Tag Archives: Micro Memoir

(363) Don’t Fence Me In

When I was a kid, my dad gave me a record player and two 78 RPM records that I could keep in my bedroom.  I listened to these records over and over again. One was Jimmy Durante and the other was a western artist — Gene Autry or Roy Rogers most likely. That record had my favorite song: “Don’t Fence Me In.”  This was before I was allowed to listen to my dad’s stereo kept in his bedroom, where I later played The Music Man cast album over and over again. That is, until the Beatles hit the scene.

But when I was 4 or 5 years old, “Don’t Fence Me In” –written by Cole Porter — was one I listened to again and again. It is the reason I love western music. I recently downloaded a whole album of western songs sung by Emmylou Harris, although sadly, she didn’t do “Don’t Fence Me In.” The main lyric of the song really spoke to me as a kid. It evokes a real sense of freedom; it goes beyond being a cowboy. I think it is about losing yourself in the natural world with nothing to stop you, certainly a favorite activity of mine.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies,
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in

When I searched YouTube for the song, I was amazed at how many versions came up. Not just Gene and Roy, but Bing Crosby, the Killers, David Byrne, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr, and Bob Hope with the Muppets. By far, my favorite is the Ella Fitzgerald version. Not only is her voice wonderfully smooth, but she sings the complete lyrics, which is rare. “Don’t Fence Me In” is a narrative about Cowboy Kelley, who at the beginning of the song is about to be carted off to jail. Thus, he begins to sing the song to the sheriff. Later, he is being roped into marriage by his sweetheart. Okay, a bit sexist and cliche, I suppose, but still…

Here is Ella’s version with lyrics. Listen for yourself and see if it doesn’t take you somewhere far away, where there are no fences and no one to straddle you into situations you don’t want to be in!

 

 

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(357) Twilight Wine

It began the day I bought Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. It was April 2000, and my life was very close to changing drastically, as our move to Florida was right around the corner.

On this particular Saturday I had picked up the Davis CD at a good sale price. I had no idea if I would like it — I had just heard many times that it was very good. It was twilight, and I took a glass of wine and decided just to sit in my upstairs room alone and listen to the music, while I watched the changing light out my window.

I cannot really explain what happened. I’ve often likened it to a religious experience. This jazz music, created in 1959, moved me deeply. But not in a way I can put my finger on. All I know is that when it was done, something had moved inside of me.

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I tried to recreate the experience, but once something like this happens, it is hard to ever reinvent the the feeling. I still love listening to Kind of Blue, but it is always in the shadow of that first time.

Then last weekend I was talking to my music teacher, Tom, about writing songs. We discussed writing music and writing lyrics, the processes involved. Then he mentioned Kind of Blue. “Those songs don’t need lyrics,” he said. “It is all said in the harmonics and melodies of the music.”

Tom had named what I had been unable to verbalize. I was so stunned by what he said, I couldn’t even respond. That was what I had experienced. It is in the music. Words are not needed.

Somehow, during that Twilight Wine evening fifteen years ago, I heard all I needed to hear come through the currents and rhythms of a master and his band. When I said it was like a religious experience it is because it spoke to me on a level that I did not have direct access to. Trying to paint any fancy words on the experience diminishes it somehow.

So that’s it. Twilight, wine, and Miles.

Nothing more needs to be said.

(355)Miracle

It was a winter day in early 1992. I was driving my Buick Regal to a meeting across town. I was taking a two lane road that cut through a valley, which entailed going down a hill. Unfortunately, it had just begun to snow–the wet, slippery kind of snow. Salt trucks had not made it out yet, as they were quite good about getting the hill salted quickly in these kinds of circumstances.

