All In Your Name


Dear Dad,

I can’t believe that it’s been eleven years since we last saw you. Eleven years since anyone has called me “little girl”. Eleven long years without your unshakeable sense of what is right and what is wrong.

I wonder, often, what you’d make of us now.

I know that you would love your four beautiful great grandchildren. I know that you watch over them. You see them play, see them grow, see them laugh. I know that. But what about the rest of us?

You are in a better, more forgiving place now. Do you see our mistakes and our sorrows, and do you understand the frailties that have lead us here? Do you forgive us for where we find ourselves?

Dad, we’re doing our best to take care of Mom, just the way you asked us to. I remember you telling me that you didn’t want to leave “my girl” and asking me to make sure that we looked after her as tenderly as you always did.

We’re trying, Dad. And I think we’re doing OK. She’s safe and she’s well loved. And we all talk about you all the damn time!

What must you be thinking about the situation in our country right now? You have no idea how much I wish that I could hear your voice, weighing in on our anger and our fear and our broken and damaged country.

You fought for this country, when you were barely more than a child. What must you be thinking now?

I can only imagine, knowing your strict moral compass. I can only imagine.

Dad, I miss you. You’re here every day with me, smiling at my grandkids. I feel you over my shoulder as I refinish Paul’s old desk. I remember your lessons about sanding with the grain, and using my tack cloth.

I feel you when I am celebrate with my sons as they get ready to marry the women that they love so much. You’d be so proud of them, Dad.

And there are such funny things, too, in my memory of you. I can’t look at dominoes without thinking about you playing with the kids. I can’t drink bad red wine without hearing your laugh. Every time I try to draw a straight line on the paper schedule that we make for Mom each month, I hear you telling me to mark the top and bottom.

“Measure twice, cut once,” Paul says, repeating one your many lessons. “All things in moderation,” I said to a local farmer yesterday as I bought his beef and lamb, knowing that we’re supposed to be eating less meat. “All things in moderation, including moderation.” The farmer laughed, and so did I. I felt you standing right beside me, laughing with us.

Your lessons surround us, and guide us, even now.

Tonight I turned on some music. (It’s all on the computer now, Dad. So cool and so convenient! You’d be amazed and fascinated to see it.)

I was making pickles and drying herbs as the music played in the background.

And suddenly I heard a song called “All in Your Name” by a beautiful young songwriter and singer named Heather Maloney. And I couldn’t stop crying.

I guess that’s OK, huh? It’s OK to still grieve for you.

You were our hub. You were the anchor. We miss you so very much, every day. Without you, this world is just little less honest. A little bit less sure.

And so much less fun.

Life as a Fangirl.


Oh, my gosh. Oh, my GOODNESS. Oh, holy crap!!!!

I shook hands with….RHIANNON GIDDENS!!!!!

The woman is a musical genius. A musical prodigy. A gorgeous, smart, articulate musical freakin’ genius.

And when you see her (as I’ve done at least ten times in the past two years), she sweeps you up in the beauty and power of her songs.

What can I say?

I’m a fan girl. Big time.

Like, huge.

So last weekend when Paul and I saw Rhiannon and her equally genius partner, Francesco Turrisi, we were completely overwhelmed with the music, the rhythms the lessons, the words, the whole damn thing.

I was, shall we say, swooning by the end of the set.

So an hour after the set, when I made my way down the row of foodtrucks for a snack, I was giddy with delight to see Rhiannon and Francesco in line in front of me.

“Leave them alone,” I told myself in my head. “They are tired and hungry. Let them order the tuna riceballs without being interrupted.” My rational self told me to behave. It told me to let these two nice people eat supper in peace.

But my emotional self just had to step in. I HAD to!

“When will you ever get a chance like this again,” emotional me demanded.

What could I say? Emotional me won the round, fair and square.

I stepped forward to approach my idols.

“Excuse me,” I probably squeaked, “I just had to tell you how much your music means to me and how grateful I am to hear it!”

