Words and Music

(6,310 Words)


It’s never easy to say goodbye, especially when you didn’t get there in time.

Dad was hours away from me and I didn’t have a car and it was the middle of the night when I got word. If it sounds like I’m trying to make myself feel better about not being there by his side, well, you might be right. Or maybe it was just the way things were. Maybe it was a lesson in letting go and doing the best with something that anyone should be expected to do. I’m still working that part out.

Dickie Calais was born in the year when an American president outlined a plan to end war forever and women gained the right to vote. And he was my dad. Of French Norman descent, he grew up in a small farming town in upstate New York playing sandlot baseball, the only son in a family whose other child, a daughter, died when she was seventeen and a father who tried hard to keep a job but wasn’t very good at it. His mother was the real backbone of the family, the glue and the rule maker, the keeper of accounts.

When my dad was ten years old, it became apparent that Dickie not only loved baseball but he loved music, too, and could carry a tune and a beat like nobody’s business. His talent soon came to the attention of his Auntie Wynn while she was visiting the family one lazy August weekend. Wynn was an artist who lived in New York City in a flat in Greenwich Village with her wealthy banker husband. She had a very different kind of life from her older sister, Nettie.

“Well, Dickie, you are quite the little songbird, you are!” Wynn said, listening to dad singing right along with the radio, a radio she had brought as a gift to her sister that year because, of course, only she could afford such a thing as extravagant and impractical as a radio.

“Why, he knows all the words to all the songs, Nettie,” Wynn said to her sister who was sitting on the couch mending a shirt for her husband who was sleeping off a little too much whiskey taken a little too early in the day.

Dickie was singing along to “Happy Days are Here Again” and “Georgia on My Mind,” while putting the checkers back into their game box. When he suddenly became aware of his Auntie’s attentions, he began singing louder, basking in the warmth of Auntie Wynn’s admiration. Usually no one paid too much mind to his talent in that household. He started to snap his fingers and clap along to the music, played the coffee table like a drum with his hands in time to the beat of each new song just for Auntie. Nettie just nodded and kept to her task.

“He really is something,” Wynn said, “Dickie, you really are something!” repeating it for emphasis to make sure her nephew was made aware that his talent stood out.

On the Sunny Side of the Street” started up and Dickie stood up as though performing on a stage to an audience, belting it out with excitement, extending his arms wide and dancing back and forth across the room. Having been infused with more confidence from Wynn’s abiding adulation, he began to sing in harmony to the main melody, proving he had command of the tune and a creative range beyond an ordinary kid. Wynn clapped and laughed with glee, looking over at her sister Nettie, wishing she could share in this joy even for a minute.

“Ok, time to turn that radio off, Dickie, and help me set the table for supper,” Nettie said, standing up to commandeer the room back from her sister.

. . . . .

“You know, Nettie, there is a new school in the city for boys. A music school. I think Dickie should enroll, he has such talent. He could live with me for the summer and . . .” Wynn began. But Nettie was already shaking her head as she washed the dinner plates, handing each one to Wynn to dry.

“Oh, no, that’s not for my boy. He plays baseball all summer. That’s what boys are supposed to do, and will do, Wynnie,” she said, drying her hands off with the dish towel and throwing it over her shoulder.

“Now, go get me those coffee cups off the table and let’s not hear another word about it,” Nettie said.

Wynn just stood there surveying her sister, searching for some sense of why she couldn’t see what was so luminescent, so clear to Wynn, why she would deny this opportunity for her son. But it was like staring at a blank page waiting for words to magically appear. It just wasn’t going to happen. Nettie didn’t like her younger sister telling her how to live her life from the vantage point of high-falutin’ city folk. No, she was content to live out her days the way she saw fit, as ascribed by the good book and the words of wisdom handed down from their elders.

“Ok, Nettie. I’ll get the cups,” she said, walking slowly over to the table, gathering up the last remnants from their meal.

