Do, do, do, do, do remember me.

I sat in the audience in the school gymnasium with all the other parents, eagerly waiting to watch my eldest child, Short Stack, take the stage with his class. It was the spring concert and my little boy was about to do what he loves: preform. I wouldn’t say that he’s really a show off, but he does loves the chance to do what he can do for an audience, especially if he’s worked hard at it. Especially, if he can sneak in a little flourish here and there.

Okay, maybe he is a bit of a show off. It’s always a good show with Short Stack

Lulu Belle, his younger sister sat as patiently as a five year old could in my lap. I didn’t admonish her incessant wiggling because I understood what she was going through. If Short Stack’s love for performing was likened to the fire of a lamp, hers is a volcano lighting up the sky. For her, kindergarten doesn’t start until next fall, and she understands that her time to be in the lime light will come, but in the mean time, the pressure she must have to exert on her impulse to run up, front and center, must be like the pressure behind the little Dutch boy’s dyke.

Wiggle, wiggle.

Short Stack had been practicing with his class for some time and he hand given my wife a sneak peek performance a few days before in our living room, but I sadly have to admit that I was distracted with any number of household duties at the time and had listened with only half a ear from the kitchen. I registered his little voice singing in the background, but the lyrics had drifted through my head and directly out the window before I had a chance to gather them up and file them away. I was eager to hear them again with all my attention focused on him. All I could remember was that he had told me the first song would be, “Rocky Mountain High.” In my mind, a vision of John Denver, crooning and strumming, leapt to the fore. What could be cuter than kids singing John Denver?

I don’t know either.

What I do know is that it didn’t turn out to be John Denver.

As his diminutive class took their postitions on the risers at the front of the stage, the music director gathered together their attention such that any one can, and set the pitch. Then they began to sing.

Rocky mountain, rocky mountain, rocky mountain high.

When you’re on that rocky mountain, hang your head and cry.

Do, do, do, do, do remember me. Do, do, do, do, do remember me.

Sunny valley, sunny valley, sunny valley low.

When you’re in that sunny valley, sing it soft and slow.

Do, do, do, do, do remember me. Do, do, do, do, do remember me.

Stormy ocean, stormy ocean, stormy ocean wide.

When you’re on that stormy ocean there’s no place to hide.

Do, do, do, do, do remember me. Do, do, do, do, do remember me.

It is obviously a very old song and each verse came with hand gestures to hammer the points home. The crying on the rocky mountain was traced with a finger from their eyes, down their little, round cheeks and in the sunny valley, heads were hung and they sag to their feet. The literal choking point for me was on the stormy ocean, though. As this group of six and seven year olds sang of the horrors of being caught in a violent storm at sea, they covered their faces, fingers up, palms pressed against their eyes. My vision got a little blurry at this point, so I’m a touch vague on any further visuals I might have missed.

I’m an overly empathetic person at heart, and I know this well. For whatever reason, it’s always been a tendency of mine to dive into the history of things and imagine the situation of those who set that particular bit of the past into motion. When I walk through an old house, I inevitably wind up noticing some small detail, a decorative bit of molding or the head of a square cut nail, and I wonder who put it there. What did they look like? Was it the homeowner? Who struck that nail struck home? It can instantly transport me back to a time a hundred or more years ago and I feel like a ghost, watching silently and undetected over the shoulder of a hunched figure, dutifully working away to complete whatever project it might have been. I don’t know why, but it’s what my mind tends to default to. Add to that my love of history and a possibly unhealthy obsession with trying to do things the old way my self, and it all equals to me sort of living in the past quite a good deal of the time. I quite like it there, even if it seems to unexpectedly smack me in the face with melancholy every once in a while. It can be powerful stuff.

Two more songs were sung by his class, though I can’t remember just now what they were. That first one had deeply taken root and held my mind fast. I enthusiastically applauded with the other parents and welcomed Short Stack to the empty seat I had saved for him next to me and we watched the rest of the performance as the other grades cycled though, each with three songs of their own. It was an enjoyable time and the children all looked justifiably proud. We were all proud, parents and children, alike.

That song though…

Over the next few days, I caught myself humming it as I bustled about doing various chores and even singing it outright as I made dinner. This never failed to catch the attention of Short Stack and he would remark on it. Not in an accusatory way, but more in the astonishment that he could have taught me a song that so struck me.

“Dad.” A big smile crosses his face. “what song are you singing?”