When I got to the hill, I found myself in a line of traffic. Immediately I felt my car slip a bit, so I began to pump the brake. This is the recommended procedure. But it didn’t help. My car continued to slip and slide as I descended the hill. And then I realized my steering was not working. I found myself in the opposite lane heading for a collision with a pick-up truck. I was unable to do a thing. I was pumping the brakes like mad, to no result. Steering still was not working. I found myself suddenly back in my own lane (miracle!) and that is when I decided just to let it all go. I had this moment where I just gave it up to the Angels. If I plow into the guard rail, so be it.

Then I found myself at the bottom of the hill. My steering was reinstated. I had not crashed. I pulled over into the feed store parking lot, shaking profusely. I called Jim on my car phone (yes, I had one of those!) and related what happened. Neither of us could figure out how my steering had disengaged.  I felt the Angels had protected me.

About a year later, we visited a car show. My lease was going to be up, and I was shopping for a new brand. The big selling point for the cars was a thing called “anti-lock brakes.”  We spoke with a saleswoman at the Infinity dealership, and asked, “What’s the big deal with anti-lock brakes.” She explained that in unstable conditions, the brakes will lock up causing the steering to go out. Bingo!  That is exactly what had happened to me on that hill. The brakes and the steering were useless to me. When I stopped trying to steer and pump the brakes, my car was able to make use of those mechanics once again.

So, perhaps the entire event had nothing to do with angels, and more to do with technology. Still, I recall that moment of just giving it over, knowing anything could happen, and not having any attachment to the outcome as one of the most important moments of my life. I opened the door to a miracle. And I received.

(352) Angel

It was the summer of 1997, the month I was told I might have ovarian cancer. My friends and I had tickets for Lilith Fair, the first year, and nothing was going to stop me from being there. I recall Sara MacLachlan, Paula Cole, and Mary Chapin Carpenter were on the bill.  I don’t remember who else.

I was in the throes of getting several tests before my scheduled surgery, and the day after the concert I was to have a procedure.  I needed to be cleaned out for this procedure, so had to bring a huge plastic jug of stuff to drink while at the concert, in order to maintain the proper timeline. I was fortunate they let me into Blossom Music Center with the jug, as they were being very picky about what was being allowed into this outdoor venue.

At one point of the concert I left our seats and made one of many treks to the bathroom. I decided it would be better to park myself on the hilly grass rather than keep going back into the pavilion. The moon was out and Sara was singing. I didn’t know her music that well at this point. I rested on the grass, looking at the moon, and realized she was singing about an angel.

In the arms of the angel

Fly away from here…

You are pulled from the wreckage

Of your silent reverie.

You’re in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort there.

This was the first time I would hear her soon to be hit “Angel.” There, alone in my own reverie, future uncertain, I heard these words for the first time. And yes, I “found some comfort there.”

After my surgery, this was the first song I would have my friend play for me in my hospital room. I had brought my CD player with me specifically to listen to certain music that I believed was helping me heal that summer: James Taylor’s Hourglass, Sara’s Surfacing, and Gabrielle Roth’s Ritual.

Less than a year later, I would hear the song at a significant time. I had just left my father’s hospital room and was heading toward the parking garage. I had this thought that my prayer for him was to be in the arms of the angels, perhaps because the last prayer we had prayed together was the Guardian Angel Prayer. I heard “Angel” as I was getting on the highway.  Not long after I got home, I would get the call that he had made his transition.

Sadly, I feel “Angel” got overplayed, and it is really hard for me to hear it with any of the feelings I used to associate with it. Regardless, it is still a lovely song, and it helped me tremendously through a difficult time.

Here is a beautiful version with Emmylou Harris.

 

(349) Time and Distance

In 2007, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I produced a draft of a book, much of it set in Athens, Ohio. The problem was I hadn’t been to Athens since 1978.  I was going from pure memory.

My plan was to work on revising the novel, so when I made a trip to Ohio in 2008 I enlisted my niece Cheryl to be my tour guide around Athens. She graduated Ohio University in 2006, so had recent memories of the place.