Turning, she caught a glimpse of little Dickie sitting on the living room floor, sorting through his baseball cards and humming a tune that played only in his head. Wynn stood there with the cups watching him just long enough to sadly see the dream disappear before her very eyes. She released a soft sigh and walked back to the kitchen sink, back to Nettie in her old dress and well-worn apron, her hair pulled taut in a bun atop her oh-so level head.

. . . . .

When dad was a young man, he followed his heart into music for a time as a drummer and the singer in a band called “The Hottentots.”  Who the heck knows why they named a quartet playing big band and swing music after a racially charged term to define an indigenous people of South Africa, I never thought to ask, but there it was. Innocent enough to my dad and his jazz playing companions with its hep sound when it rolled off the tongue. He played the skins, as he liked to call them, and sang at parties and once in a while had a real gig in a bar or cafe in exchange for a beer and a plate of hot food.

I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo. Chattanooga Choo Choo. Tangerine. For him it was his life’s blood to play music, to sing, to express himself in rhythm and vibrato. To have audience.

But another war came, despite that American president’s willful plan or the best intentions of anyone who followed him, and dad was shipped off like the rest, thrust into a violent and tragic opera. It would take some time before a proper set of notes could be contained within five horizontal lines and four blank spaces to create euphonious harmony in the world again. Dickie would return to his hometown, meet a young woman named Marian, fall in love and put words to his own music, creating an American songbook of love and family.

. . . . .

I’m Louise, by the way, Dickie and Marian’s third. The middle child in a family of five kids, with two older brothers and two younger sisters. I’m the bridge in the song that ties both ends together into a whole. Casey is the oldest, then Joe, me, and Sarah and Melody are on the other end. Melody, or Mel, is the youngest and always the most dedicated to my parents and siblings, keeper of the family flame. She somehow always remembers to stoke things up, to keep us all connected when the embers start to flicker.

Sarah has lived in Paris for years. She’s a jazz singer, which is fitting because my parents named her after one of their favorites, Sarah Vaughan. We hardly ever see her or even talk on the phone, she’s sort of always in her own groove I guess you could say. Dad always hated that the thing he loved the most is what took her so far away from him. My parents did visit her once in Paris and I believe it was the thrill of their lives.

When us kids were growing up, dad was in charge of all the fun and was always organizing us into two things: sports teams and music groups. We had a big backyard and in summers, a big net divided the swath of ground into two sides for volleyball and badminton. After a barbecue banquet around our picnic table, we’d split up into two teams with my mom as spectator and cheerleader, turn the floodlights on and play well into the late hours, fireflies dodging us all the while and the moon rising high into the night.

Imagine my dad’s delight when we became teenagers with boyfriends and girlfriends to fill out the roster and liven up the game.

The other organized event in my home growing up and the most important element of our family? Music. We had instruments all over the place but the focal point was the downstairs all-purpose room which we called “down back.” There was a piano front and center for as long as I can remember, several guitars and a banjo, a violin – or fiddle, depending on the song you were playing – a clarinet, a tambourine, a full drum set and, oddly, a xylophone. We all played something and some of us played everything.

Each bedroom had its own record player but the main stereo system was down back along with an entire full length of wall space dedicated to our record collection. In the 70s, that collection was vast, spanning across all genres, from my parents early collections of jazz records and the likes of Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra and Peter, Paul and Mary to us kids eclectic tastes of folk, hard rock, pop rock, country and bluegrass, jazz, blues and everything in between. Down back was known to our friends as the “Room of Sound.” My brother Joe even had band practice down there when he was in high school and fancied himself as a rock star.

My sisters and I would gather around the piano and sing three part harmony, putting on a show for whoever was willing to listen, belting out Carole King and James Taylor songs to my oldest brother’s fine chops on the ivories. Sometimes we would spend a whole Saturday putting together a dance routine, assigning singing parts to a new song we were excited about, all in preparation of performing it for my parents after supper. I’d look over to see my dad’s hazel eyes sparkling in the limelight of our performance, an ear-to-ear, toothy grin adding to the shine. I don’t think there was much that made him happier than that.

