There are some things that are just forever attached to certain people. Peanut butter cookies, for example, will always remind me of my grandmother. She made other kinds of cookies– as did many other people, but as a child I only ever had peanut butter cookies with her. Years after she passed, I discovered her recipe for those cookies, and they still taste like I remember.
A lot of my friends have heard stories about my grandpa, Pop. When I lived in West Virginia, I was living with him, at first as a roommate and later as a caretaker, as his dementia got worse. I had no medical training, nor any experience in any kind of care-taking, other than helping a friend with her almost-two-year-old for a couple of months. It was a difficult situation, and I coped as best I could, mostly with humor and venting. While I was helping him, I lovingly referred to him as the Mad Cow, partly out of frustration and partly out of desperation. He lived another six months after I moved back to Los Angeles.
Sometimes it seems, we learn more about a person after they pass than when they were alive. I was surprised to hear new stories told about him at his funeral, though not that they displayed his loving-kindness, his gentle spirit, and his sense of humor. The one that startled me, though, was the final song he had requested, one that I had grown to love from the O, Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack: I’ll Fly Away. Apparently, it had been around much longer than I realized. That song now reminds me of his funeral, and of my family gathering together to say goodbye and to share our warm thoughts of him. But it doesn’t remind me of him.
There are, however, two songs he used to sing around me, when I was a child. These are what remind me of him. The first is You Are My Sunshine. We sang it together– once even on the main stage of the Grand Ole Opry, for the “enjoyment” of all the rest of our tour group. Years later, when I read the full lyrics– you know, all the parts he didn’t sing– I found out how sad that song really is.
The second– I have recently started reconnecting with some of the music from my childhood. I put a couple of my favorite songs into Pandora’s magic box, and one of the songs that eventually came out was Hank Williams, Sr. wailing away. It shocked me, because I had never heard anyone but Pop ever sing it, and then only to his wife, my grandmother. It was a song full of his love and admiration for her, and his desire to stay with her. And, too, it was a song of their era: one of their “pop songs,” though they didn’t have the term back then. It was the sound of their youth. When I hear this song, I think of them.