Dad led me there. I know that now. I had gone back to Illinois for a couple days, back to my roots, to the remnants of family still there.
On a wet, early Memorial Day morning, Dad requested that we visit my mother’s grave. I complied, feeling a sense of obligation to them both.
Dad seemed determined to reunite us at the grave site. I never really knew my father except through my mother’s perceptions and judgments.
There was a family tradition of an annual pilgrimage every Memorial Day to our relatives’ graves. We always packed a spade, bucket, and scrub brush and stopped by the open market for flowers for the gravesite.
I watched the annual ritual of my parents filling the bucket from the nearest pump and scrubbing the flat headstones until the inscriptions could be seen.
As the years passed, the graves seemed harder to find, overgrown under unkempt grass with weeds sunken below the mowing level.
Dead people I had never known were conjured from memories. I was linked to these family ghosts by my mother’s stories and recollections. Over the years, I felt as if I came to know them, and they were no longer strangers.
Today my father and I stopped at a small flower stand near the cemetery. The plant selection was limited to a few shelves of drooping flowers.
Drizzle spattered mud on the leaves. I pruned off the dying petals and soggy leaves to make them more presentable. As always for these occasions, Dad brought a bucket, brush and spade along.
It was eight years since my mother’s funeral, the last time we were all together. At that time I was unable to cry. She had died when my life was coming apart; and I was experiencing another death, my divorce.
But today was different. I couldn’t seem to stop my tears. I couldn’t even speak as I watched my father clear away the debris and clean the gravesite the way I remembered it from so long ago.
As I planted, he spoke of coming to my mother’s grave often to talk to her. He told me that no one would ever stand up for him like my mother did.
He never said he loved her. In fact, he said he was happier with his new wife.
I couldn’t reply. Once again I was in the middle between them.
And then he told me something I never knew… he was always lonely with my mother.
In the quiet rain, I heard his pain and regrets as he apologized, saying there were things he shouldn’t have done and was sorry for.
Could my mother hear him? Did it take this long for there to be peace? He told my mother and me as we completed the gravesite ritual together for the last time.
It was a moment of truth at my mother’s grave and the beginning of forgiveness. It was the day I got to know my father a little better.
Has music ever taken you back to a place and time, a sort of jukebox of memories that the music brings back as if it were just yesterday?
Sweet music evokes sweet memories.
There seem to be songs attached to moments in our lives that conjure up those unforgettable memories we've stored in our hearts and minds of people and places that we carry with us forever. All it takes is a few notes and we're there.
As I listened to the solo clarinettist masterfully hit the notes so perfectly at the public symphony, I flashed back to when I took up the clarinet because of a handsome Irish boy who played in the school band and whose auburn-haired, freckled sister was my best friend.
The clarinettist's notes transported me to seventh grade and my struggles with the instrument's reed and intricate fingerplay as I tried to hit the notes correctly. My motivation to play was Michael, who didn't seem to know I existed.
I was a gawky, shy girl with a secret crush on a tall, proud boy who was, unbeknowst to him, my Prince Charming, standing proudly in his sky blue and white, satiny band uniform.
It helped that my grandfather found a used clarinet and a music stand (to make it official) at a local pawnshop. Grandpa would have preferred for me to learn to play the piano like my grandmother, but there was no room in our tiny apartment. So it had to be the clarinet.
Unfortunately, hard as I practiced, I had no musical talent. The sounds I created were squawky and screechy; and though I played "I Am a Happy Wanderer" over and over, it never got better. The neighbors in the old Chicago apartiment building didn't complain about my rehearsals, at least not openly.
I had the uniform, the instrument, sheet music and stand, but I clearly was not musically inclined.
However, to be near my secret crush, I continued to faithfully practice "Edelweiss" until I was out of breath, and my cat hid under the bed.
Needless to say, I never got the boy, who didn't even notice me; I don't think we ever had a conversation. He had no idea how I fantasized about our holding hands and my being his girlfriend.
I did look the part in my blue and white cape and marched with the others to the school assembly performance, probably sounding like a scene from The Music Man.
The next year we moved to the suburbs, and the clarinet was put to rest in its weathered case. I never played it again, and no one seemed to mind.
Erana Leiken, principal of Tiger Marketing, is a marketing and PR consultant and freelance writer. She also teaches communication courses at the University of Phoenix and Web marketing and interactive content for the Art Institute of Phoenix.
Formerly an NBC reporter, magazine editor, and Web business writer, she is writing creative nonfiction and doing Web consulting. See www.tigermarketing.com.