Musical Memories

Twice in the past two weeks music has triggered a rush of strong emotions and vivid memories of my grandpa, who passed away eleven years ago.

The first time I sat down to play Christmas music at the piano for the first time this holiday season and I started to play “Traditions of Christmas” by Mannheim Steamroller. About six bars into the song I felt my eyes tear up and the page of music started to get blurry and another six bars into it I had to stop playing because I was nearly sobbing. I knew I was missing my grandpa but I had to sit and think back to why that song had such an impact on me.

It was 1994 and I was a senior in high school and taking piano lessons for the first time, although I was a self taught (and mother and sister and grandpa taught) pianist and could play pretty well considering. My piano teacher had asked me to pick two or three Christmas songs to learn and I had always loved “Traditions of Christmas” but had difficulty with a section of the song. I played the song over and over and over during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years and got the point that I felt confident playing it for others. My grandpa would regularly walk over from his house next door and sit at the table in the dining room (the piano was in the dining room of all places) and sit and quietly listen while I practiced. I would sometimes steal quick glances out of the corner of my eye while I was playing to see what his reaction was. He would sit with his legs crossed and his head back with his eyes closed and and a slight smile on his face while he tapped his fingers on the table in time to the music.

About a week or two before Christmas Grandpa got very sick and was put in the hospital. We were told that he would not make it back home and to start making plans for his passing. I spent the morning of Christmas morning at the hospital with my parents and drove home by myself when he became too ill for the visitors and my parents stayed the rest of the day to help care for him. We were all very worried and sad to think that he would not make it back to his home. Grandpa had a strong spirit and he pulled through and went home about a week or so into January. He was still very very sick and could not walk much at all and we still knew his passing was very close.

I remember twice that grandpa made the trek over to our house after his return from the hospital. The first was on the morning of the anniversary of him and my grandma, who had been his sweetheart since 2nd grade! He got up very early before my grandma was awake (probably because he knew she would never let him get up in his condition!) and slowly walked down his long driveway and then gripped the chain link fence as step by step he made his way down the sidewalk to our home. My mom was shocked to see him as he slipped some money into her hands and asked her to go into town as soon as she could and buy a special necklace with a heart for my grandma. He bought her a necklace every year for her anniversary and he didn’t want it to be the first year she didn’t receive a gift from him. The next time I remember him coming over he was having a better night and my parents helped him and my grandma over for a visit and we sat around chatting for awhile and he asked me to play my Christmas songs for him. “Traditions of Christmas” was his favorite of the ones I played and he would always tell me how much he liked it. He had a way of making me feel like it was the prettiest song he had heard and nobody could do it better than I had. He would put one arm around me and squeeze me in tight in a bear hug and kiss my cheek and say, “I love you babe, that was beautiful”. Grandpa passed away within the week after that night and that song will always hold strong memories of him for me. The feeling he gave me when he gave me his total undivided attention and love was what I felt as I burst into tears this year as I played it this year.

The next experience I had was last week as our family walked through a little mall. It is a very small mall and it is built around a central stage area where local bands or artists perform. This night there was an old fashioned big band and they were playing swing music as we walked up. All the seats and most of the standing room was taken as everyone watched the group of swinging teenagers and young adults dancing to their lively music. We watched for about ten minutes or so and they started playing a song that put a picture in my mind of my grandpa dancing in his living room. He loved all kind of music and he loved to sing and dance. He would turn on his big band, ragtime, classical, or spiritual music so loud his house shook and dance around his his house. He would pull grandma or his daughters or granddaughters up to dance with him and we would all laugh and dance and have the greatest time. As I heard this music and saw the dancers I was overcome with missing grandpa after all these years that he has been gone! When they started playing a waltz and all the young kids sat down and the elderly couples stood up and started to dance I got even more emotional. If he had been there, Grandpa would have been the first one to stand, pulling grandma up and into his arms to dance.

Grandpa Dancing

Grandpa Dancing while my sister Angi plays and I sing.

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