My two music heroes smiled graciously, shook my hand, let them chat for a minute with them about their multinational sound, the drums from around the world that they use, the message they are sending.

I was quick. I was brief. I apologized for interrupting and I let them order their meals. I was silent as I watched her walk away to get some pierogis while he waited for the rice balls.

I thought I was fine. Well behaved.

But you know what?

Even though that was the highlight of my weekend, week, month, musical life, I am slightly abashed at having done it.

Don’t get me wrong! When I saw Ms. Giddens on the Today Show the morning after our chat, all I could think was “I shook that hand! I talked to her! I made her laugh!” I felt like I had somehow shared the glory with her; as if our 45 second conversation would be etched in her mind.

I felt special.

And that is the secret of fame, I think. The secret is to make the people who bump into you feel brushed by the glittery sparkles of your fame.

That probably works for big huge Hollywood types.

But it can’t be so simple when all you want out of life at that moment is a tuna rice ball and a jalapeno pierogi.

I find myself in an interesting spot in terms of fandom and musicians. While Paul and I revel in our short interactions with the musicians we admire, I also resent people who do the same thing.

That’s because our future daughter-in-law sings in a band that is gaining more and more attention lately. We have gone to hear Upstate many times. It’s always really fun! But lately we have found our conversations with our sweet girl interrupted by strangers who want to tell her how much her music means to them and how grateful they are for it.

They ask her questions about where the group met, who writes the songs, and where they’ll appear next. Sometimes they ask if they can take a picture with her.

My daughter in law smiles graciously, poses for the pictures, shakes the hands. She never lets on that she was, um, ya know, in the middle of a conversation with her future parents-in-law.

You can see how conflicted I feel about this whole thing! Music is the universal language, it brings us all together. It expresses our deepest, most powerful feelings and thoughts.

The people who can create that music? Well, of course they are our heroes! Of course we want to rub against them, shake their talented hands, share a story or a joke or a smile with them.

We feel as if we’ve been pulled into their special circles when we do that. But.

We need to remember that they are people, and they have their own lives. Once they step off of those stages, methinks, we need to learn to leave them alone.

Music Can Break Your Heart


Ah, today our past is right there in front of us.  We can’t escape it.

Today the images of our fashion faux pas are right there on Google Images. I can no longer deny that in 1978 the love of my life took me to the prom in a mint green tux because I told him that it matched his eyes.

There was a time, I’m sure, when people of my age could pretend that they never wore those outdated clothes or clunky shoes.

Not now, though. With the internet, we can find 1,000 awkward photos from our youth.

But the hardest part, for me, is the fact that YouTube has every single sappy, beautiful, compelling, heart wrenching song from my most tender years.

There was a time, long ago, when I sang in a small folk group at a weekly church basement “CoffeeHouse”.  Yes, I did think of myself as a young Joan Baez.  I did. We gathered in the church once a week to rehearse, the green grass outside the door smelling so sweet. And once a week, in the evening, we sang for a small audience. I remember sitting on the edge of a small stage, the lights bright on our faces.  I remember the sound of our harmonies.

I sang with my more talented friends, who played guitar as we performed.  I harmonized with them, working out our own special chords to “Suzanne” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”  I felt so incredibly accomplished as I made my voice blend with theirs.

I remember singing with my friends in their basements, too. Harmonizing to Crosby, Still and Nash. Who would do the lowest part? Me!!!! Let me!  We sounded amazing to ourselves as we hiked in the mountains, singing. Or as we sat in the cafeteria of our High School, singing.  We loved each other, so we made music that filled our hearts.

I remember those times.

So tonight, when I looked up an old song on YouTube, I ended up in tears. My whole musical youth, right there for me to relive and cherish.

Peter, Paul and Mary…..Joan Baez…..Judy Collins…..Crosby, Stills and Nash.

It was only a few weeks ago, wasn’t it, when I sang these songs with Cindy and Mo and Doris and Chris and John?  When our dear Steve tried and failed to hold the tune?

It was just the other day when Sue and I discovered “Where do you go to, my lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt. We were so sure that we were unique in our love of this sophisticated moving song.