The year the Beatles recorded Hey Jude, so did we, as a family. We preserved our version with all our voices on a little tin can of a Panasonic tape recorder. I remember playing it for my oldest brother Casey’s girlfriend, Christina, one night and the next thing you knew, they were engaged. I mean, she was so delighted she had to become part of this family, was how I saw it.

On Sundays, dad would shine in church. He’d sing harmony to those classic songs during mass, loud and clear, and people would always turn around to see where that voice was coming from. Sometimes a little kid would just stare at him and we’d get a little bit embarrassed, nudge him to take it down a notch. And more than a few onlookers were probably wondering why he was singing those songs that way and not the regular way. Amazing Grace, Ave Maria, Let There be Peace on Earth. He had his own way of holding his hymnal, his own way of interpreting those devotional sentiments, those particular notes, and putting them back out into the world.

. . . . .

My sister Melody, she was there. Of course, she was there, even though I couldn’t be, nor any of my other siblings, spread out all over the country, and Sarah all the way over in Europe. No, they would not be there either. It was all too sudden for any of us. Mel, she was the one to call me and tell me it was time to say goodbye. She told me dad couldn’t speak and his eyes were closed but she felt he knew she was there and could hear her words, feel her touch. I felt so alone in that very second, wishing I was there with her. With him. In his final moments.

I wondered why I wasn’t, why things hadn’t aligned more perfectly. Like notes on a piece of sheet music, in perfect cadence and space and metered time. Just like the way he had taught me to write it out.

“Make the music first, Louise. Then add the words,” he had said. “Heart and soul first.”

I always did the opposite, worked it all out in my head first, what I needed to say, and thought it was all just fine. He never knew the difference. Or maybe he did.

A fermata is a symbol used to indicate that a note should be held longer than its standard duration. The length that the note can be held is up to the artist or conductor of the piece of music . . .”

I could hear my dad’s explanation during one of our music lessons at home while he laboriously yet patiently taught me how to read music when I was twelve years old. The others, my brothers and sisters, were better at playing and learning music by ear. I insisted on knowing the intellect of it all, the phrasing, how to parse it all out like a math problem. He was thrilled to hand this down to me and in some way, I think, he knew we shared a special shorthand that the others were not in on. We had our own secret language to the moon and the stars in the sky, we did.

Once I got the real hang of it all, sometimes, when he was having his Saturday morning coffee, I’d hand him a page or two of my scribblings; poetry, words that needed to be set to music, a tune that only he could hear in his head. He’d take the sheet from my hand and give me a wink.

“I’ll take a look, baby,” he’d say and set it down on the table.

I’d hear him later after we had all gone to bed, down back, tinkling away at the piano and I knew. I’d wait. For the big reveal a few days later. The two of us sitting side by side on the bench, then, working it out together in perfect two-part harmony.

“Hold the phone up to his ear, will you, Mel, I want to say something,” I said between gasps for breath. I could feel her nodding.

“Ok, give me a second and then just start talking,” she replied.

I heard a little muffle of words from her as she was apparently placing the phone next to dad’s ear, telling him it was me.

“Dad? Can you hear me?” I asked, not quite sure what my next words would be.


“Dad. I’m sorry, I mean . . .” I started.

No. Not that, I thought to myself.

“Dad? I know you can hear me. I don’t know what to say . . . except . . . We’re together right now and we’ll always be together. Always together, Dad. Every little breeze . . . I’ll be with you always and you’ll be with me always and . . . ” I rambled, barely able to speak the words through my tears.

Then I spoke my final words to him, uttered in a secret whisper into his ear, something meant only for him. Silence. I wiped the wetness from my nose and waited. Melody must have been able to tell that I had stopped talking. It was her voice I was hearing now through the fog of my advancing grief.

“Louise?” she asked me quietly. “Are you done?”

