Grace Notes

Today Pro and I went to the funeral of our neighbor, Farmer Luck, who successfully made it to his 86th birthday last month. The thing that stood out most during the service was the music. In spite of my very country upbringing, this was the first time I’ve ever heard bluegrass music at a funeral. It turns out that Farmer Luck played the banjo back in his day and the music was in his honor.

During the funeral, those banjos pulled emotions out of me that I had buried. As a white-haired man with crevices in his voice pulled notes from the strings and belted out a plaintive song, I saw my own father, from the country, himself a lover of banjos. I heard creek babbling and wind noises from the woods I played in when I was small. I saw visions of ferns by the spring, Granny Mozelle’s fingers, curved by arthritis. The banjos evoked so many memories and forgotten feelings!

The banjos talked to each other and to us and I sat there enthralled. Hymns must have been Farmer Luck’s favorite music; he did play banjo at church all those ages ago. I noted to myself that a banjo might not be the first instrument I think of when I think of hymns. The sound of a banjo is distinctively strong; notes are struck, plucked, loud. And without some padding in between the notes, the melody would stand out too stark. Too staccato. Which is why grace notes were invented!

So today at the funeral, when the banjos were wrenching emotions from my very gut, my mind was on Dot, who lost her partner of 62 years. I imagined how tomorrow morning, for her, will be so different from this morning. Tomorrow will be quiet and still, without the benefit of getting ready for the funeral. The photos of her and sweet Farmer Luck, that sat on the casket, will return to the living room as paper-metal-glass reminders of what is now missing. And Farmer Luck’s camel-colored easy chair will be empty when sunlight hits the fabric and remain so until darkness comes. “Do you want grits this morning?” she might ask from the kitchen to the empty chair, out of habit. And midway through that question, she will realize that she is talking only to air and her lungs will feel like they are being sucked as flat as a vacuum pack. And she will sit in her beautiful kitchen and cry to herself, amid two plates and the double breakfast she accidentally cooked.

The banjos made me think of the structure of life after someone we love had died. Yes, life goes on. We step from one single note to another, like stepping stones. Or milestones. We make it, we live. But to live fully, we need the grace notes, those notes whose purpose is to be extra, to give beauty. Grace notes. That’s what I wish now for Dot.


Loving Things

LAST YEAR, SOME OF THE LADIES IN MY FAMILY CAME TO my house for an intervention of sorts. My craft room had become the receptacle for all the stuff I hadn’t had the heart to sort through over the years. It was a 12-foot by 12-foot landfill of memories and chaos. I was on the cusp of turning fifty years old and my mother (Jeanie), my sister (Pixel), and my sister-in-law (Asa) came for several sessions of sorting, shoveling, and destruction.

Pixel told me it was an intervention. “But I don’t need an actual intervention,” I argued; “I am ready to clean out that room—so it’s just help, not an intervention.” Still, she guarded me as she and the others poked things in my face just long enough for me to decide which pile to put the things. They forced a quick decision because they feared that otherwise, the job would take forever or get derailed. Pixel moved quickly because, as she said, “You make attachments to things.”

The room was such a mess because it had never not been a mess. I got divorced in 2008 for the second time and I moved to this house. Anything that was too painful to go through, I put in the craft room. This included old photographs (which I still haven’t sorted through); craft materials I used to use when I had my design business; and computers and back-up drives with clients’ Web sites and graphics on them. When I got divorced, I didn’t have the heart to continue the business. Of course this was made easier by the downturn in the rubber stamping and scrapbooking industry at the end of 2007 (boutique craft stores that had been my wholesale customers were going out of business left and right). Afterwards, just sitting at the computer I had used during that marriage was painful.

After seven years I really was ready to go through that old stuff and get the room organized; I just needed a spark to get me started, then the aid of other people’s energy, some vicarious get-up-and-go. In the past five years or so, I have had issues with low psychological energy. I blamed perimenopause (this was a year ago, before I had Asperger’s Syndrome).

It’s been a year since the intervention that saved me from becoming a hoarder and—being a person who analyzes and reanalyzed old thoughts—I’ve thought a lot about whether I make attachments with things or not. Yesterday I found a small plastic box that used to house a pair of mini mag lights. It is the size of a small pencil box and that’s how I used it for the seven years it took me to get my four-year degree. When it turned up out of the blue, my first thought was, “My old friend!” I feel the same about the pair of ear plugs that went into that black case for when I needed to block out noise during classes or during exams. Somehow they got separated from the little black box and I feel a bit of separation anxiety.

So I would have to say Pixel was right.