It just happened. It was just the other day.  I’m sure of it.

Ah, how music can break your heart.

 

 

I Wish You Flying Dreams


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Sometimes a song reaches out and captures your thoughts in a way that you can only wish you had expressed yourself.  There are songs with lyrics that resonate so clearly that you find yourself shouting, “Yes!” when you hear them.

Sometimes a song explains feelings and thoughts that you didn’t even realize you were having.  A song like that taps you on the shoulder and says, “This is why you dream.”

I found a song like that last September.  My sons invited me to come to a music festival in North Adams, Mass.  The “FreshGrass” Musical festival features folk and bluegrass music performed on the grounds of a Mass Museum of Contemporary Art.  I went out, not sure of what to expect. I hadn’t heard of most of the performers, but I was looking forward to spending the weekend with my boys.

On the first morning of the festival, about an hour after I had arrived, I was sitting in the courtyard of the museum as a band performed. It was hot, sunny, beautiful outside.  The music was melodic and sweet. I was alone, waiting for the boys.  A beautiful young woman came walking through the crowd, carrying her baby girl in a silky wrap. The woman was slim, her head held proudly. She had gorgeous dark brown skin, big dark eyes and soft curly hair in a white band.  She wore huge mother of pearl hoops in her ears.  She caught my eye because of her beauty and her graceful walk, but also because my daughter had the very same wrap to carry her little daughter, and I was a new grandmother entranced by every baby.  The little girl was the image of her mother, right down to the soft curls, except that her hair was a golden red instead of black, and her big eyes were sea green.  I met the eyes of the mother, and we traded a smile. “Beautiful baby”, I mouthed, and the beautiful mother grinned, showing adorable dimples on both cheeks. “Thank you”, she mouthed back.

She passed into the crowd and I settled back to listen to the music.  I was profoundly glad that I had come to the festival right then. I love those little “connection” moments.

About an hour went by, and the second band was ready to play.  I was with my son, Tim, standing in the crowd, feeling the hot sun on my face.  The band took the stage. “Birds of Chicago“, the sign on the stage read.  The lead guitarist was a tall, thin young man with red curly hair.  The singer? Well, the singer was my beautiful young Mom, in her mother of pearl earrings.  The same big eyes, the same amazing smile, and the voice of an angel.

As soon as the music began, and I heard them sing, I was pretty much in love.

Wow! I’m 59 years old; its been a long time since I found a band that caught both my ear and my heart the way that this one did!

I loved the set, I loved the whole festival.  There were moments of hilarity involving a whiskey flask disguised as a tube of sun screen, moments of joy as we all danced in the light of the setting sun, moments of delight when some small band lit up the night.

I had a great weekend, and I came home happy.

And in love with Birds of Chicago.

So I bought their music and started to listen to my favorite tracks. One in particular grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go.  It’s called “Flying Dreams”.

The idea  of the song is this, “I wish you flying dreams; I don’t wish you wings. Cuz if you grow those things, they’re everything. There’s no more dreams. There’s only silence in the night.”

How cool is that? How perfect? How exactly does it sum up what so many of us think?

“I don’t want the answer to my dream; I want the dream itself!”

For me, this song really encompasses what I wish for my children, and for my students, and for my granddaughter.  It makes me think of the smiling little curly haired girl.

How wonderful it is to have dreams, to dream of flying, to dream of soaring, to dream of rising to the most incredible heights. So much more powerful than it would be to have real wings, and to come to the end of those dreams.

I wrote this blog tonight thinking of my sons, who are still dreaming.  I wrote it thinking of Ellie, my granddaughter, who hasn’t yet learned to dream.

And I wrote it thinking of Tric, the author of the WordPress Blog  “My Thoughts on a Page”.  Her son has just embarked on an educational adventure, and is chasing his own dreams. I hope that his mom finds comfort in this beautiful song.

Happy New Year to all of you.  I do wish you all “flying dreams” to lead you with joy into 2016.

Watch this video; see if I’m right about this!