About a week later, I found my self in the unusual situation of having some time to burn in town, and today I had planned for it. There is a very venerable cemetery here in Portland, which contains all that remains of many of the founding families from the settlement era of our coastline, and that was where I headed. There are Longfellows buried here. Those Longfellows. There are innumerable captains, and of not just sailing vessles of trade, but captains of warships and crew members too. Their stories are caved in slate, quarried hundreds of years ago and patiently hand lettered and inscribed with their names and duties. There are a lot of stories in there. Every stone stands as a monument to another story. Knowing them is the hard part.

Some years ago, I had discovered head stones bearing the same surname as my own, and I had made it a point to do some care for them. I plant flowers in the fall so that they may bloom in the spring. I make note of any deterioration and do what I can to mitigate it. Today, I had brought a pair of hand shears to clear the grass that grew tall against the faces and backs of the grey stones.

Snip, snip.

As I knelt, back hunched to the sun, I grabbed the grass in tufts and carefully cut it away in long strokes. Without warning, the song came back to my lips in a hum.

“Do, do, do, do, do remember me.”

Glancing around to make sure I was alone with my ancient company, I decided that singing was better. What, after all, could be a more fitting song? So, I sang, quietly of course, but still, it felt good to say the words, if not a trifle sad as well. To be fair, I don’t remember these people. I’m not even sure if they are relatives or not. I do know that my kin came from this general area, but on the coast, there was always a lot of migration of people and whole families.

They might not be any relation at all.

Honestly though, I don’t care. They are family to me.

Here, laying in this ground before me, is all that remains of some who had climbed mountains, crossed valleys and, since one is a sea captain, even ridden on oceans packed high with angry, white toped waves. They had all left family either though immigration or mortality and due to the confines of the era, had to rely on memory alone to visit them again. No photographs. No telephone calls. No quick visits from a hundred miles away. Choices were more permanent back then, much like the slate they used to mark the passing of soul.

Who knows how long these particular stones have stood unattended? A hundred years or more of grass grown high and unkempt seems likely and I can’t help but think about that as I clear away the weeds and timothy. Who held onto the tops of these stones when they were first planted so that they may refresh the memories of those now buried beneath them? They too are long gone now

I’ll remember them now, to the extent that I can. Keeping the plots clean and kept is a duty I happily take on and my children, always looking to be a help to daddy, happily join in with the quick and easy task when they join me.

Finished with both the song and my clipping, I look down with a smile at the neat job the shears had done. In a sea of overgrown grass, it stands out as an island of order and I feel proud. I wonder who these possible family elders of mine were and what they looked like. What did they talk about? Whom did they enjoy to speak with? A favorite food, a often told joke or even, were they happy with their lives? Some hundreds of years later, who can say? What I can do is remember to remember them. I’ll stop by when I can and neaten things up, plant more flowers and show my kids, again, where the stones stand in the crowded jumble of lost memories and relatives that reside there, faces grey and hard in the summer sun.

Here, there are stories to be found. All we need to do is look for them and then, if the story is discovered, share it. Tell your children and their children. Write it down and show anyone with an interest. Let it live on past your own memory so that we all have a chance to remember.

Do, do, do, do remember me.

Tickets, please

“Hey Kiddo, I have an idea.”

My wife audibly sucked in her breath on the other end of the phone. She’s used to my “ideas” and to her credit, lets me try a fair number of them. The ones that I think wouldn’t pass her scrutiny, I tend to start first and tell her about later… If they work.

“What’s your idea?”
“Do you want to see a show? I’m looking at two seats to see David Sedaris, live. They’re front row, center, balcony.” I held my breath. I love David Sedaris and the chance to hear him read his stuff in person sounded like a lot of fun.

“When is it and where?”

This was tricky. Not only was the show soon, but it was also a two hour drive away. If we were going to be going to see the performance, it would require kid watching.

“Well, it’s on a Thursday and it’s a drive. I think we can pull it off though. What do you say?”

Silence. Then, “Well, if you think we can swing it… Sure. It would be great to get out and do something fun.”

