”, nearly dancing as he moved toward the orchestra/ symphony musicians and then a leaning away, lifting and turning and pulling the music up to crescendo or quieting it with his gentled hands and carrying the music through space with his body and the slight conducting baton.
Last year when my oldest daughter, Naomi, and youngest, Alexandra, were visiting, I put on a very old tape cassette for them to hear. I wanted them to hear just how real was real my love of music was. I’d stopped regularly singing (and playing cello) right before I had children. That is another sort of story that has little to do with them, but it is also true I’d determined to be a present and engaged mother– I ended up rearing five–and free time was scarce. Of course, the children knew I had passion for my instrument and for singing. They’d heard me sing at home, usually for/with them when they were little, sometimes as we listened to popular radio or other music. And of course, singing hymns at church, the one time I let loose. But as a youth and young adult I had often performed and had embarked on a path to become a dedicated, skilled songwriter. So, when they were together and our home was otherwise vacated, I got out one tape I’d found in a box of miscellaneous others. They sat on the floor as I got it started in our stereo equipment. I briefly explained: me singing, something I’d written long ago but taped when 28 for my parents’ Christmas present. (I had inherited it when they passed.)
Soon my voice and guitar could be heard rounding out the room’s edges. I looked at my hands, the floor, the wall and speakers, as inside I was trembling. This was a great risk for me. I didn’t want to see deeply into their eyes, not too soon. Did not want to find dismay or disappointment. But when I stole glances near the end, I got far more. They were staring at the speakers with looks I cannot quite describe. Maybe disbelief. And yes, love. Maybe surprise and real pleasure. They seemed to hold questions, too. I closed my eyes, let the strength and tenderness of the song “Workers of Light” move through me, each note familiar as if I’d written it yesterday. My elastic and bright, emotion-imbued younger voice.
When it ended my youngest spoke in earnest. “That was so beautiful–and you’re saying that was your song? You wrote it, even played guitar? Why didn’t you keep writing and singing, Mom? I had no idea!…”
Her face registered deep surprise and eyes were gleaming. I looked at my other daughter as she turned her face away. But I saw her though her hair covered her eyes. She was trying to not shed tears. I let her be; she is a private person, does not always offer words for her feelings. I was afraid I’d start to weep, too, if I closed that intimate space between us. How to answer Alexandra or Naomi? How to explain leaving what I so profoundly cared for that it tore me up as I turned my back and walked away? I could not. Sometimes dreams are replaced by other pressing needs and they become frail as wisps of smoke. I didn’t want them to think of my loss when they heard me singing but hear unadulterated passion for music and my surrender to it, a music rooted in resilient, undying love.
“I just wanted you to know more of what it was to me. Will always be. Now you know there is at least one recording to play sometimes after I’m not around here anymore…!”
Alexandra protested–she doesn’t want to contemplate that I will leave this flesh for other realms. Naomi, who knows things about life and death in a different way, smiled wanly. We went about our day but a deeper knowledge had passed from me to them. Then back to me. They knew the truth of their mother more than before; I was glad to have shared it more fully.
This experience demonstrated to me again the importance of keeping record of certain moments–in this case, by virtue of captured sound– lived by those we love. Of what matters to us, whether human or not. And I for one would like to leave something for my family. It will unlikely be much, if any, money. I don’t have a precious stack of family recipes, either, or pricey heirlooms. It will instead be reams and files of my writings (which they may toss when I’m gone, no matter), recordings of some music and writing, a few videos of me dancing about the living room (they know nothing of those, but have danced with me) and happy family gatherings. Photos of places I’ve visited and people I’ve known or just seen along the way and found curious and fascinating. Drawings in a sketchbook. Cards and letters, too, handwritten and sent to them just because, like ones my mother sent me (some of which I still read from time to time).
I will keep recording events to share either now or later. It’s part of a broader history, too, small threads of the far-reaching human tapestry, everyone’s common domain; I can contribute in a minuscule way. Mostly, I want the kids and grand kids to be able to recall how riveted I was by the magic chorus of crickets while walking in the warm evening. To realize that to move the exquisite body to music is to feel it all, exalt in life–in case they forget or need to find more joy. That their mother and grandmother is still singing to them, here or elsewhere, a song just for them. Such mementos can connect us intimately across time and distance. Just as Marinell yet plays the piano for me when I shall play that voice memo–a chance gift of good cheer, a succor when I need it.
And though he and his band have several CDs (the Kung Pao Chickens) out, I have made my own videos and iPhone recordings of my brother Gary playing his saxes, clarinets and flutes; of his playful, strong voice slipping around, under and over many great swing tunes at his best venue, sounding, well, entirely wonderful. Just in case. And yes, for posterity. For the family.