“Flying Dreams”

Dancing with an old lady


So there I was, on a Sunday evening.  My husband and son had gone away on a camping trip up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. It was the final weekend of camping at our favorite spot up there, the spot where our daughter went into labor in July during our annual family reunion!   Paul and Tim had gone up there, to Dolly Copp Campground, for a last “hurrah” in this beautiful summer of 2015.

I stayed home.

I suppose I could make you feel bad for me, left behind by my beloved husband and much adored son, left to cope with all of the chores at the family homestead.  But I have to tell the truth: at the age of 59, I am really and truly ALL DONE with sleeping on an air mattress on the ground. Especially in October in New England.   Been there, honey, done that.  Ain’t goin’ back.

So I stayed home to “take care of the dogs” while the menfolk froze themselves into popsicles in the Great North.

Paul had been planning to drive our son, Tim, back to his home in the Berkshires before returning to our little house in Central Mass.  I expected him somewhere around 8 pm or so.

I planned a nice chicken dinner, and enjoyed my nice quiet house.  I walked the dogs, did some writing, did a bunch of laundry, read an Alice Hoffman novel out on the sunny deck.

And finally, it was around 7:30 at night.  Paul had been texting me on and off all day. His latest message read: “Bumpa to bumpa in Brattleboro.”

He was going to be way. late.

So I poured some wine.  I decided that he’d be too late for dinner, and I started to make a cake. (What? Who hasn’t had cake for dinner after a long ride?)   I was in a happy mood.  I had enjoyed two lovely days by myself in my now very clean house. My boy and my hubby had enjoyed a chance for bonding and a visit to a magical place.

All was well with the world.

I decided to listen to some music as I baked.  I firmly believe that a little good music helps the heaviest of cakes to rise.  I plugged my laptop into my dock and found a youtube video of an incredible band that I first heard when I went to the “Fresh Grass” festival in North Adams, Mass with both of my sons and one of my brothers.  I love this band.  LOVE them.  I put on one of my favorite songs by the band “Birds of Chicago“, and I started to move around my kitchen, singing and whisking and shaking out the cinnamon.

My old dog, Sadie, came into the kitchen to watch.

Now, you need to understand that at the ripe old doggie age of 14, Sadie is coming into the kitchen for the possible dropped food scraps, not for the music.

But here’s the thing: Sadie most likely has cancer.  She has lost a whole bunch of muscle mass on her head and face. She is losing weight.  She is on a bunch of medications.

We often think that this will be her last day.

So.  Last night, as the gorgeous voices of “Birds of Chicago” soared through my house, I called out, “Sadie! Come dance with me!”

And she did.  She wagged her shaggy black tail, raised up on her funny camo colored paws, and began to sway and swing with me in the kitchen.

I sang along to the music, Flying Dreams.   I danced and swayed, and so did my old Sadie, her big brown eyes on mine.

We didn’t think about life flying by, Sadie and I. We didn’t ask each other for treats or hugs or wagging tails.  She simply swayed and rocked and danced, her beautiful deep eyes on mine.  I simply sang and danced, not wondering how much time we might have together.

It was pure magic, for those few minutes.

Please listen to Birds of Chicago!  You will absolutely not be disappointed, no matter how old you are.

Courage


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Wow, I had such a great weekend!  There is so much to think and write about after my weekend at the fabulous Fresh Grass Festival in North Adams Mass.  So much great music, so many wonderful people, so many hilarious and loving moments with my sons.  I swear, I could write a book.  For example, at one point after enjoying a little nip from a clever little flask, I made a reference to “whiskey fumes”.  That became the topic for a whole exchange about using the band name, “Whiskey Fumes”.  I was, for unknown reasons, elected “lead singer.”

Well.

I love it!  I could see myself, gray hair blowing in the evening wind, chubby body swathed in violet linen skirts, belting out tunes on stage.

But I won’t write about that funny moment, or about dancing with my sons to the raucous sounds of “Leftover Salmon.”  Nope.  I have a more important story to tell from my weekend in the Berkshires.