“Mmm-hmm,” I said.

“Ok. I better go then,” she said. “I love you.”

“Mmm-hmm,” I managed to eke out again. And the call ended.

Setting the phone down on my dresser, I staggered across the room to my bed and crawled onto my belly with my head turned sideways on the pillow towards the big Live Oak tree outside my window. I could only just make out its penumbra but it was full of crows already, convening a meeting of some kind. Light was not ready to break the darkness and I lay there for a minute or two before my phone rang again. I jumped up to grab it.

“Hello?” I said, though I knew it was Melody.

“He’s gone,” she sobbed into the phone. “It’s like he was waiting for you. Whatever you said to him, it was all he needed to hear. He slipped away just seconds after we hung up.”

There wasn’t really anything more for us to say to each other right then and there in the dark and I was hanging up the phone before I was even able to understand that he really was gone. There was nothing in the void but my final words to him, hanging loose in the air. He was my music. Without him, there could be no song.

. . . . .

Things weren’t always so harmonious between me and dad. We had words. I was a teenager in the 1970s and there was plenty to argue about with someone whose generation was steeped in tradition and sacrifice. He didn’t understand plenty about us girls, especially me, the rebel of the three. My brothers were hippie boys with long hair, but he sort of let them be. But when I stopped going to church, threw away my bra and quit shaving my legs to protest the double standards for men and women, we got into it more than once.

“What would people think of your mother if she didn’t shave her legs!” he yelled at me in the midst of one of our arguments.

“Well, I would hope they would see the lovely person she is without caring about the hair on her legs,” I’d said.

He was livid. He just didn’t get me at that age. Shaking his head, he turned and walked out of the room.

He questioned many of the things we teenagers did, mainly the things I did or believed in. My siblings and I were emerging from a different world into one that demanded our attention, our opinions and our right to express them freely. Dad didn’t want to believe any daughter of his might not want to get married and have kids, be a housewife. Why not cook and clean and know a woman’s place as defined by some other era? That’s what women were supposed to do, in his mind, why couldn’t we just be content with those honorable rules? These tautly drawn gender definitions. I tried to explain it to him in a way he might understand.

I told him, “Dad. I’m the cadenza,” and he would listen just a little.

You see, a cadenza is the moment in a musical piece where an instrumentalist or singer is given the opportunity to play a solo freely and with complete artistic license, allowed to go outside of a rigid tempo or rhythm. He tried to see, in that moment, he really did. But then it would slip away from him. He didn’t want to be the rigid tempo holding me in check, but I was his daughter and there were expectations.

Whenever a disagreement broke out between us, mom would just glare at me from across the room in her silent plea to stop fueling his fire. So, after a while, I did. I deflected any conflict and pursued our common ground instead. All of that strife, that conflict, it always dissolved when the music began to play. Someone would put on a record and no matter if it was Mick Jagger or Perry Como, the tossing ship would right itself again onto a calm sea. Dad would become his true self, the hep cat Hottentot drummer and singer, the bon vivant, nary a care in the world, floating on an ethereal cloud of truth and bliss.

. . . . .

Flipping through the channels a week after dad left us, there it was. Innocents of Paris. An old film he had loved and watched over and over since he was a kid.

What’s this doing on, I wondered.

The part where Maurice Chevalier sings Louise in his French accent was about to come up and I sat up straight from my slouch on the sofa to take it all in. It was the special song dad used to sing to me. Looking right into my eyes with a bright smile on his face, tucking me in at night he’d sing it. Or when we walked hand in hand on an early summer day to the corner market for hand packed ice cream, he’d sing it. It was our song. Here it comes. I sat up even straighter.

“Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise

Birds in the trees seem to twitter Louise

Each little rose, Tells me it knows 

I love you, love you.”

I could hear him singing it to me now. Heck, I could even hear the birds singing. I could feel him in the warp and weft of my internal fabric. In the beat of my heart keeping time with the music. He was there with me. Again. Because, you see, this wasn’t the first message dad sent to me after he’d passed away. There were many messages from him. In words and music. Letting me know he was right here all the time. Never too far, never really gone.

