Just so you know, this is going to be a more personal post than what I usually write. Much, much more personal. You get to see my vulnerable side – which isn’t something that I let show through very often. But it’s my blog and I can write what I want. 🙂 You’ve been forewarned.
A few years back (ok, 20 years back) Trisha Yearwood had a hit single entitled “The Song Remembers When.” It’s a gorgeous song. In case you haven’t heard it, I’ve included the mp3 below:
The Song Remembers When
Granted, this is a love song, but I think the concept relates to a lot of situations. Music has a way of releasing the mind’s floodgates and in the process frees a torrent of memories and emotions. That’s what happened to me last night. But before launching into that, we have to talk a little bit about dreams.
A lot of questions, uncertainty, and superstitions revolve around dreaming. Whether people dream in color or in black and white, whether the people who do the dreaming actually remember what they dreamed, what the meaning is of recurring dreams, what causes déjà vu, etc. Personally I can say this: I always dream in color, I remember what I dream about, I speak English to English speakers and French to French speakers who appear in my dreams, and occasionally, Wolof gets thrown in the mix (but not too often). Some people say that it’s impossible to read in dreams, but I know for a fact that that’s not true because I’ve read things in my dreams that appear in both of my primary languages. I have also had a myriad of “déjà vu” moments throughout my life – those are always pretty cool. Some of my dreams have served as warnings about very real events in my life, others have proven quite revelatory – in many senses of the word – and all of them are very vivid. We’ll chalk that up to my artistry and my highly-developed and keenly sharp intellect. 🙂
Since my arrival in Dakar, my grandfather has been in a handful of my dreams, and he’s shown up twice just within the past 2 weeks. And I’m not talking about those nostalgic dreams where you’re transported back into your childhood or not-so-distant past. No, these dreams have been based in my present-day life in Senegal, a context which fully embraced the fact that he is no longer alive. His first cameo this month occurred a couple of days before I went on the night outing with the Samusocial volunteers and helped take care of the street kids. In the dream I was walking in the street when all of a sudden, I got goosebumps on my arms and I felt that someone was walking next to me. Not that that’s anything new, because you’re never alone on the streets of Dakar. But this was different in the fact that the person was walking very close to me. My “bubble” isn’t very big – even around strangers – so it’s a pretty significant thing when I feel that someone has invaded my personal space. I turned to see who it was, and there he was, walking right next to me. He still had his white hair, but his face was filled out to it’s healthy proportions (he’d lost an alarming amount of weight the last 2 years of his life), he stood straight and tall, he had no problem keeping up with my pace, and his eyes sparkled and they were happy. He looked so good! We struck up a conversation as we weaved in and out of the crowd. I don’t remember what we talked about, but my eyes kept wandering to his mouth and neck. Why? Because I was amazed to see that he didn’t have to put his hand to his throat and cover his trach (due to complications from the polio he contracted in the early 1950s, he had to have a tracheotomy when I was a toddler). For the last 27 years of my life he had to cover the pipe in order to make his voice loud enough to hear. Otherwise it’d come out in a barely-audible whisper or a little whistle. It was so incredibly easy to understand him! I remember grinning from ear to ear in my dream because I was so happy to see him. I woke up before we got to my destination.
The second dream I had occurred just last week. It was a little strange in the fact that I was kind of a spectator, but I was watching myself go through a bunch of things that have happened during my stay here – mostly the annoying and dangerous ones. They weren’t happening in chronological order, either. Reflecting on it now, I guess they were kind of presented in order of severity, with the most dangerous events happening last. The last thing that I saw “on replay” was getting hit by that motorcycle. It was unearthly surreal to watch myself fly backwards through the air (quite literally) after the impact. I’m not kidding when I say it was like watching a slow-motion replay of a nasty, nasty football injury. And in my years as an athletic trainer and traveling with sports teams, believe me when I say that I’ve seen – and studied – a good share of replays. My spectator-self felt pain sear through my leg and feet all over again, and I was dumbstruck to see that what should have happened when I landed didn’t – i.e. crack my head open on the pavement and hear the sickening snap and thud from landing on a twisted, badly broken leg. My head didn’t even touch the ground. My spectator-self was aware of the thought that I had as I stood up a few seconds later – i.e. There’s no logical reason as to why I’m not knocked unconscious and laying in a pool of my own blood right now – and I was again amazed to see myself walk out of the path of traffic, and then a few seconds later when I was a safe distance away from the road, open up my backpack to inspect my miraculously undamaged laptop. Unbelievable. Spectator Lark thought, “All of these things [the events that I saw on replay] were pretty serious, but they should have had worse outcomes than they did. It’s almost as if someone was there protecting me.” I turned my gaze away from my other self walking the rest of the way to Wolof class (grimacing the whole way but without limping) and I looked over at the road where I was hit. I saw my big, strong, white-haired, healthy Grandpa taking his last few steps across the road to the opposite side of where my other self was, meet a throng of other individuals who seemed to know me, turn around and watch me silently.
My spectator-self started crying and I wanted so badly to run over to him, hug him, and tell him how much I love him. I wanted to thank him for protecting me. But I couldn’t. It was like I was stuck behind a glass wall. I couldn’t do anything but call out his name. Fortunately he heard me and turned to where my spectator-self was. He smiled a little sadly, but warmly, at me and I waved to him. He didn’t wave back, but he stood there looking at me. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was that I never got to see him before he died, how sorry I was that I’d been so sick with mono and that in the months between the end of March and July that I wasn’t allowed to see him for fear that he’d get an infection (he was hospitalized unexpectedly in April). I’d planned to spend sometime with him in April, but that never happened. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was that I had to leave for Florida the morning after he was hospitalized the second time and that I didn’t make it back from Florida in time to see him before he died. That of all of his kids, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren, I was the only one that didn’t make it back in time. The look in his eyes willed me to not cry, but I couldn’t help it. I cried anyway. He just continued to smile at me, and then I woke up.