This story took only a moment. In fact, the entire interaction contained only two sentences.

But it is a moral tale about the famously named “Millennial Generation”. It is a statement of hope for the future.  It is a “pat ourselves on the back” moment for those in my generation who have raised young adults like the one in my story.

Here is what happened.

I had been at the Fresh Grass Music Festival from about noontime, and it was now well after midnight.  My brother and I had driven two hours to the Berkshires to get to North Adams, the gritty little Massachusetts town which was host to the music and also home to my two sons.  I had been standing in the sun all day, enjoying incredible live music from a jaw dropping collection of musical geniuses.

I had eaten fries and burgers and cookies and a perfect sugared donut. I had savored a few cold beers and a couple of sips from the Jack Daniels flask.

I had been dancing with a group of 20 somethings for hours.

I was tired, tired, tired. The night was over, and we were heading back to the big old house where my sons and many of their friends live.   I was going to grab my bag and go to sleep in a quieter setting, a few doors down from the after-festival party.

As I walked with my boys and their friends through the cool fall night, conversation turned toward the political scene.  We all shared our complete and utter disgust with the racist bullshit coming from Donald Trump.  We were talking about how incredible we found it that he didn’t contradict the racist idiot who referred to the President as a Muslim, saying it the way I might say, “Serial rapist and murderer.”

As we got to the house, we were still mumbling and groaning about Trump.  We tromped up the stairs to the boys’ apartment, but I was a bit behind my son and his friend.  I was old. I was tired. We had to climb two flights.

As I came into the apartment, I saw Tim smiling at his friend Jess. She was pushing his damp hair back from his forehead.  “What?”, I heard him ask, “Its just sweat. Just good, clean American sweat.”  As I approached, I joked, “As long as its good American sweat, and not Muslim sweat!”

I got closer to Tim and Jess, and noticed with a shock that the room beyond them was not empty.  A few young people were sitting there, talking and drinking wine.  A young man looked up at me with surprise and dismay.  I registered his facial expression and felt myself blush from the tips of my toes to the very top of my head.

Then I noticed a beautiful young girl sitting in the room.  She was looking right at me, her face serious but open.  I could see her horror at my words.  She frowned very slightly then said, right into my eyes, “You know that you can be both American and Muslim, right?”

I don’t know what I replied. I think I sputtered and stammered and tried to explain that it was all a bad Trump joke.  But it was late, and I was tired and my muscles were incredibly sore.

It was so embarrassing and so cringe worthy.

But here is what I took away from that ten second encounter.

That young woman, faced with a racist, bigoted older woman, stood right up and spoke out.

How fabulous is that?

She had no idea who I was, standing there in the apartment at well past midnight, my gray hair in a mess, my clothes sweaty and rumpled.  But she confronted me when she heard me say something both ignorant and unacceptable. She had no idea that I was trying to make a bad joke; she thought that I was speaking my mind, and she wouldn’t let it lie.

She was calm, polite, respectful, but she put me in my place.

And that gives me SO MUCH hope for the future of our country.  That lovely girl is just exactly what we all need; she is courageous, righteous, strong.  She doesn’t hesitate to say the right thing, to right a wrong, to correct a misconception.

I truly hope that my son managed to explain me to her! I hope that she understands now that I was only kidding.

But I also hope that she knows how wonderful her simple comment was. I hope she understands that my generation falls asleep at night hoping that her generation will have the courage and strength to roll back the racism and xenophobia that has taken over our national discourse.

Thank you, young lady!  You absolutely, positively rock.

A Curiously Circular Experience


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Live music in the Berkshires.

Oh, this evening was one of those curiously circular experiences that I seem to keep noticing lately.  One of those moments when I feel all of the key points in my life passing each other as they circle around and come back into sync with each other for brief moments.

Tonight I talked Paul into making the 2 hour drive out to the Berkshires for some live music.

Oh, not Tanglewood!  Nope, not for us.

