From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Closer and Closure

Music moves us, and we know not why; we feel the tears, but cannot trace their source. Is it the language of some other state, born of its memory?

Letetia Elizabeth Landon

Hardware. Replacement parts. A man’s domain of shiny knobs, hinges and screws. I eased uncomfortably around the display in the aisle.

I heard, “Can I help you, ma’am?” Brushing a hand over his fringe of cottony hair, the clerk looked up again. “Say, aren’t you one of Mac’s daughters?”

I nodded.

“Sorry I couldn’t make it to his funeral. Sure will miss him. He liked to stop in each time he drove your mom to her volunteer shift at the hospital. Just to shoot the breeze, you know.”

I knew. Daddy loved people, sharing with them, helping them.

“Say, don’t think I’m weird or anything, but Mac came to me in a dream the other night.”

I lowered my eyes.

“Yeah, well . . . sure will miss him.” He cleared his throat and glanced away.

What had made me seek out the hardware store? I wondered hours later as I headed back to Colorado from Kansas. Closure? Or was the better word “closer”? Maybe simply to feel near Daddy just once more by prowling one of his favorite places?

His unexpected death left me reeling, feeling fragmented, incomplete. Now I recognized a new emotion creeping in: jealousy. Envy that a near stranger had dreamed about my daddy, felt close to him. Why not me, God? I feel cheated. I just need . . . something, anything, a second chance to say good-bye.

Blinking away treacherous tears, I steadied the steering wheel and turned on the car radio, searching for music to keep me alert on the long and lonely drive home. An “oldies” station played “Goodnight, Sweetheart” and I sang along. “ . . . Although I’m not beside you, still my love will guide you . . . “ I choked out the words.

I want him back, God. I need him to be part of my life, I thought.

I had been away six weeks, helping with the funeral and settling my mother. Back in Colorado, I tried piecing together my old routine. Eagerly, I reclaimed my longtime volunteer work at a local nursing home. It was a safe place to both give and receive love.

Although I hadn’t inherited his talent, I certainly had acquired Daddy’s love of music—and the powerful desire to share it. Playing the piano and leading the music midweek in a casual sing-along never failed to lift my spirits. A genuine love for each of the elderly residents radiated joy in my life.

However, there were some songs I avoided. Songs I had heard over and over again until the words were a part of my heart and mind: “Green Grow the Lilacs,” “Now Is the Hour” and “Moon River.” And, of course, there was Daddy’s all-time favorite, the hauntingly tender “Oh, Danny Boy.” Songs that reminded me of him serenading us during the lazy Sunday afternoon car rides of my youth. Songs that painted powerful portraits of Daddy with his harmonica. The memories were tender. And precious.

So I surprised myself that day at the nursing home when I pulled out the dog-eared sheet music for one of Daddy’s more rollicking choices, “Shoo-fly Pie.” My fingers flicked out the light melody. “Do any of you recognize this one?” I began to sing.

Falteringly, by ones and by twos, age-rusted voices joined mine. Their words rattled like corroded screws in a battered cigar box. But as creaking memories hinged open, the song gained strength.

And then I heard it: Daddy accompanying me on his harmonica. The lively strains, the breathy notes, even his upper and lower dentures clacking a syncopated rhythm all their own against the shiny metal of his best “mouth organ.” His presence was real. Tangible. I could feel him standing right beside me. He was with me. He was part of me.

Eyes swimming, voice cracking, I sang haltingly to the song’s end. Limp-wristed, I paused to let the merry music wash over me, to save and savor the last lingering notes, to preserve the sacredness of both the moment and the memory.

Then I swiveled around on the walnut piano bench and came face-to-harmonica with matted-haired, pajama-clad Paul. The snaggle-toothed new resident grinned and wheeled closer. Broad fingers fumbled with an oversized red harmonica. A trembling hand tapped out the spit against his thigh.

“How’s about we try another?” Paul cackled and lifted the harmonica.

My heart sank. So much for a touching, spiritual moment. Swiping at my damp cheeks, I took a deep breath, closed the sheet music and put it beside me on the bench.

Then, I glanced around the wheelchair-lined room where aged human beings—dented and scarred—were parked bumper-to-knee, like idling taxicabs waiting at a busy airport. There was blind Alma, well-groomed Irene, pain-filled Eleanor, Jim and Hazel and Florence . . . row after row of the people I loved. All of them waiting patiently, expectantly, for me to lift their spirits with another song. And I smiled—inside and out—right into Paul’s grizzled, grinning face.

So we made music together: Paul with his harmonica, me with my piano, and all of us singing and winging our way through the sunny autumn afternoon. I knew I didn’t need a momentary sign or vision. Daddy was as much a part of each note as he was a part of me. That was better than a final good-bye.

For the last song that day, I chose the melancholic and gently lilting strains of “Oh, Danny Boy.” My daddy’s favorite.

Carol McAdoo Rehme

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