On a beautiful late July day, we drove to Athens. Cheryl has a degree in Journalism and works as a writer, so she was the perfect companion to assist me in my writing project. We spent the day at the University and around the town. The locations of certain places were quite different than my memory had allowed, and Cheryl also introduced me to some places I wasn’t familiar with, like the unmarked graves of the patients of a former mental hospital, and the other graveyard with the angel statue that is said to cry real tears. All great stuff for my book.  I insisted we go to Stroud’s Run, a park that I recall going to for cook-outs when my boyfriend went to school at OU.

On the way home, we stopped in Columbus to catch up with her sisters Emily and Kim. All in all it was a great day.

And the novel — hasn’t been touched since. By the time I got home in early August school was starting once again. I did do some more planning work around the book, and I have my notes.  Not sure if or when I will ever get back to it.

Perhaps my inspiration is near.  I just found out that Cheryl will be in Florida next week, and we have plans to get together. As an active and paid writer in our family, she remains a kind of muse to me. Let’s see what happens once we get together again. I know that part of the process of writing involves time and distance, so I don’t feel bad about not pursuing the revision.  But now, as I sit and write this, I am thinking that perhaps there is more here for me to think about. So I will. Promise.

(347) Across the Borderline

My favorite Willie Nelson album came out in 1993. It was an album of covers, which many of his are, including “Graceland” and “Don’t Give Up” among them.  I’ve been listening to the CD in my car, and today the title song caught my attention: “Across the Borderline.”

 

As I listened to the words, I thought it was pretty ambiguous. Is the narrator talking about heaven or making or dreams come true?  It is all about loss and having to let go.  It talks about a “broken promised land.”

 

There’s a place where I’ve been told
Every street is paved with gold
And it’s just across the borderline
And when it’s time to take your turn
Here’s a lesson that you must learn
You could lose more than you’ll ever hope to find

 

When you reach the broken promised land
And every dream slips through your hands
Then you’ll know that it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you’ve paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline

 

But then the lyrics take a shift, and it seems to be talking exclusively about Mexicans crossing the border:

 

Up and down the Rio Grande
A thousand footprints in the sand
Reveal a secret no one can define
The river flows on like a breath
In between our life and death
Tell me who’s the next to cross the borderline En la triste oscuridad (In the sad darkness)
Hoy tenemos que cruzar (today we have to cross)
Este río que nos llama mas alla (this river which calls us further away)

*

This took me back to my classroom of 10th graders, March 2010. They were working on an immigrant project, and as part of the project they were to do panel discussions regarding their immigrant background. The Mexican group was most compelling because of a story by one young man: David. As he told the story of crossing the river, tears streamed down his face. They had to meet up with a man and his mother lost track of the group, got swept away somehow. She ended up having to walk ten miles in the desert to find them — how she survived such an ordeal, I’ll never know. The story had every single person in the classroom in tears. I know it had a lasting impact because at the end of the year when we discussed the favorite things about the class, that day stood out to many students. They had received a huge lesson in empathy and understanding for the plights and traumas of others…something we can all use a bit more of these days.

 

But hope remains when pride is gone
And it keeps you moving on
Calling you across the borderline

When you reach the broken promised land
Every dream slips through your hands
And you’ll know it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you pay the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline
Now you’re still just across the borderline
And you’re still just across the borderline

 

Songwriters: COODER, RYLAND PETER / DICKINSON, JAMES LUTHER / HIATT, JOHN ROBERT

 

 

 

(342) Empty Highway

I woke early that morning. Home alone because my husband worked nights, my typical routine was to have the clock radio wake me. I had on my t-shirt and sweatpants, as it was an unusually mild time for December in northeastern Ohio. I was on the floor stretching when I realized I had heard more than one John Lennon song in the time since I had gotten up. Then the radio talk finally filtered in and I caught the news — John Lennon had been murdered the night before.