We were headed for an outdoor concert on the shores of a small pond in the tiny Berkshire town where our two sons now live.  It’s kind of a cool story, really.  Our boys used to play music together when they were in Middle School and High School. One of them is the bass player, one the drummer.  We were lucky enough, as the parents of the drummer, to host the band in our basement for 6 very interesting years. We went through a lot of musical growth together, including a somewhat challenging “MetalHead” phase.

But eventually, everyone grew up, and the boys moved out.  The music was gone from our house. The nest was empty.

Now, five years later, our boys have come together again. Laughing together. Living together. Sharing a fabulous friendship with a truly amazing group of friends in the old city of North Adams, Mass, in the gorgeous Berkshire Mountains.  And making music together again.

Our boys, along with several friends, were playing a free concert sponsored by the City of North Adams. “Flannel Dan and the Panhandle Band” were the featured band tonight.  We were pretty excited!

So we packed a delicious picnic, loaded up our lawn chairs, and headed out to the shores of lovely Windsor Lake in North Adams.   The sun was setting, and the golden light covered the lake and the trees.  There was a sweet, cool breeze blowing over the people who were scattered across the lawn.  We broke out our cheese and crackers, our salsa and chips while we waited for the band to begin playing.

We looked around at the rest of the audience, which was made up of surprisingly “mature” people. Most were white haired (like us!), but there were also a few clusters of young families, as well as several groups of twenty somethings who were mostly friends of the musicians.

I found myself looking with some longing at one young Momma with a tiny boy in her arms, wrapped in one of the silky baby carrier wraps that I recognized from my own daughter.  I approached her to admire the baby, and found that he was exactly 4 days younger than my new granddaughter.  He was just beautiful!  I wanted to hold him (I really, really, really wanted to hold him!) but I reigned myself in.  I introduced myself to his pretty young Mom, who turned out to be a friend of our sons.  I admired the little one, and went back to my picnic and to “Grampa”.

The music was really wonderful; we haven’t heard our boys perform with a full band for years now. We were both amazed at the professionalism and the ease of the performance.

But I was distracted.  I have to admit it.  I was distracted by the beauty of the sky, and the lake and late summer scents.

And I was distracted by the antics of a tiny golden haired boy, about a year old, who wandered away from his Dad to cross behind the band.  His huge, serious eyes and the way that he kept looking behind him to make sure that his Daddy was following reminded me so much of my Matt, the bass player, when he was that age.   Wanting to explore, needing to be safe.

I was distracted, too, by the energy and joyful clowning of the three year old boy whose Mom sat on a blanket next to ours, eating her picnic sandwich and trying to entice her child to share.  He, however, could not be bothered with mere food. He was too busy racing around in circles, dancing with both hands held to the sky, and hurling himself onto the blanket in a tangle of legs, flailing arms and bright red sneakers.

He could have been my Tim, the drummer, at the very same age.  The sparkle of mischief in his eyes had tears coming to mine.

I sat back in my camp chair. I held Paul’s hand and let the rich harmonies of our sons’ voices swirl around us.  I was so happy to see the strong, talented, happy young men that they have become. I looked at them, smiling at the beards, the height, the muscles in their arms.

I looked around me, saw the dancing little boy, the carefully exploring little boy.  I let my eyes rest on the sweet face of the newborn son in his Momma’s arms.

Every moment, every sweet memory of my years with my boys, went spinning and swirling and circling through my brain.

The music washed over me.  The sound of little boys giggling filled my heart.

It was a beautiful, harmonious, circular evening in the Berkshires tonight.   Life is a beautiful gift. It brings us new ways to love our children as they grow.  It shows us new ways to admire and appreciate them with every step that they take.

And sometimes life gives us an evening full of music and harmonies and perfect rhythms that are accompanied by the sounds of a baby’s cry, a toddler’s laugh, a little boy’s joyful shout as he dances to the ringing of the guitars.

Oh, Shenandoah


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A million or so years ago, my young husband and I took a drive down South.  We wanted to visit some college campuses, because we were looking for graduate schools.  We made some appointments, got into our old brown Toyota Corolla and headed South.