. . . . .

I’m thinking back. I do that a lot, these days. The morning dad died, I could barely function. I told Melody I’d drive up to her house later in the day so we could be together for a little while. I’d spend the night and we could hold each other and make popcorn and talk about dad. But before all that, it was still morning and I couldn’t even move. Getting to Melody’s would take a lot of stamina, but I knew it was what we both needed so after a few hours of complete stagnation, I pulled myself together, packed a few things into my daypack, grabbed a bag of cookies from the kitchen counter and caught the bus to pick up a rental car.

“What did you say to him? I mean. I guess it’s really between you and dad, but it’s just weird how you sort of . . . released him,” Melody said.

“Um. Well, I really think it is between me and dad, Mel. I don’t think anything I said was it, no magic words. Just. It was just his time,” I said.

Melody had a habit of having the music channel on her big screen TV on all day long and that day she had it tuned to the channel that played old stuff, the stuff dad loved and listened to. You know, big band Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller. Begin the Beguine. In the Mood. Take the ‘A’ Train, those songs.

We were sitting in Mel’s living room on the big leather couch just talking about dad and sharing stories. Once in a while we’d get up and slow dance together imitating the way dad would take one of us into his arms and glide us across the living room floor to one of his favorite songs. We’d laugh and twirl each other around, Mel and I, imitate dad, take turns leading, until one of us would just get too teary and have to throw ourselves back down on the couch or run out of the room for a minute away from the music.

“That’s fine,” Melody said at one point in the evening, when I told her I wasn’t going to share my last words to dad with her. “I respect that. I didn’t tell you what I said to him either, so that’s fine.”

We just sat looking at each other and then a new song came on and I looked up at the screen like there was something particular to find there but of course it was just a still frame of Rosemary Clooney but I stared at it anyway. I couldn’t look away.

“I think Casey is gonna call soon. And Joe said he’d call in the morning. Louise, do you want to call anyone else tonight? Louise? Hey. Lou. What . . . are you staring at?” Melody said, trying to break my trance.

“Always Together,” I said cryptically.

Melody looked up at the screen.

“Yeah. Rosemary Clooney. ‘Always Together.’ That’s the name of this song. It says it right there on the screen, I see it,” Melody said, looking back over at me and wondering what the heck was so captivating on the screen.

“Stay near to me, we’re meant to be, always together.

Me loving you, you loving me, always together,” 

Rosemary Clooney sang.

“This song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before, have you?” I asked Melody while I kept my eyes on the screen. I don’t know, it was like I was expecting an image of dad to suddenly appear up there, singing directly to us or something, sitting on a cloud from his perch in heaven.

“Uh, no, actually, I don’t know this song. It’s a little sappy, isn’t it? Mom and dad loved Rosemary Clooney but I don’t remember ever hearing this song. It must not be one of her biggest . . . Hey, Louise, what is up?” Melody asked.

I slowly turned my head to face her and I must have been white as a sheet because her eyes grew big and a look of concern came over her whole face.

“What is it? You’re kind of freakin’ me out here,” Melody said.

“Dad. That’s dad. He’s singing to us right now. Through her, I mean,” I said and turned to look back up at the screen. The song continued.

“Right from the start, you have my heart, keep it forever

Please promise me we’ll never part.”

Melody looked up at the screen then and we just sat staring at that still photo of a young Rosemary Clooney, feeling the words, feeling something was happening that was meaningful and a little bit unsettling all at once.

Morning came and Mel made us strong coffee and eggs. It had been a long night of talking and crying and calling our siblings and really just getting through the first night any gosh darned way we could. We sat at the table in our own worlds at first and then I broke the silence.

“What time is Joe supposed to call?” I said, looking at her over my lifted coffee mug.

“Around ten,” Melody said. “Our time.”