Whether that’s what actually happened on those days is another story. However, these dreams and previous ones have shown me that our loved ones are always near by and that they don’t leave us stranded. They’re still interested in us and our happiness despite the fact that they’ve moved on before us.
So Grandpa has been on my mind a lot lately. And while the grand majority of my memories of Grandpa are positive and beautiful, some are also quite bittersweet. There are a lot of things surrounding Grandpa’s last few years and his passing that I still have a hard time processing (obviously). In fact, I think it’s safe to say that of all the things that give me a “hard time,” those things in their conglomerate take the cake. Big time. So I tend to bury it, mostly by throwing myself into my studies and my teaching. But sometimes it catches me when I least expect it.
Last night I was listening to some music on my iPod and one of Grandpa’s favorite songs came on. Open floodgates. Open tear ducts. Hello near-sleepless night. Hello morning headache.
Out of all my favorite memories of Grandpa – and I have a lot, mind you – I think some of the starred ones revolve around music. He always had the radio on – in the house, in his wood shop, in the car. It was almost always tuned to Rochester’s KNXR, or, when he played his CDs, it was almost always Lori Line piano music, Big Band hits, 50s and 60s music, or Julio Iglesias. I have awesome memories of several times when he put on “some dancing music,” whisked Grandma from her chair, and danced around the kitchen with her. And then he’d find my mom and my aunt and dance with them. And he’d grin the whole time. One of my favorite such memories occurred after Grandma died – I think I was still in high school (or maybe I’d just started college) – and both of my sisters were home for the holidays. He came into the kitchen holding his little white CD player, plugged it in and pushed play. I have no idea what we were doing in there, but my mom, sisters, aunt, and I were all in there. Pretty soon we heard Roy Orbison’s silky baritone voice singing “Blue Bayou.” Grandpa flashed his smile and grabbed one of my sisters and started dancing with her. Dad came in and started dancing with Mom, Aunt Gloria jived in the corner waiting for her turn. We let the whole CD play and we all got our turn dancing with Grandpa and Dad.
We had a lot of family celebrations – birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, etc – that involved going to a venue that had good food and a dance floor. He and Grandma were very good dancers, and I always enjoyed watching them dance together. We also went to a lot of concerts with them. Charlie Pride, Shoji Tabuchi, Ray Stevens, Big Band bands, the Osmonds, Bobby Vinton, Mel Tillis and other singers who had shows in Branson. Two of my favorite Branson memories are when Charlie Pride came down into the audience, saw Grandpa, pulled him up right next to him, and one the very last word of the song put the mic right next to Grandpa’s mouth and expected him to sing the last word. It was a LOW bass note, but Grandpa nailed it! Charlie Pride was pretty impressed and the whole theater erupted in applause. The other one was at Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet Theater. He, too, had come down into the audience, saw my grandparents (they were sitting at the end of the row) and had them stand up to take picture with him. But Grandpa didn’t stop there – he grabbed Grandma around her waist and started dancing with her in the aisle. Bobby (yes, we are on a first name basis) smiled really big and kept right on singing. Can you imagine being serenaded by Bobby Vinton himself while dancing to one of his songs? Yeah. Tell me about it. Grandpa loved taking me to see Lori Line (a concert pianist who hails from the Twin Cities) – in fact, my very first “date” after I turned 16 was with Grandpa and he took me to a Lori Line concert. She was touring in Wisconsin the weekend after my birthday, so he drove down and picked me up and we went to a really old, beautiful theater in Baraboo. He took my sisters a few times, too. But he and I went a lot, even after he got remarried. Those were always a lot of fun. He always loved her hear her patriotic medleys and her renditions of “Music Box Dancer” and “How Great Thou Art.” For my 18th birthday we went to The Fireside, a place that serves a really nice dinner and after dinner the guests file into an small, fairly intimate auditorium to watch a play – usually a musical. The stage is circular and the seats are situated all around it. That evening they had an almost-one-woman play about the life and music of Patsy Cline.
Other times he’d sit at the kitchen table when he wasn’t busy and he’d stick in one of his many Julio Iglesias, Elvis, or piano CDs. He’d blast Julio Iglesias’ rendition of “Crazy,” and he’d sit back, rest his shoulder against the wall, and drink in the rich, velvety saxophone parts. His eyes would brighten, and a small, contented smile would crease his face. Sometimes when my family went to visit – particularly when I was older – he’d have me sit at that table and then slide his newest piano or classical CD over to me. We’d put it in and enjoy it together – Grandpa would drink either a small glass of apple juice or chocolate milk, and I’d grab the Club Crackers (Keebler Club Crackers, mind you) and drink whatever he was having. He also bought me my first radio for my 10th birthday or thereabouts, and he’d often dub-off cassette tapes and later CDs with some of his favorite music. Then he’d give them to me at various times during the year, whether it was my birthday/Christmas or not.
Last night after being sideswiped by “Crazy,” I looked at the playlists on my iPod and I realized that in many respects, I see Grandpa in them. Other family members have also influenced my music tastes, but by and large it was Grandpa who taught me to really love music. So he really isn’t that far away…
Lesson for the day = songs really do “remember when.”