We stopped in New Jersey, on the very day of Bruce Springsteen’s 31st birthday.  We went on to Delaware, to Maryland, and then to Virginia.  We camped, in Shenandoah National Park, in a place called “Big Meadow”.

We were young, and open and ready for the world to show us what it had to offer.   Shenandoah showed us mountains, and fields and deer and music and a gentle beauty that we could not forget.

We went back there, of course.  We stayed in a cozy cottage for two, in the fall. We watched the sun set over those mountains. We walked at dawn in a dewy field filled with does and fawns.

And we returned, first with our little girl, showing her the rosy light of dawn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We brought her hiking, taught her to pick blueberries and raspberries in the wide, wild field.  We fed her pancakes and bacon in the homey restaurant of the Big Meadow Lodge on Skyline Drive.

We came back again, with her brothers. Camping on the edge of the Appalachian Trail, singing with the guitarist in the lodge, walking the wide meadow at sunset, hiking the beautiful trails.

And every time we’ve been there, every memory that our family has made there, has had a soundtrack that has run beneath it all.  The songs have changed as we have grown and changed. But one song has been there through it all.

“Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you

Away, you rolling river.”

In a few days, my daughter will be married.  That little girl who I held on my hip as we watched the sunset on the Shenandoah Valley will bind her hand and her life to her love, and will become a married woman.

At some point during the celebration, she will stand and walk to her father, who will take her hand in his.  They will smile, and embrace, and dance together as they both think back on the history of all that they have shared.  The song will be “Shenandoah”, by Van Morrison.

Perfect.

Listen to this, and think of us: Shenandoah

As old as we feel


I think every good teacher has a sort of “schtick”, you know? A little joke or style or habit that the kids identify as special to that particular teacher.

Some teachers speak in interesting languages, or have everyone identify classical music, or bring in pictures of their babies.

I joke about my advancing age.

I know, its pitiful.  But I have colleagues who were born after I started teaching. What can I say?  I have shoes that are older than some of the people I work with.

I often put this picture up on the Smartboard with my morning message. I pretend its me.

"Hand in that homework or else!"

“Hand in that homework or else!”

I think about my age a lot. “Too old to learn to ski.” “Too old to play capture the flag.” “Too old to wear new styles.” I talk about my age too much.

I think I better stop it.

Last night we went out with some friends to hear music at a local venue. Its a place with great food and a good atmosphere and we really enjoy the company of the couple who invited us. I wasn’t thinking much about the performance, to be honest.

The night started with a group of very, very young musicians who played good solid modern pop/rock. If I closed my eyes, I could have mixed them up with several bands that I hear on the radio.  If I opened my eyes, I felt like I was looking at my students.  The bass player, in particular, looked like he was three years away from his first shave. They were babies.

They were cute.  And super confident. The seemed to be pretty sure that they were the next big thing, and that they had mastered the essence of cool.  They even had the audacity to sing a song called “When I was young”, which got a laugh out of the audience and a bristling response from the lead singer.

They finished up, we chatted for a bit, and then the Legend came on stage. He was slight, a bit stooped, wearing black jeans and a black Tshirt with a black leather vest.  He smiled a little vaguely into the spot light and mumbled some words of welcome.  His band included of a pudgy keyboard player with a grey ponytail that hung from the crown of his freckled, balding head. The guitarist was greying and jowled.  The drummer was the youngster of the group, and he could have been the Grampa of any one of that first band. I lowered my expectations a bit.

Then the music began and time lost all meaning.

Albert Lee, guitarist extraordinaire, leaned into his signature red “Music Man” guitar and played as if it was 1968.  This was his 70th Birthday Tour, but you wouldn’t have known it to hear him. He played with absolutely no awareness of his thinning white hair, the sagging skin of his arms or the aging of his neck. He didn’t acknowledge his age, so it wasn’t there. His voice was strong and pure and sweet as honey.  His picking was flawless and his rhythms crisp and clean.

They played everything from country to rockabilly to early rock and roll.  The Everly Brothers to Emmy Lou Harris. It was FUN!

