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Grandma’s Feather Bed

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It could hold eight kids and four hound dogs
And a piggy we stole from the shed
We didn’t get much sleep but we had a lot of fun
On Grandma’s feather bed”

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Each week as I get myself into the mood for writing my blog posts, I sit and listen to a couple of music selections to summon the muse’s juice, the creative flow…

I’ll listen to some beautiful guitar music like Tommy Emmanuelle‘s Angelina, or Lady Antebellum‘s harmonic, banjo-laced Bartender, or John Denver‘s joyously enthusiastic Grandma’s Feather Bed.

This last song brought me around to thinking about grandparents, something  – sadly – I know little of.

Throughout my life when I’ve visited my grandparents, it’s been in a place of serene beauty and sleepy calmness.

You and I call it a cemetery.

Because of this, my life has lacked some of the colour that paints beauty on the canvas of our souls. I never snickered with my grandmother, or held a nail to assist my granddad build a birdhouse.

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While the concentric genealogy rings that radiate out from my grandparents are amazingly large and convoluted – there are descendants scattered in all directions like dandelion fluff in the wind – my own connection to them surprisingly feels real and flesh-like and personal like a private diary entry.

Weathered photos I view now bring the stillness and silence to life. These were real people… these were “my” real people.

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My Mom (bottom, centre) between her parents (my grandparents Maggie and Will) and “watermelon brothers” Lloyd and Clarence

Aside from one or two short early childhood visits I had from my paternal grandmother, Harriett, I never looked up at the face, heard the voice, or understood the demeanour of any of my grandparents.

I never played on Grandma’s feather bed.

All of my grandparents, except Harriett, were long passed by the time I arrived on the scene, so I never knew what I missed.

I never sat at the knee of my Granddad while he shared stories, or tales of wisdom gathered from a lifetime of joys and loves.  Never did I listen to the yarns of his hardships and struggles, those hard-earned everyday lessons that carry us over the stormy seas.

The only sense of grandparenthood I “enjoyed” was the embarrassment I felt when school chums errantly thought my parents – when they attended school functions –  WERE my grandparents. Yes, my mother was 45 and my Dad 50 when I was born, a more natural grandparent age. I was mortified. A child’s primeval thoughts.

I know my predecessors lived interesting but challenging lives. My grandparents lived through two World Wars and the Dirty Thirties, the Great Depression.

They survived a good portion of their lives in an era with little or no antibiotic therapy for infectious disease, no medications to manage pain effectively, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, no cars or airplanes, widespread child labour, high maternal and infant mortality, no voting or financial rights for women.

And as they aged, no doubt they lamented the passing of “the good ole days”.

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I never heard their stories in their own voices,  and unfortunately, stories about them weren’t shared much by my own parents, at least in my early recollection.

In the foreword to a family history book I edited and produced for a reunion in 2000, I wrote:

I regret that I was so young when my parents passed on, and that I wasn’t able to ask them all the questions that I’m now overflowing with. I want to know so desperately about the lives they led and the people they knew. I want to know about their parents and grandparents, and who they were as well.

I am frustrated that I, as children do, tuned out when they spoke of the days of their past, their memories and stories. They lived in another world and another time, and much of what they said and did is now gone from us all.

Today, I live with my own memories and I frequently “walk” through them, escaping to yesterday. The feel of the hardwood floors, the warmth of an open fireplace, the smell of cookies baking. These memories give me comfort because they are all I have of those days and my parents and my family at that time in our past. All of us live and “walk” through our memories of other times and places and receive comfort at times…

… I cannot turn the clock back, sit in a chair and make my grandmother or my mother be here with me and tell me the stories and memories that were important to them, now that I’m mature enough to sit and listen.

And yet, I still draw breath and I can draw together the pieces that I can find, add to that what I can recall as well as the insight and views of others who can remember, and give to those generations to come a feeling of their own past and a connection to it.”

Now, I don’t want to turn this post into a lecture at you, so let’s call it… an encouragement… yes, a signal or call to action. Sound the bugle!

If you have a parent or grandparent in your orbit with an active heartbeat, and still has a firm connection to their mental capacity… well… today is a good day to sit and have them share the moments of their past days with you. It can start with a simple question such as, “Who was your best friend as a kid Grampa/Dad?

Now, if they go rogue and unexpectedly veer off into uninhibited talk about their early sexual escapades (everyone has lurid scraps in their past!), try gently shifting the topic into an area such as gardening or canning peaches.

Or, if you’re really brave and have a strong stomach, well, dive right in, listen carefully and see if your own sexual deviances originate in an errant gene you picked up like a virulent bug.

You will learn about them and you will learn about you.

The passing of time brings change. It’s very foreign to me, but at the time of my Mom’s Mom’s passing, her casketed body was kept in the front room of the house for visitation of friends, neighbours, and family, and the funeral service was conducted there in the farmhouse in Hillsburg, Ontario.

