Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Mom’s Best Gift

My mom’s been gone just a little over five years now.  A few days ago I put a CD in my computer   She plays. “Beautiful Days”; a song she learned at the tender age of 11.  Her long gray hair is pulled back in a ponytail and as she sways back and forth on the organ bench, her arms pull the bellows in and out as fingers fly over unseen black and white keys, a look of pure joy on her face.  It’s a mesmerizing sight. 
and in a moment, on my screen, is my mother as she sits in front of her Yamaha organ, in a pair of slacks and her signature white short sleeved blouse, accordion strapped to her chest.

It was February 28th, 2001 and she indulged me in my request to videotape her while she played the accordion and then the organ.  She wasn’t very comfortable about the idea of doing it, but went along with me anyway.   I was honest with her in my reasoning in that I’d listened to her play my whole life and couldn’t imagine that one day I’d never hear her play again. The tape was my insurance policy against that happening.

The day was cold and I’d gone to their house and set up my camcorder on the tripod in their living room.  We chatted for a while and had a bite to eat and a pot of tea.  It was a delightful afternoon. Afterwards, I played the video only once, to insure all had worked and then put it away.  I didn’t think to put it on a CD and share it with family members until after her death in 2009.    

When she started playing, her instructor first taught her the classics, telling her once she mastered those, she’d be able to play anything the rest of her life.  On the screen she moves now through those classics to popular favorites like “Harvest Moon.”  I’m back in elementary school, hearing the notes when I reach the end of the driveway after walking home from school.  Entering the kitchen from the back porch, I’d find her perched on the kitchen table edge, eyes closed, swaying to the music.  Again, that look of pure joy on her face.

I never tire of watching her.   She always played this large and cumbersome instrument with a measure of grace and lightness that defied reason.   The left hand playing chords as the right hand carries the melody.  Knowing she never learned to read music and that it’s all done by ear and memory only adds to her mystique. 

She flows into a song, mentioning it was her parent’s song.  When she’s done I ask her if she remembers the title and her voice breaks…“I Never Knew I Could Love Anybody Like I'm Loving You”, and then continues softly with the main verse…

“I never knew I could love anybody,
Honey, like I'm loving you;
I couldn't realize what a pair of eyes and a baby smile could do.
I can't sleep, I can't eat,
I never knew a single soul could be so sweet,
I never knew I could love anybody,
Honey, like I'm loving you.”

And in a moment, I remember my grandmother never referring to my grandfather as anything but her ‘Honey”, and it all comes together. 

The last song she plays on the accordion is my favorite, “Twilight Time.”  In hindsight, I think it may have been one of her favorites as well.

After a short break, she switches to the organ and the music I remember her playing most, at night, as I lay upstairs in my bed before I fell asleep begins.

Her back is to the recorder now as she flows through “I Get Misty”, “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do” and “Apple Blossom Time”.  I made a collage of family pictures to scroll as she plays – her and her parents, as a young girl with her brother, through her marriage and us kids growing up and her grandchildren.  It’s bittersweet to listen to her play this lovely background music as a slideshow plays of her life.  My favorite is her standing at a ledge at the Grand Canyon, a lifelong dream of hers and as beautiful as the canyon itself. 

I didn’t know that five short years after making this tape, she would have a traumatic brain injury.  For three years following until she passed, the music was gone as all her efforts were put into rebuilding other areas of her life and maneuvering her injury on a daily basis. 

I didn’t play the tape during those three years, instead waiting until after she passed for the time it was purposed for.  And a few days ago, as every time I play it, it serves the purpose.  Some days I just watch the screen and enjoy the sight and sound of her.  Other days I’ve just put it on while I was cleaning or writing, as background music.  I’ve even found myself walking towards the living room a time or two to request a song before I remember she’s not there.

My mom gave me a lot of gifts over my lifetime, but I've come to cherish that gift of her indulgence that cold February afternoon most of all.  Her music, the memories it holds for me and the joy it gives me each and every time I hear it.