And I looked around that room, and watched people swaying and clapping and dancing in their chairs.  And I realized that not one of us was thinking about our silver hair, or the bifocals on our noses.  Albert told us that we were 25 again, and we believed him.

Maybe Albert Lee has the secret to aging really well, and maybe I need to learn that lesson.  Ignore time completely, and just keep singing.  Just keep playing and dancing. Hold onto the things you love, and enjoy them every day.

The world doesn’t really belong to the young; it belongs to those who feel young.

Les Mis


imgresMany years ago…twelve years?  Fifteen? I don’t remember exactly, but “many years ago”, when my children were still very young, my sister Mary introduced us to the musical “Les Mis”.  I don’t remember details, but I do remember that we suddenly found ourselves in possession of the “Dreamcast” DVD.  Kate and I fell in love with the music, the romance, and drama of it all, and we began to listen to it almost every afternoon, as I made dinner.

My two little boys, then only about 6 and 8 years old, loved to stack up pillows in the hall to make the “barricades”.  As the musical played, they would act out each event. Poor Paul would come home for dinner to find us shouting out the lyrics to “Red; the blood of angry men!  Black; the dark of ages past!” We were absolutely swept away by the magic and power of that music.

Over the years, the soundtrack to the musical of Les Mis became a part of our family history.  Mary and I took our daughters to see a production in Boston when they were only teenagers. And one time Kate and I were so engrossed in singing along to the soundtrack that we completely missed our highway exit, and had to travel some eighty miles out of our way to get back to our route.

So we come to tonight.  The film version of the iconic musical had come out, and my sister Mary had already convinced us that it was wonderful.   I had to go and see it! I had to!  Kate was just as determined as I was, and we made a plan to meet up tonight at the local theater.  I bought the tickets; she bought the popcorn.

We were both excited and happy as the opening credits began to roll. This would be so much fun!

Only, it wasn’t fun at all.  It was beautiful, and epic and gorgeous.  The acting was absolutely stunning, at least to me.  I came home more than half in love with Hugh Jackman, and dazed by the power of Ann Hathaway as “Fantine”.

But my eyes are swollen, my heart is aching, and my throat is raw.  I cried and cried and cried, through the whole two and a half hour event.

You see, I was there at the movies with my little girl.  I used to sing to her, “Come to me, Cosette, the day is dying…..”  And here she was, right beside me, her hand held tight in mine.

I was there, healthy and strong, and sitting with my girl.  Knowing that I have two friends who had to endure the death of their own little girl, a kindergartener, this past summer.

I was there, knowing that my two boys, my activist sons, were safe in their apartment, most likely making music of their own as the music in the theater filled my heart. No one was shooting at them.

As the film went on, I tried to keep my composure, watching the naive boys on the barricades as they tried to create a revolution in the streets.  I tried to focus on the excessive drama and romanticism of the story. I tried to laugh at the obviously fake butterflies flitting by as Cosette and Marius met and fell in love through the wrought iron fence in the moonlight.

And I was doing pretty well, too.  Right up until the moment when I was caught completely off guard when the little boy, Gavroche, the mascot of the Revolution, was gunned down in the street, and the camera focused in on his beautiful, innocent child’s face.  That was when life and  the movies collided for me, and I couldn’t begin to stop my tears. His face in that moment was the face of all those innocent children killed in Newtowne. I had to hold my hand over my mouth to stop from crying out loud.

I used to think that luck and virtue were somehow connected, that those of us who live charmed lives must somehow have proven ourselves worthy.

I don’t think that anymore.

Now I know that finding myself hand-in-hand with my daughter is a gift that is not of my making.  I know that my sons’ trips to New York and Chicago as part of the Occupy Movement, and (more importantly) their safe trips back home, were merely some kind of cosmic luck.  And I can’t begin to know how long that luck will last.

Every day is a gift.  Every family visit, every shared dinner, every song, every meal, every laugh; they are all gifts that are bestowed by a benevolent universe on those who happen to drift past.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”