20 years ago today I woke up alone in my father’s house at the top of Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville, AL. Having recently moved up to the Washington DC area for Mom’s new job at the Smithsonian, we had flown down to Huntsville to spend Memorial Day weekend with Dad. Saturday and Sunday had been great but Sunday evening Dad wasn’t feeling well so we called it an early night.
When I woke up in an empty house Monday morning I remember feeling exhilarated. At 11 years of age I wasn’t used to being left alone and the freedom was intoxicating. I could do whatever I wanted! Turn on the juke box, play pinball, play Nintendo, watch movies! Yes, it was shaping up to be quite an exciting Memorial Day!
Later that morning Mom came back to the house and let me know that through the night Dad had been feeling worse and worse and she had eventually taken him to the hospital. So began an emotional roller coaster of a day that began with such excitement and possibilities and ended with making phone calls to spread the word of my father’s death.
Wow, 20 years. 2/3 of my life. In some ways it seems like yesterday; in some ways it seems like an eternity ago. What would he be like if he were still alive today? What would *I* be like if he had been alive through the rest of my childhood and beyond? Would he be proud of me? There are so many questions like this on a reflective day like today.
The other evening I was sipping some great wine after Katie and I had made a great dinner and the juke box was playing some great oldies. It struck me that, among the many things my father left me–most of them intangible–one very tangible item was his juke box. It’s more than a machine, though; it really represents the gift of music. Wrapped up in all those old 45s is the soundtrack to my childhood–the pleasure, the pain, and everything in between. All those songs on their imperfect vinyl with pops and scratches hold a wealth of memories for me, memories of many aspects of my childhood, but especially of time with Dad.
As with most things parents impart to children, my father’s gift of music wasn’t static. It laid a foundation to which my mother added her influence and from which I explored and developed my own interests. It’s like Dad started a melody in my life, a song based on oldies and folk music. Mom harmonized with him and added her own classical and contemporary musical themes. I jammed out to that for awhile and eventually added my own chords of classic rock, blues, and even some funky stuff that neither of my parents ever would have liked. Today the juke box still has many of Dad’s original 45s but some of them have been swapped out for Mom’s contributions (Hello, Jimmy Buffett!) and some for my own (Cream and Jimmy Hendrix, to name a few).
So the juke box represents the gift of music left by my father and embraced by my mother and me. Best of all it’s a gift that can be shared with many others. When asked what’s the one thing you would save from your house in a fire, I always go to the juke box. Practically speaking I don’t know how I would manage the 400-pound, unwieldy load, but I hear that people are capable of great things in times of crisis!
So anyway, thanks for the music, Dad. And everything else. I miss you. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.