“Ok, well, I should probably head out after that, get back home and stuff. You going back to work tomorrow?” I asked her.

“Nah. I’m taking the rest of the week off. You?” she asked.

“Yeah. Rest of the week.”

We sat in silence again. I know she was thinking about that song because I was. We got up and walked outside to her patio. The sun was coming up over the trees and the day was going to be warm, you could tell already.

“I think dad is here with us, will be here with us always, Lou, don’t you?” Melody asked.

I nodded.

“Yep. I do,” I said, looking over at her sweet face and I could see the little girl in her all over again.

“He wanted us to know that,” she said. “Last night, he wanted to remind us,” Melody said. Her chin trembling and the one side of her mouth curling down trying to stop that tremble in its tracks. I reached over and took her into my arms and we stood there, feeling a little breeze sweep over us, the chirp of little birds in the trees all around us.

. . . . .

The next morning, day two without dad, I peeled myself out of bed late and, realizing I was out of coffee and bread, slowly climbed into the same clothes I’d worn the day before that I’d left on the floor and looked for my wallet. Everything felt out of place around my apartment and the littlest task was taking me longer to get through. I peed and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, tying my hair up and out of the way, pinched my cheeks for a little color, and stepped out my door and onto the sidewalk.

The two-block walk to the grocery store was one of the reasons I had moved into this neighborhood, hating to rely on a car for anything. On this morning, though, the walk seemed endless, my energy so low I felt like everyone who passed me must be looking for the ball and chain attached to my leg, tethered to my heart.

A movement in Adagio.

I was standing in the dairy aisle just staring blankly into boxes of butter and cartons of eggs when I heard it.

Do they always play music in this place, I wondered.

It seemed like I’d never heard music here before or at least never noticed it – maybe because it was always those dumb one-hit wonder pop songs no one ever really liked? Everything around me seemed very artificial. The store seemed so cavernously huge, so much bigger than I ever noticed it being, the lighting was so bright and this music, it sounded like it was being piped in directly over my head and nowhere else, that no one else in the entire store could be hearing it.

Only me.

I looked up to see if I could find the source of it, some speakers or something. I didn’t recognize the song at all and I know a lot of songs, believe me, I mean I know the words to every damn song you can think of. Just like dad. But this one, I couldn’t make head nor tails of it, couldn’t even identify the genre. All I could hear was a man’s voice singing over and over and over again:

“Don’t be sad, Everything is going to be alright. Don’t be sad, Everything is going to be alright.”

Over and over and over again.

I looked both ways to make sure there was no one else in the aisle. I set my hand basket down softly onto the floor. Then I looked up at the ceiling.

“Dad? Is that you? I know it’s you, dad.”

I was quite sure he was trying to reassure me that he was in a good place and that I should stop my crying. I stood there for another minute staring into space pondering it all until I had to move because I was blocking the eggs and this woman was trying to reach around me, no doubt wondering what the heck was my problem in the first place.

Shaken from my stupor, I picked up my hand basket off the floor and made my way to the check-out, somehow the music fading to black, inaudible, just as I suspected it would do.

Uh-huh. Yeah. None of that was real, I thought to myself waiting there in line. Still, pondering it, though, while staring into space.

. . . . .

For at least the next month, I kept hearing words and music that reminded me of dad. He seemed to be everywhere with me no matter how far afield I would go. One weekend, my best friend Jackie persuaded me to go away for a weekend to help get me out of my funk. We can do a couple hikes, soak in the spa, wine and dine a bit, my treat, she had said and I couldn’t really see how I could refuse that. I did need to get away, break the routine of things, try to shake at least a little bit of the grief out of my soul.

We got off the elevator and walked down the long hallway to our hotel room, engaged in easy small talk. Jackie was handling everything for us, which I appreciated so much, and leading us to our room and stopping in front of our door, I looked up at the number posted in big numerals.


