So many of my memories revolve around music. And, revolve they did. I first listened to records on a burgundy felt turntable belonging to my sister, Judy. She was several years older, and while everyone else was in school Mom let me sit there and spin records to my little heart's content. Judy didn't cotton to me handling her 45's, but Mom shared a love of my choices and so it was our little secret. Pretty much anything by Patsy Cline, Johnny Horton, and Johnny Cash made it onto the turntable, (the photo is of the two Johnny's in 1959). I don't know why a girl of no more than five years old could relate so well to the weepy excess of country and western, but for some reason I did. Doris Day, though, sang my favorite song, "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)." Loved the idea. Sometimes had trouble practicing it. As evidenced in the next part of my story.
One day, while everyone was away and Mom was busy in another part of the house, I was messing around with nail polish remover right next to Judy's record collection. yeah. I rushed to clean it up, rubbing the paper centers free of the polish remover, along with any semblance of what was printed on the record to identify it. The paper labels disintegrated before my eyes, along with a brief review of my very brief life. I went into cover-up mode, as in: some lies are white lies, and sometimes they're okay, maybe even necessary, if one values their life.
My sister, upon learning the fate of her 45's, pitched a conniption fit, while I remained mum, despite repeated accusations hurled my way. I was Sergeant Schultz. I Knew Nothing! Noooothing! Eventually, things calmed down and our household returned to what we knew as normalcy. It took a couple of years before I confessed my sin to my mother. It was late at night, just before going to sleep, when my latent conscience reared it's ugly head and spilled the beans. I went on and on in a stream of confession, fessing up to several other transgressions I had committed over the course of the years. No bodies stuffed in the well, but my heart was heavy, as they say. Mom listened with love, touched my head, and I felt anointed with oil, kinda like David must have felt when he wrote the Twenty Third Psalm. I felt lighter. My world felt cleaned up. For the time being.
I sometimes would listen to Tex Ritter sing "Hillbilly Heaven," and dream that someday my name, too, would be written in Hillbilly Heaven. Fat chance after that escapade. I had the notion that I would do some songwriting and wrote my first song around that same time, in my head. It's lost to the ages. Which is probably a good thing. I remember walking down the dirt road between our house and my grandparents, a quarter of a mile away, and stopping near Myer's Lane long enough to get the melody firmly planted in my head, to go along with the words I chose. I would love to know what they were now, but it was wanting to create music, that desire to have something come from a place deep inside of me that I've carried with me.
While growing up, my sisters and I would often be the "special music" in the Lakeside Baptist Church we grew up in. And no, I do not mean special music as in Special Olympics. We sang three part harmony, Chris, Jane, and I. And we were pretty good. They kept asking us back anyway. Sometimes Mom would join us. She had a deep, rich voice. I can still hear it. "Life's Railway to Heaven," and "In The Garden," were perennial favorites, pun intended.
At the graveside service for my mother in the winter of 2000 there was a blizzard going on all around us as we stood under that green canopy. For some reason I recalled that I had read that when Eugene V. Debs passed on it was terrible weather. A friend of his said, "It seemed like all of nature was mourning his passing." That's how I felt on that day, standing at my mother's grave site. Jane had just finished handing out copies of sheet music for "In the Garden," when a strong wind came up and what remained of the sheet music still in her hands blew away, scattering itself throughout the cemetery. I think Mom just wanted to pass out the sheet music so Everyone in the cemetery could sing.
My father also had a great voice, but saved it mostly for singing in the kitchen and at bedtime, when he tucked us in. We often requested "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?" Here's Patti Page singing the hit version. My dad, in his fatherly wisdom, sang the kids version, skipping the part about robbers and flashlights.
Singing in the car was another family tradition. As Dad drove down the highway, he would start a song and we would all join in. A friend told me, on the day of my father's funeral, that she recalls being in the car with us as we all sang. It made me happy, that she would remember our family in that way.
One spring, we were sifting through the remnants of the abandoned house on the corner - the woman we referred to as Grandma Korich had moved to International Falls so family could care for her - when we found old eye glasses, still in their cases. Several pairs, lucky us. We formed The Beatles Bifocals Club with our neighbors and friends, sisters Trisha and Kathy. We wore them to school, trying out our new look on the school bus, having all kinds of fun and thinking we were all kinds of cool with our John Lennon glasses and our fake British accents. We discussed, en route, who was our favorite Beatle and I decided George was more my type. Surprise, surprise.
I listened to the latest hits on WDGY, coming out of the Twin Cities, on a cream colored plastic radio, reaching through the white filigreed iron headboard into the space where it sat, making several adjustments to get it tuned in juuuust right. See why that photo of Jack Kerouac appeals to me so much? Kindred spirits, obviously. The weekly top ten was a must-have piece of information. It was the time of life when being well-armed with cultural trivia gained you admittance into the Cool Club; the one no one admitted existed, yet everyone wanted to belong to. I've included a photo of a Beatles news conference with WDGY, also known as WeeGee, on August 21, 1965, (All hail the Great Google!). They were appearing at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis.
One summer, in the late 60's, Jane and I sat down on the sofa and with heads bent together learned the words to the entire Sergeant Pepper's album by the Beatles. We sang along to every song, dancing around the living room, acting melodramatic around such favorites as "She's Leaving Home," and then falling on the sofa in a fit of laughter. Mom was in the kitchen, Dad sat at the table, smiling. They didn't mind. They knew we were happy.
Through the course of my life music and memory are inextricably linked. I remember where I was and what was playing during many moments, both sweet and bittersweet. I was hanging out with our summer gang, on the back porch of our house, when Dion's "Ruby, Ruby," came on the radio and one of the guys, sitting on top of the chest freezer, said to me, "When I hear this song, I think of you." I asked why, but he didn't seem to have an answer for it. Not one he wanted to share, anyway. He was young and I was foolish.
I was running away from home during my first marriage, en route to a friends house in Des Moines, when I pulled off the highway to cry and Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" came on the radio. For many years after I had trouble listening to it. It called up that moment and it wasn't a moment I wanted to remember. That was a hard time.
I went to a dance at my high school in Walker in pink and plum checkered wool pants with a plum poor boy sweater, (you girls will understand), and danced in the gym to The Monkees, "I'm a Believer," and "Live for Today," by the Grass Roots. A few years later, in college, I was sitting with my friend, Stan, in a coffee house at Bemidji State, listening to a local duo play in the late afternoon. It was the mid-1970's. A woman played the autoharp and a guy sang Bob Dylan's "Lay, Lady, Lay." To this day, whenever I hear "Wildflower," by Skylark (#7 on my sidebar Play List) I think of Stan and feel his presence. We danced to it one New Year's Eve a long, long time ago. Stan crossed the river a few years back.
I'm glad I grew up in a home filled with music. It holds my life together. It plays a central role in each of my sons lives, too. For me, a home without music is just not a home. I've added a sidebar gadget called a Play List with several of my favorites there. I had fun putting it together. I'm sure I'll think of others to add. I hope you find some of your favorites there, too. And, have fun remembering. It's okay. It's all part of our path, all a part of the present moment we call Life. Que Sera, Sera.
Here's Doris singing it in a film clip with Jimmy Stewart: