I guess Iam in a little bit of a melancholy mood this evening. It’s been a long day and I find myself, again, in a hotel room far from anything familiar. Really, the funny thing about long periods of solitude without much human interaction is the chance of reflection. So I thought I would listen to some songs on YouTube and reminisce because of course, nothing is closer linked to my memory than songs and soundtracks. But I have to warn you, these are sad songs.
I can really take or leave Bruce Springsteen and it’s not because of his music. Personally I think he is a pompous jerk especially after a 60 Minutes interview where he basically told the reporter he is smarter than the average American and is the voice of the majority. But I digress. His song “My Hometown” is a song that gives me the chills just hearing the intro keyboard. I consider myself to be very patriotic but not in the sense that I feel we need to force the American way on every third world nation. I hear this song and think about kids at bus stops, Dad leaving for work with the hard hat in one hand and lunch in the other. I think about Mom pulling the late shift at the grocery to make a little extra for the family and Friday night football games. This is a reflection of America.
This is going to be a tough one. I’m not the biggest country music fan in the world but Willie Nelson is an exception. He has this bravado about him that I consider more rock than anything else. Perhaps it’s because he sticks it to “the man” by not paying taxes and openly smokes weed. Regardless, after my Grandfather passed, Willie and I became a little closer.
My Grandfather passed away very suddenly from a heart attack and a day later I found myself in Bakersfield, California with the rest of the immediatefamily. Through out that day we did the un pleasantry’s of funeral arrangements and eulogy writing. My poor Grandmother was still bewildered but her selfless spirit never showed pain as she consoled my Father, Aunts and Uncles. As the day became night everyone left to their respective hotels and I was left to sleep in the guest room with only my Grandmother in the house.
The house was busy with every person in driving distance stopping through to pay their condolences. At any given time there was no less than thirty people in a relatively small ranch home so when the last person left the silence was deafening. She and I sat on the couch and watched old British comedies on PBS as the time slipped passed 1 am. Looking at the clock she suggested I retire to bed and she would too after her wine. It was difficult for me to find the appropriate words, but she read my face and insisted she was fine. She would be in bed shortly.
As I layed down in bed I stared at the ceiling and tried to remember my Grandfather in a light that would be positive for the wake. He was a very abrasive person. I can think of more than one instance when he would say “I sure do love you, Goddamn it”. A colleague of his at UC Berkley once said that my Grandfather had to be the bride at every wedding and corpse at every funeral. At least that was partly accurate. Regardless, I did find the good times but that was interrupted by the sound of music from the study down the hall. It was the unmistakable sound of Willie Nelson’s classical guitar. So I got out of bed to see what was happening and found my Grandmother sitting next to the record player with a lap full of letters and pictures. She looked up, half expecting me to be there.
“I guess I wasn’t ready to look at his empty pillow.”
You know, there are a handful of moments in your life that really take your breath away. That was one of mine. I sat next to her as she shared old love letters during World War II when she was stationed in San Fransisco (she was an officer in the Navy) and he was in the Pacific. She also showed me pictures of the family from the 50’s to the late 70’s including a glorious one of my Dad with sideburns and bellbottoms. Everytime the song would end she would ask me to replay it and we would go back to remembering my Grandfather, Bill. This lasted for two bottles of wine and a sunrise.
She died a year later. I never told anyone in the family about our time together. I’ve always looked at my Grandmother as the source that smoothed out the rough wake my Grandfather made. But the time we spent together gave me the chance to know her as elegant, graceful, and strong woman with the dignity that is impossible to come by today. I do miss her and love her so.
When I found this song, “Stardust” by Willie Nelson on YouTube I made it through about ten seconds. I guess even two years later it is too soon for me to hear it. I do ask that you give it a try. It was one of B. Webster’s favorites.
“Into The White” by Cat Stevens (Yusuf) is hands down one of my favorite songs. I think the word beautiful was meant for creations like this. No matter how many times I listen, it never gets old. I even butcher it on guitar and sing but that’s only for my ears. Enjoy this one. I have for as long as I can remember.
Who doesn’t love Jim Croce? Hm? Hm? That’s what I thought. The song “Operator” will always remind me of the time I went cross country skiing with Dad and my Uncle, Brett. I was way too young to cross country ski so I ended up being the whiner of the trip. To top things off I got carsick on the way out of the park too. I actually don’t know why this song brings up that memory. Strange.
Well, that’s as depressing as I want to get. But just to balance things out I will leave you with a joke.
“What do you see when the Pillsbury Doe Boy moons you?”
Good night everybody!
Wow Bill, I usually try to leave a glib comment or quote but that was amazing. I read this while listening to Willie’s song and couldn’t help but to cry, then let my wife, who lost her Grandma recently as well, cried also. You truly have a gift my friend, thank you for sharing.
Wow, that was amazing. You really have a way of making me all whistful and nostalgic about my own family. I would do just about anything to have my grandparents back. The only one that’s still alive is my “grandfather” on my mom’s side. It’s not her real dad, but she was raised by him and he’s the guy I’ve always called Grandpa, but we’ve never been that close. I think he means well sometimes, but he’s never been the easiest guy to get along with.
Your story really reminded me of my other grandpa though, on my dad’s side. He was a P.O.W. in WW2 and even though he died 18 years ago I miss him and think about him every day. It sounds like the relationship your grandparents had is a lot like the one mine did. My grandmother died before he did, and he was never the same. He fell into a deep depression and I would sometimes visit him and spend the night. I slept on the foldout couch in the living room and I could hear him in his bedroom down the hall talking to her. He would have entire conversations with her and I honestly believe that she was answering. He died just a few years later and the thing that makes me feel better about the whole thing is that wherever they are, I honestly believe that they’re together and he’s up there playing golf, listening to Bing Crosby, telling the most hilarious stories you’ll ever hear, and laughing. That’s how how I remember him.
That was such a tender moment between you and your grandmother. Thanks for sharing.
You know what Will, I think I loved you a little before but this entry made me love you a whole lot more. You are so open and honest and I love the stories you tell. They’re amazing.
I don’t think I’ve ever truly gotten choked up reading someones blog before now.
really great post Bill.
My father and I really didn’t get along for a lot of years, we have two very different personalties that seem to clash so a few years ago I picked up Cat Stevens’ Magicat dvd for him as sort of a peace offering and as we watched we sorted out our gripes with eachother and are now pretty close, there really is something to these sad songs.
I appreciate it when you do these more serious blogs Will. As you know my Grandparents raised me so I was exposed growing up to the old fashioned country music. During camping trips my Granddad would take out a black cassette case filled with cassettes he bought years ago (I don’t remember when he bought them, so I am assuming he bought them before I was born or I was too young to remember) of a Time magazine series of old country songs. There are about a dozen of them, the case was about the same size as a new roll of paper towels. He always brought out the same one or two tapes, played them, annoyingly sang to them, and then put them away. He does that during blackouts too. When I visit them sometime which has been over a year now I should record that on my camcorder, it’s a sight to be seen. But he would start singing a song that had the words coca cola in it that my Grandma hates, a couple of Hank Williams songs, maybe a Dolly Parton song just to make my Grandma upset even more because it’s obvious he likes seeing her sing more then hearing her sing if you know what I mean by that, and of course Johnny Cash. They like Willie Nelson but not as much. I have sneakily every once in a while looked up an old country song online that I very secretly like. I wouldn’t want to admit to them that I do like their taste in music. You guys won’t tell them will ya?? 🙂
Also in the early 90’s I went through a phase were my sisters (they still do) liked country music and I looked up to them so I liked it too. I still on occasion listen to Garth Brooks because of that phase. Country fan or not, you have to admit that guy sure knows how to perform. My oldest sister had (and still probably has) a Garth brooks concert tape that we watched thousands of times. I knew it word for word. He would get up on the lights and crawl around everywhere, pause and sing, and then crawl back bright red and very tired. Country songs sure are philosophical and great to listen to when you want to be by yourself and pause and reflect on life. Mind you I mostly listen to Alternative Rock, that is the one genre I can listen to for hours and not get tired of. That is the background music type of music for me. It’s my go to music lol. It’s just you talking about your Grandmother reminded me of those camping trips that made me be exposed to the old fashioned country western music.
I also want to say that I spend time by myself sometimes and I use that time to sit and reflect on my life and try to figure out what it all means. I have been doing that a lot lately because there are a couple of things that happened in my life when I was growing up that I think I need to move past.
Either menopause has prompted more empathy on my part or your just a damn good writer. I’m sure it’s both. You’re such a terrific writer, William. As gifted as the day is long and I am honored to be one of your contemporaries.
Let’s talk soon…Been way too long, Sparky!!
PS> I LOATHE Bruce Springsteen. I’ll listen to Tunnel of Love if I don’t have to wtach him sing it. That jetty he calls a chin becomes more than I can handle.
Loved this post. Deeply and personally. Hugs back man. Hugs back.
The story about your grandparents really spoke to me, Will. You are a gifted writer to get this much emotion out of this many people with just your words.
Oh boy, I’m not sure what the hell is going on in the blog-o-sphere this week but two men have been successful in making me cry with their posts. Way to go – you’re one of them! Beautifully written – and an amazing tribute to your grandparents.
Sorry. Didn’t mean to be such a sad sack. But thanks for the compliments. Grandma was a special lady, there is no doubt. You guys rock. Makes a guy feel purty good.
Dan- send my condolences to your wife.
DJD- I have too many replies to cover here. You are an awesome friend.
Blue- The blog is brighter with you here.
Kirbyann- Love you too! I enjoy getting inspiration from your blog/
JoshC- You and I can share a case of beer and some Cat albums some day.
Goob- you replies solidify why I write this.
LK- I can’t wait to talk. So much to say. thanks for saying hi. I feel like the president stopped by
Dead Charm- Man, thanks for coming around. Always have a friend in me.
Furry cocoa- We both have the same gift. I read about upside down tomatoes with an excitement paralleled by few. That’s a gift.
2lazydogs-Sorry to make you cry. If it is any consolation I check your site 10 times a day waiting for an update. I’m addicted.
Yeah, my eyes were about to get a little watery while listening to the Willie Nelson track. I think there was some dust or something in the air…
WIll is so cool!! 🙂
You always know how to make us all feel like you wouldn’t change a thing about us because you love and adore all of us to every last little detail. I have said this before and I’ll probably say it again, but my favorite characteristic of yours is you can see the greatness in everything. And I can totally see you sitting next to your Grandmother, politely listening to her go on and on about your Grandfather, and willingly walking up to the record player and moving the needle, then sitting back down on the narrow edge next to her. I wish to have a Grandchild like you someday.
well, i was going to say that you were the second boy this week to make me cry over a blog post…but 2lazydogs beat me to it.
this is a great one. love the softer side of billy.
Every time I hear Samba Pa Ti by Santana, I cry. That was Rudy’s dad’s favorite song, and the gentleman died a tragic and untimely death. I saw him a day before he died and his death was a very hard time. It still is hard- there are still so many questions we wished we asked, leadership we wish we had.
And “Heat of the Night” by Phil Collins makes me think of my dad. Even though that’s a weird, bad creepy song… it means a lot to me and makes me miss him.
You are a fantastic writer, and that whole section on your grandmother took my breath away. I mean you talk about songs that carry the moments, but what about words? You have that magic in spades, believe me 🙂
PS: I had never heard “Stardust” but I just gave it a listen, and it is very very sweet 🙂
I read this post. I cried. I showered. I thought. I came back to comment and I still don’t quite know what to say. There is something about the openness with which you write — a profoundly accessible, natural quality which evokes memory, camaraderie – empathy… A desire to share, take part. This is a gift, Billy. A real gift. Not only was Stardust perfect but you have made me more sure than ever that I must share some of my old writing and journals with my son BEFORE I’m too old to do it properly or gone from his life altogether… These glimpses into who our family members are/were AS PEOPLE before they were “mommy” or “daddy” or “grandma” are so important. I envy you that night with her – as hard as it must have been in its way. I really envy it and I thank you for sharing it. I don’t know what made it so everyone else was at a hotel and you were with her but clearly it’s the way it was supposed to be.
I’m glad you found me. 😉