My dad’s apartment number. After mom died, we had moved him into a little apartment a few blocks from Melody’s house where he lived for the last five years of his life. 1407 Waverly Court. As Jackie scanned the barcode to let us in, walked into the room holding the door for me, I stood frozen. When I told her about the coincidence of the numbers, she laughed.

“That is just like your dad not to want to miss out on any of the fun! He had to come along with you, Louise, even here,” she said, and I nodded.

“I guess you’re right about that,” I said, pulling my suitcase into the room.

We unpacked and kicked back on our beds for a bit, talking about different things. I had made a promise to myself that I would not dominate the weekend with all my sorrow and revelations, would not make our time away into a therapy session. Jackie knew I was in a slow healing phase and she was playing her part by bringing me here. But not to listen to me sob and mutter regrets and that sort of thing, I was quite sure. She suggested we get cleaned up for dinner, told me she knew just the place for a relaxing evening of good food, a nice bottle of wine. Take our time, relax. I was totally up for that so we got ourselves together.

As we stepped out into the hallway, I heard it. Playing in the hallway just for me was Frank Sinatra crooning away.

The best is yet to come and babe, won’t that be fine . . .

One of dad’s all-time favorites! I wanted to cry. But I took a deep breath and didn’t even mention it to Jackie.

The funny thing is this.

On Monday morning, when it was time to leave, there we were again in the hallway and I could hear the song, that same favorite song of his. It must have been on some kind of loop or something but here it was, meeting me at the door again. Go figure. I could hear that familiar one-finger piano intro. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“What’s funny?” Jackie asked as the door closed behind her.

I started to snap my fingers to the tune. I started to sing along. I felt theatrical. And overcome by the music, I belted it out right there in the hallway for Jackie. And for dad.

“Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum

You came along and everything’s startin’ to hum

Still, it’s a real good bet, the best is yet to come

The best is yet to come and babe, won’t that be fine?

You think you’ve seen the sun, but you ain’t seen it shine

A-Wait till the warm up’s underway

Wait till our lips have met

And wait till you see that sunshine day

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

I was throwing my arms around and dancing back and forth across the hallway to Jackie, the same way Dad did for Auntie Wynn. The way we girls used to do, putting on a show for him and mom down back. He’d beam, so proud his girls knew all the words to the songs he loved and the way it all came full circle for him, his love, his music, his life. Jackie giggled watching me, delighted that I was experiencing joy again, witnessing my . . . allegro. The song was nearing its end bit and I was wrapping it up with a flourish, my arms wide, then wrapped around myself:

“A-Wait till you’re locked in my embrace

Wait till I draw you near

A-Wait till you see that sunshine place

Ain’t nothin’ like it here!”

Then I looked up and gave dad a little wave. We heard the elevator bell and the doors open and I quickly pulled myself together as the song descended into its fade out as we headed down the hallway together with Dad above us following along, past the elderly couple who would have seen my show had they gotten off the elevator a moment earlier. Jackie and I giggled and hummed all the way across the lobby and to her car.

. . . . .

Dad. I just keep wondering one thing. What happened to your timing? Your rhythm? Where was your fermata after all. I mean, couldn’t you have held the note just a little bit longer. For me? Maybe I could have gotten to you then, held your hand, whispered my special words to you in person.

“The length that the note can be held is up to the artist or conductor of the piece of music . . . ”

I wasn’t ready for the music to end, for the singer’s final bow before the curtain fell and the lights came up and the audience dispersed. I could sit endlessly alone in the music hall, waiting for an encore that never came. Then, finally, I guess, I’d have to rise, too. Let my seat flip back up behind me, walk up the aisle and back out into the light of day.

Eventually. I’d just have to carry that music, that special shine, with me wherever I would go.

. . . . .


© 2020, Mary Corbin

Word and Music is from the “Renderings” collection. Featured artwork: “ShakaLakaHoochiKoo” – painting by Mary Corbin. No reprints without permission. 

This story is dedicated to my loving father, may he sing and dance through eternity.

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