Monday, February 8, 2010

Music, Love, Life and Loss

I took my place in mom's Buick, plugged my headset into my cell phone and began humming along to Norah Jones as we traveled south on Highway 99. My flickering eyes momentarily grasped a tree whizzing by, then briefly paused before fixing their gaze on another. Similarly, my unleashed thoughts darted between my music class, our trip south and the hundreds of memories I have created along that very highway.

Grandma was in the front seat practicing a “flipping the pancake” motion in the palm of her hands--a technique she couldn't master for her doctor who recently diagnosed her with mild-to-moderate dementia. With enthusiasm like a child and the memory loss of an elder, she quickly answered, “four,” when mom asked her how many quarters were in two dollars. She began to sing an old praise song, "I've got a river of life flowing out of me," struggling to recite the lyrics she once did with ease. The song resonated within me. Ironically, we were to attend her baby brother's memorial service the following day. As if to accompany her, the rain beat a shout chorus of death on the windshield. The wipers forced a retreat with a symphony of life, wiping away the raindrops, resembling tears. “Death—Life—Death—Life.”

Grandma helped raise Uncle Obie after her mother died, when she was six years old. She has recounted, many times, the story of when she took him into Oklahoma City while "Papa" was gone at work during the day. But when I went to visit her last Thanksgiving, she included some details about their “strolls through the city” that she never had before.

During my visit to the City, I was well aware of the renovations and destruction of the buildings in Grandma’s memory. They have been replaced by buildings with newer styles and architectural trends than those of her day. One dilapidated building, though, stood at the edge of the city and displayed the words “Farmer's Market” across the top. I shot a picture, confident that Grandma would likely have recollections of this building above any other. I forgot to take the picture to her, but at the mere mention of it, her eyes lit up, “Oh, yes!” she exclaimed with a grin. She began to tell the story I've learned by heart:

“Papa would leave for work and I would take Obie by the hand, 'C'mon Obie, w'ere gonna go to town,'" the story always began. She explained that she would cross over the North and South Canadian Rivers that ran through downtown; though this time she struggled to recall their names. They frequented this farmers market where trains would unload fresh produce onto the dock. Grandma and Uncle Obie would dig fruit, unfit for merchandise, out of the trash can for their midday meal. For the first time in my life, I became aware of the destitute conditions they faced as kids. “We were poor, poor people. Nobody should have to live that way,” Grandma said with tears filling her eyes at the memory. “But we made it through.” She recalled workers at the dock dropping fruit on purpose “’cause they knew we was orphans—almost.”

I sat directly behind Grandma at the funeral, amazed at all she has endured: an unfortunate childhood, infidelity, failed marriages, domestic abuse, single-motherhood, and the deaths of two husbands, three sisters, many friends and now her little brother. I pondered the amount of tears she must have cried, and how she has sustained. I yearn for the determination she learned as a girl.

My determination thus far has landed me my first interview. Tomorrow, I will meet with members of the USDA regarding an assistantship program. I want to tell myself that I am nervous, but I refuse. When I begin to feel anxious, I remember the opportunity therein—all that I will take from the experience, regardless of its outcome—and my anxiety turns to excitement.

JoAnn sent me a timely letter of recommendation attached to an email with all of her latest and yet another opportunity. A firm in the Midwest has a job opening that she thinks would suit me well. I recently told myself that I will walk through every door that opens as I pursue my dreams. I see this as an open door and am fervently waiting to see what is on the other side.

I have kept myself busy and that makes the wait easy. I have picked up a side job shooting photography for a local performance horse ranch, attend weekly meetings for the California State FFA Conference Committee, and make a point to go to the gym twice a week. The work load for class is minimal. But the requirements are nothing short of enjoyment for me. I spend my mornings getting ready to the sounds of Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith are my motivation while I clean. Their music serves as a dual purpose. I receive therapy as I prepare for my exams.

Before we left town last Friday, I attended my music class. The instructor covered, in great detail, each of the aforementioned artists, sharing several pieces that tugged at my emotions. He ended our session by playing a Sinatra hit, “My Way.” Inspired, I kept my head down to hide the tears that filled my eyes as I packed my things to leave.

Billie Holiday also impacted me with her song, “Good Morning Heartache.” She captures the universal emotions that are all too often related to the loss of love. I remember something mom told me about my paternal Grandmother, from Missouri, after she died. The last thing Grandma Julie said to my mom on her death bed was, "You'ns love one another." The most important lesson we can learn from any circumstance in this life, is Love.

This concept has been a hard one for me to grasp, but I believe it is one I am learning. I wholeheartedly believe to love is to make a choice. True love is unconditional. It requires forgiveness. While I have been great at loving from a distance, I am in search for love that has no bounds.

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