At the time, I lived in a high-rise apartment building next to a shopping mall. A new highway was being built nearby and was basically finished, just waiting for the official opening. That morning I ran the paved path that paralleled the highway, the long stretch of solemn emptiness, feeling stunned at the violence and tragedy, feeling alone in the world. No one else was around. I was holding the news of John’s loss in my heart. I can still feel the damp air on my face and see the lights on the empty highway in that early morning darkness. I ran until I was out of breath.

And I don’t remember ever running there again.

 

(332) Magical Coin Purse

She had her own car. She had her own job. And most of all, she had that clear plastic zippered coin purse that always held an array of what seemed to be magical coins. This was the 1960’s when a nickel could get me a pretty nice candy bar. To see all that change in one place was enchanting. You didn’t even have to open it up — you could see what coins you had from the outside. How cool is that?

Of course, I didn’t realize that my grandmother worked in a factory at what was probably a pretty dull and/or back-breaking job, or that she was there because circumstances had forced her to work. I just knew that my mother — a housewife with no car or coin purses of her own — was in quite different circumstances. I know my mother had to cut coupons to scrape a little change for herself.  Five cents off a can of Ajax would be her pin money.

The difference between these two women had an effect on me even at a young age. Even though I always thought I’d grow up to be just like my mom, I think there was a secret wish to be more independent like my grandmother. And every time I think about this distinction, the first thing that comes to mind is that magical coin purse. It had an undeniable power that still speaks to the 7-year-old inside me.

(327) Cryptic Messages in Black Vinyl

It was the summer of 1975. I was lost in the country rock music of Pure Prairie League, The Outlaws, and the newly released One of These Nights by the Eagles. I had lost my brother in the spring, I had a boyfriend that was constantly teetering on breaking up with me, and I was unable to find a job since getting a certificate from a computer school. Things were just weird. On top of that, Jaws came out that summer making me afraid to go in the water even though I knew logically that there were no sharks in Ohio’s swimming holes or pools.

One hot August summer afternoon I was lazing around my room, listening to my music. I picked up the Eagles album from the record player to flip it over and I noticed something. It was a message scratched into the disc between the label and the grooves.  It said:

Don’t worry—

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I flipped it over and there I saw the rest of the message…

Nothing will be OK!

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Instead of seeing this as a message of despair, I saw it as the opposite. I laughed. It was like they were telling me to just get over the drama and get on with life. Which I did. Shortly after that I secured a job at Arby’s. It wasn’t what I went to school for, but it was something. It gave me money in my pocket and a purpose to get up each day.

Today, revisiting this album to take pictures for the blog, I found this song “I Wish You Peace” which ends the album. Damn, it is beautiful. And I know we all need it right now.

When storms are high

and dreams are low

I wish you the strength

to let love grow…

(326) Rebel Yell

Life comes with a series of passages. Some we recognize because they are grand and glorious — like high school graduation. Others are more subtle, almost hidden. These are the necessary losses and gains we traverse as we struggle through each decade. Today’s micro memoir is about one such subtle passage.

In the 1980’s I loved Billy Idol — so much so, that we went to see him at Music Hall in downtown Cleveland in the winter of 1984.  It was a bitter cold night, and I wore my blue fox jacket with my jeans because that’s how I rolled. Jim came straight from work and was dressed in gray flannel slacks and a camel jacket. When we got to Music Hall, security was checking everyone; I guess because this concert was considered on the “punk” side, they were worried about objects being thrown. We waited in line as they checked bags and coat pockets. When they saw us, the security guard said, “Come on in.” No check. We just walked right on in based on our appearance.

All I recall about the concert is that I loved the sound and the energy. Billy is a true showman. But at the same time it left a lasting impression in more ways than one. We were seated in the center lower balcony, and Billy kept being backlighted — brightly.  Those glaring lights pierced my eyes repeatedly, leaving a sandy feeling for a few days afterward.

I also knew that something else had changed. From now on I could be viewed as a “responsible” adult — one that wouldn’t cause a problem at a rock concert. I was too respectable to be a punk or a rebel. If that isn’t a right of passage, I don’t know what is.