Gleefully, I hung up the phone and punched my credit card number into the computer, reserving two fantastic seats. We were going out. No, not merely out, we were going out to see a show! After nearly three years of small children, the prospect of going out to see something live made me giddy. Though I love my children with all my heart, I’m pretty sure that since Short Stack joined us in 2006 we have seen exactly three movies, gone out to dinner as a couple no more than five times and gone to see a live performance, zero. There’s a song written by the musician Jonathan Coulton that explains this the best I’ve ever heard it put. He wrote it for his first child when she was born and it’s titled, “You Ruined Everything in the Nicest Way” I find the accuracy of that song to be dizzying. But, hey! We were finally going out! This was going to be fun.

hands

I knew that making this happen was going to require some juggling. For starters, the show didn’t begin until eight o’clock. With an almost two hour car trip to get back home, that meant we were looking at eleven-thirty to midnight for our return time. The added rub is that we wouldn’t actually be home. We’d be close but barred from making the last leg. The problem is, we live on an island. It’s not a very big island and it’s not too far off the mainland, but it is surrounded by water and you do need a boat to get you there. We own no boat and every time a storm blows up, I’m eternally grateful for that fact. It does, however, make us dependent on the ferry and the ferry does not run all night.

So, we wouldn’t get to go home, but that’s not the end of the world. A ways down the coast, my Grandfather has a place and as luck would have it, it would be empty on the dates around the show. Now I had a place to go but needed kid watchers. What I needed were parents. Luckily, I have those too! My folks love to be with their grandchildren and watch them most weekends while I try to do industrious things to the house with spinning saws and overpowered drills. Action Girl works Saturdays and Sundays, so if I’m going to be loud and lumber minded, someone’s got to sit on the children. My folks enjoy this and have gotten comfortable watching two munchkins. What they haven’t done is watch them over night and frankly, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Lulu Belle is still a wee-critter and gets up two to four times a night and while Short Stack will sleep right through MOST of the time, if something goes wrong, having both kids up and unhappy at three in the morning is just miserable. So, the plan goes thus:

1: Bring kids to my Grandfather’s house on the mainland.
2: Meet my folks there.
3: Go to show
4: Return to Grandfather’s and spend the night.
5: Go home to our island in the morning.

Perfect!

You know where this is going, don’t you?

The first fly in the ointment was that I’m bad at paying attention. I had gotten the date of the show wrong. As things turned out, if I had actually read it correctly, I would have noticed that it took place two days earlier than I had planned. The next problem was that Action Girl worked that day. She would have to take personal time to make it. Then there was the fact that my parent’s couldn’t watch the kids on Tuesday so I’d need to find a sitter. Then, the last straw was the weather. Snow was forecast, and a lot of it too boot.

I gave up. It wouldn’t happen. If it were just me, I probably would have pushed on through sheer bloody-mindedness and testosterone poisoning but with Action Girl giving me “the look”, I admitted defeat. Now I need to find a buyer for my two wonderful tickets.

Anyone on the island would have the same problem that we had. They wouldn’t be able to get home, so I knew that it would be a long shot. Surely, someone would know someone else and a buyer found. I put out the word and called all my friends who were likely suspects. Nothing. No takers anywhere. Lots and lots of them WANTED to go, but for one reason or another, no one could. I heard a lot of, “Aw, MAN!”s. It was time for Craig’s List. The tickets were offered for face value and I waited for a bite. And waited, and waited. The show was just a few days away now. It was really quiet out there. I had one nibble, but no bites.

It would have been a crime to let the seats go unwarmed by someone’s butt and when a friend who had to pass on the tickets her self, called with a lead, I jumped on it. Her roommate would love to see the show. The problem was, being a poor graduate student she was broke. Was I still interested? With a small wince and a thought about this being the Christmas season, I said, “yes”

As it turned out, her roommate wasn’t just happy, she was ecstatic. In our phone conversation, she told me about how things had been going so miserably wrong for her the last month. There had been few bright spots and mostly trial after trial, capped off with the fact that he car had just died and needed to go into the garage. This was the first thing that had gone right for her in weeks. I smiled, told her where to meet me the next morning and packed the tickets in my bag.

The next day, we rendezvoused and I handed over my dream of a night out with my wife to a stranger who had been beaten down by life of late. She was gleeful, thankful and promised me Christmas cookies, banana bread and a piece of her artwork just as soon as she could make it. With a big hug and a “Merry Christmas” she just about danced off in the freshly falling snow.

I hope she has a great time at the show. I’m betting she will. I’m out the money, but honestly, I feel pretty good. It is Christmas, after all.

I will, however, do my best not to notice when eight o’clock on this Tuesday rolls around.

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