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.