Sure, different eras, but unchanged is the perennial belief in possibility… our grandparents were birthed and experienced their own childhoods clothed in a mantle of wonder and fascination, believing in the possible yet to come in their lives.

They too, like us, looked with excitement, and a little fear, toward future advancements and a world they knew was coming but couldn’t even imagine.

Hopefully they learned some lessons about the rhythm of life and living while snuggled safely under the blankets of their own Grandma’s feather bed.

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Are There Ghosts Living In Your DNA? … Song For A Winter’s Night …

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It was a rapturous moment … sitting in the just-darkened theatre.

The din of voices dimmed in harmony with the overhead lights.

As the light melted away, the honey-mellow sound of soft acoustic guitars rose like the swoosh of a hot air balloon lifting, and I felt that strange simultaneous mix of warmth and chill in those first melodic moments as I always do when I attend a concert.

Is there anything more soul-stirring than the first 30 seconds at the opening of a musical performance, whether rock, country, folk or classical?

It’s a mild, late fall evening on the western side of this rocky Canadian country and I’m listening – live for my first time ever – to the well-worn Canadian singer-songwriting icon named Gordon Lightfoot.

His voice is a wispy shadow of its original timbre – at least he sings on key, otherwise I’d go crazy – but the brilliance is buried inside his tones.

Lightfoot was a huge international phenomenon in the 1960’s and ’70’s with his lengthy song list that included The Canadian Railway Trilogy, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Sundown, Daylight Katy … and … Song For a Winter’s Night.

Song For A Winter’s Night is a metaphorical wonder of wintry snow and cold, and warm romance. True Canadiana.

There’s a lyrical beauty in it whether sung by Lightfoot himself or magically covered by another iconic Canadian, Sarah McLachlan.

I’m watching the stage, mesmerized, and as the song begins I silently ponder if the two versions could be pixie-dust consummated into a single duet akin to Natalie singing Unforgettable alongside her long-dead father Nat King Cole.

Gordon then

Gordie then…

 

SONG FOR A WINTER’S NIGHT

The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling
 
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
 
The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon each page
The words of love you sent me
 
If I could know within my heart,
that you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
 
The fire is dying now,
my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are lifting
The morning light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are drifting
 
If I could only have you near,
to breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
And to be once again with you
On this winter night with you
 
GordonLightfoot now

The same Gordie now …

Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

The guitars return it home to a hazy finish of sleigh bells and I find my head in fluffy clouds of musical thought.

It’s here where a part of our existence dwells in a log cabin in the backwoods of northern Ontario or standing on a breathless wintry Saskatchewan lake frozen over with rabbit and deer tracks criss-crossing the barren snow-covered distance.

We close our eyes, our minds drifting like smoke from a moonlit chimney with curlicues of wonder and memory.

Often, a song carries us to an emotion-laden time and place where we experience our senses overflowing, telling us of the smells and sounds of euphoric good times or maybe, the heartbreakingly not-so-good.

But sometimes, just sometimes, a song takes us on a journey into a story of our inner heritage and even though we may have never felt the soothing warmth of a fire crackling to comfort us, we know inside ourselves what it means. It’s as if a mystical seed has been planted in our brains, a historic reminder of where we originated, who we are.

Each and every one of us is a product of countless generations that lived and loved and struggled, so it only makes sense that tiny fragments of those lives reside inside our makeup.

We tend to think of ourselves as an amalgam of our Ma and Pa, and maybe sometimes we see our grandparents contributing to our mix.

Child-JigsawPuzzle

 

But in reality, we are a huge jigsaw puzzle constructed of genetic pieces going back centuries. A corner piece that is the unexpected curl in your hair may originate in Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma Elizabeth’s DNA, a pun-filled sense of humour the little piece that was your G-G-Granddad’s mischievous demeanour.

Don’t ask me how listening to a musical tune brings these thoughts floating to the surface. Is it possible that the past is reaching out to me? Is there something in the words and tune that reflects something existing deeper within the chasms of my core structure?

Perhaps Song For A Winter’s Night has unearthed a wistful story of the lives of a man and a woman in my distant DNA.

Each impatiently yearns for the time when they can once again find solace and warmth in the other’s arms after a lengthy separation because of war, religious differences, or difficult times. It’s a story that somehow developed without the modern interruptions and connections of motorized vehicles, cellphones, or eHarmony.

Gordon Lightfoot won’t be with us for a whole lot longer – yet his lyrical memory will wander the musical stage for generations.

But the dimensions and associations that originate in his words, his melodies, like so many other gifted artists, linger on in our DNA to be shared the next time you sit in a theatre and sweet notes float over you, caressing you like a gentle river.

Goodbye