Father’s Day, 2013. Dad’s been gone for 10 years but I still feel the hole in my heart. What keeps me going when days are rough is the sound of the mourning dove, a bird whose call he could perfectly mimic by cupping his hands and whistling through his thumbs. The mourning dove isn’t always around but seems to appear, oddly enough, on the windowsill at times when I need help the most. Strange. And most welcome.
Although, overall, I’d have to say I physically favor my mom’s side of the family, I AM my father’s daughter. I have his skinny ankles, miniature models of his hands (including the slightly twisted ring fingers), his nose, the twinkle in my eyes when I smile or laugh and his great head of wavy hair to prove it. But beyond the physical traits, it’s his spirit that I always felt most in synch with; his playful sense of humor and gift for telling stories, his ability; his need to entertain a room, his pragmatic way of looking at things, his stubbornness, the bug-eyed thing that always happened when someone annoyed him, his wonderful resilience and his love for music.
Dad loved us, Dad loved entertaining the room with his jokes, Dad loved having conversations through cupped hands with the mourning dove, Dad loved Christmas and Dad loved music. Dad loved music so much that it was always playing in the house. And it was always loud. And mom was always screaming for him to turn it down. And as my brother and I were growing up, he encouraged us to be open to listening to all kinds of music. But he didn’t just tell us to do it, he showed us how by listening to our music as well the music he loved best. He actually bought and listened to some of my favorite albums.
I remember days when, upon entering the hallway of the house, I’d hear “Statesboro Blues,” the first cut on the Allman Brothers’ “Live at Fillmore East,” blasting from our 1st floor apartment (cue music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNUbrhapPp4 ) in the house that dad worked so hard to buy.
I’d smile from ear to ear and open the door to see dad dancing and singing in the living room. Invariably he’d grab me by the hand, my books would fall to the floor and we’d swing dance to the Allman Brothers. He loved dancing, too and always looked great on the floor no matter who he was dancing with. On most days, at the end of the song, he’d say “One more once!” Which meant he liked the song so much, he wanted to listen to it one more time. It made my mother CRAZY when he did that. And, of course, he did it all the more. Normally there were multiple “one more onces” so you could expect something like ten more onces if the song was a great one like “Statesboro Blues” and he was rocking out. He LOVED that track (“Stormy Monday” was a close 2nd with, maybe, 7 more onces).
Then the disco wave hit and he discovered the Salsoul Orchestra’s Christmas CD, “Christmas Jollies.” OH NOOOOO!!! Christmas AND a “one more once?!?!?” We. Were. Doomed.
The first track, “The Christmas Medley,” was the favorite and if you’ve never heard it, here it is … and I DARE you to sit still … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYOT6ILyypo … PS I’m listening now and I still cry when it starts playing. During those disco days he did a mean Barry White imitation and also enjoyed AWB (the Average White Band).
Fast forward around 20 years or so. Vinyl was quickly being replaced by CDs, I’d finally accepted that I should have a computer in the house and mom and dad had moved to Ocala, Florida home of horses and sinkholes (and John Travolta). As part of their Christmas gift, I decided to send mom and dad a package of a few of their favorite albums on CD via Amazon.com. The package included Englebert Humperdinck and Celine Dion for mom and, you guessed it, “Live at Fillmore East” and “Christmas Jollies” for dad.
After pressing “place order,” I forgot all about it.
Until, that is, I got … the phone call.
I picked up the phone and heard this loud, unidentifiable ruckus. Thinking it was a prank call, I started to hang up and then heard a voice screaming “I GOT IT, I GOT IT!!! THANK YOU!!!” It was dad and he’d gone out to the garage to listen to “Christmas Jollies” on his car stereo. He was ecstatic. The volume was cranked up and I could hear him dancing (and smoking) as he listened (he smoked like a chimney but, because of mom’s COPD, he couldn’t smoke in the house). It was hard having them living so far away but the image of him with that big smile on his face and dancing made me smile. Mission accomplished. And, as we talked, there was a “one more once” of the “Christmas Medley” at least twice.
Fast-forward a few years to 2002. Mom’s health had started to decline. She’d had several stays in the hospital followed by rehabilitation in a nursing home and her prognosis wasn’t very hopeful. Whenever mom wasn’t home, which was becoming more frequent, household chores fell to dad who also had some health issues percolating. I tried to convince them to hire “Merry Maids” to help out but, being as stubborn and private as they were, there was NO way they’d allow strangers in to clean the house or take care of things so, when mom wasn’t around, dad did the cleaning … or not. As things worsened, I started making more frequent visits to Florida to help pick up the pieces.
In the summer of 2002 my visits would start to become more frequent; mom was now “on borrowed time.” In July she was back in the nursing home for an extended stay, Dad was on his own and school was out for summer so a trip south with some new music in hand seemed to be “what the doctor ordered.”
The new music that summer was Norah Jones’ first CD, “Come Away With Me.” It was one of my favorites and I had a suspicion that dad would like it too. He liked Ravi Shankar so Ravi’s daughter should be a hit. Plus the vibe of the music seemed like a fit.
As soon as I got to the house we shared hugs, I got the run down on the situation and then dad and I went to visit mom with me in the drivers’ seat; dad needed a rest. After telling him a little about Norah Jones, I popped the cd into the player. The first track, “Don’t Know Why” started playing and dad started screaming “OOOOOO I LOVE THIS SONG! I HEARD IT ON ‘THE WEST WING’ WHEN CJ WAS GETTING DRESSED FOR THE PARTY! THAT BASTARD IS GORGEOUS! AND THAT WAS A GREAT SCENE! I WAS TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT IT WAS! I LOVE THIS SONG!”
I knew exactly what scene he was talking about. I’d seen it as well and it WAS a great scene. But I’d forgotten “Don’t Know Why” was the background music until he was screaming about it. By the time he was done screaming, the song had ended and, as I expected (since he’d only heard the introduction) he said, “One more once” and I smiled. Mission accomplished.
We had as many “one more onces” as could fit into the 30-minute drive to the nursing home AND on the way home after the visit. And every day after that for my weeklong stay. I’m not sure that we ever listened to the rest of the CD. At one point, having grown really tired of that tune, I remember softly saying, “You know, Dad, the 2nd song is really nice, too.” It worked for a minute before we were back to “Don’t Know Why.”
That was the last “one more once” we shared but, as I said earlier, I am my father’s daughter. I have my own list of “one more once” tunes here in my little place in NYC and when I do the replay thing the words “One more once” in his voice, happily ring in my ears.
Thank you, Dad. For all the wonderful moments and the stories I can tell.
Epilogue: Dad was a practical joker. After he died and mom and I returned to NJ on the air ambulance, I brought the two CDs, “Live at Fillmore” and “Christmas Jollies” home with me. As I made arrangements for his wake and funeral I toyed with the idea of slipping a cd player in the casket and having a loop of “The Christmas Medley” playing during the visitation. I can only guess where that idea came from … and it made me laugh a little in the midst of the train wreck that would continue for the month ahead. I didn’t do it. But Dad would’ve loved it.
I AM my father’s daughter.