Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Glads for mom

A lot of my family's time this week is being spent remembering my mom and also, I think, dreading tomorrow which marks one year since she passed. 

I believe that everyone's essence is in their personalities not their bodies. So for me, I feel like today is more of the anniversary I've been dreading since the day before she died was the last time we had a conversation.

Last week I was out shopping and came upon a bin filled with different colored gladiolus bulbs. I was struck by them since that was my mother's favorite perennial. My great aunt and uncle were really into glads (as mom always called them), so much so that they had huge gladiolus gardens around their house.

Mom just fell in love with the flowers and so they would invite her over to pick as many as she wanted to bring home. She loved all varieties of colors and would make a beautiful arrangement with them, admiring them as long as they lasted in their vase. Mom looked forward to gladiolus season every year and could never drive by them without commenting on their beauty.

As I stood in the store I reminded myself that I've never had luck with bulbs in my yard. I think the moles use them as late-night snacks since I lose more every year. But with glads you dig them up every fall and replant them in the spring. So maybe this would work.

I picked out a variety of colors and brought the bulbs home. This week I will find the perfect spot for them and plant them in my yard. 

I will honor her memory as I plant them, enjoy their beauty when their season comes, and return them to rest in the winter. I'll remind myself that a great love is always there. Sometimes it blossoms and sometimes it sleeps. But it never really dies.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I got the music in me

I had a follow-up appointment with the shoulder surgeon yesterday and he was trying to get a feel for whether I was returning to my previous activities. 

Doc: Do you play golf?
Me: No, I play guitar.

When I was in high school, I wanted to be a folk star. Most kids probably dream of being rock stars, but not me. 

I wasn't inspired to play and sing because of the Beatles like a lot of people in my generation. I was inspired by John Denver and his acoustic guitar. He also sang in my key making it easy for me to sing along. 

When I was young, my mother insisted I take piano lessons. We all did, though none of us kept it up. The lessons helped me understand more about music and music composition and for that I was grateful.

But it was hard to play piano in the living room when everyone was watching tv. And when I got into my teens, I wanted to be in my room by myself more anyway. So the guitar was also a great solution to my music yearnings while still giving me the space I needed.

My folks gave me a "starter" guitar for Christmas when I was 16. Next to my engagement ring 12 years later, it was the best gift ever. I immediately signed up for guitar lessons at the Andover YMCA. 

We learned how to strum in different rhythms and finger pick. The instructor also taught us all the major chords we would find in most songs. I played and played until my finger tips bled. But once I got the callouses going, the pain went away and I was able to focus on switching quickly between chords and then switching without having to look at my fingers. 

I got a bunch of songbooks (John Denver's was, of course, first on the list) and played songs until I knew them without looking at the music. My guitar came with me to college where I would sit on "the quad" and play and sing for my friends. It also came with me to the beach in the summer when the gang would build a fire in the dunes at night and sing Beatles songs.

Because I was an English major, I started writing poetry and then putting the poetry to music. I wrote some pretty good songs and a friend asked me to record them in his basement studio. Friends added background harmony and instruments. They were pretty sappy songs but I still think they were quite good.

After I was married, I joined the church folk choir where the choir director liked my stuff and had me do quite a bit of playing and singing. She and I also did a St. Paddy's Day gig where I learned traditional Irish folk songs that I perform today.

For many years, I got too busy to take time at night to play - and sing. I actually like to play mostly so that I can sing along. Singing is a bigger love of mine than guitar. Strangely, I sing better while playing, probably because I'm so focused on playing the correct chords that I can relax and not over-think the vocals.

These days I play and sing in church at our circle worship services at night, often with my friend Will on piano and voice (see video above).

Music brings so much joy and, when needed, comfort to others that it's hard to imagine my life without it. When I was in a chorale that went to nursing homes on Saturdays, I saw just how much music lifts us up and takes us back to times of great emotion - happy or sad. No matter how long ago those times happened.

My guitar playing might not be Hendrix-like and my voice certainly isn't as good as Denver's but it brings me a lot of happiness. And when someone asks what I play, I still get a thrill out of answering, "Guitar."