Sunday, May 27, 2012

In memory of you

Memorial Day weekend. Bleh. It's one of those weekends for me. One of those weekends that is colored by difficult Memorial Day weekends in the recent past. A weekend to dread. But those aren't the stories I want to tell.

Today was our annual Memorial Day service at church. The student minister read a story to the kids about a kid's grandfather dying and how the kid was encouraged to tell a story about him. And then people who had lost a relative to death in the past year came up and lit a candle. They were encouraged to say something about the person, tell a story maybe. None of them did. A few said something like, "She was a really nice person. People liked her." It's intimidating to be put on the spot like that.

I have to admit my mind drifted during that part of the service. I was feeling kind of bad because I'd forgotten to have my Aunt De's name added to the list. I started thinking what I would say if I'd remembered and gone up to light a candle. I would say she was always kind and funny and she seemed to love it when we'd go visit them wherever my uncle was stationed with the National Park Service -- Yellowstone, the Platte River in Michigan, Estes Park. There were 7 of us, and one time we took both grandmas. Aunt De never seemed to mind the utter chaos and commotion we brought with us when we visited for a week.

Maybe that's because she always kept a drink behind the canisters in the kitchen, and she sipped on it all day until she could drink in the open after 5:00. She smoked one Pall Mall after another, which made her voice nice and gravelly. And she fed us exotic foods like escargot and smoked salmon. Every single time we visited she made snails because I loved them so much, and she showed me how to make them too.

I remember hating to leave so much that one summer I cried most of the way home. Only I would have gotten in trouble for crying, so I'd just let my eyes fill up with tears behind my sunglasses, but not let the tears spill out. I did it over and over on the long trip back to Iowa from Wyoming. That's what I would have said if I'd remembered to have her name put on the list. I can remember her without lighting a candle at church though.

Then during the offering something happened that made me start thinking .... no, let me describe that first.

The pianist played a lovely song during the offering. I was right next to the piano, and I just closed my eyes and listened. Until the last arpeggio, the last note ..... Oh my god, do not tell me he played a song with an unresolved chord at the end!My jaw literally dropped. (And, yes, I know the correct usage of the word "literally.") I was stunned.

And then in the silence of the sanctuary, as the last note died unresolved and just hanging there waiting for .... well, for fucking resolution, of course ... I heard giggling --no, tittering -- to my right. I looked over and several friends who have sung with me before were openly looking at me and laughing.

I opened my eyes wide and whispered across the row, "He did NOT just do that!" They just laughed harder and shook their heads. I wrote in big letters on my bulletin RESOLVE said "Pssst" to the pianist. He glanced over, read it and simply smiled a tiny bit. The nerve!

That whole exchange, which took less than a minute would have meant nothing to most people who observed it. But people who've played music with me know I can't stand an unresolved chord at the end of a song. Can't fucking stand it. Maybe it's my little touch of OCD. Doesn't matter. Just because Wagner did it, that doesn't make it right.

But that little incident started me wondering during the sermon about the stories people will tell after I die. Will somebody tell a story about how I couldn't stand an unresolved chord? Or will they tell other stories, ones I don't realize made it on the list of things remembered?

What stories will my kids tell? The ones where I'm the perfect mother, which I tried so hard to be? Or will they tell what I call the "bad mommy" stories? The ones we laugh at now. And the ones I still can't laugh at that don't seem to have harmed the Drake and Elivira as much as they did me. What stories will Coraline tell about her Mamá?

What stories will my friends tell? The ones about how self-centered and rude and stubborn I can be? Or the ones that made them laugh?

I don't think there's any way to predict or control such a thing. Pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein died in 1894, and still the story of how his wife used to play an unresolved chord on the piano to get him up in the morning -- because he couldn't leave it unresolved and had to get up to resolve it, and while he was at the piano doing that she would hide the bed sheets -- is one that's common among musicians. In fact, I couldn't name a single thing Rubinstein composed, but I've known this story for years. (Supposedly Mozart's children did it too so he would pay attention to him.) Could Rubinstein and his wife ever have imagined people would remember that story about them? 

I ask you: What stories will people tell about you? Or, better yet, what is the one story you want people to tell after you die? The one story you want people to remember you by? 

(And if you haven't lived that story yet, when will you?)


  1. "what is the one story you want people to tell after you die?"

    Everyones story will be a little different but I would like them all to tell the story of how I showed my love and appreciation for them. It wouldn't have to be a long heartwrenching story maybe something like "he baked cookies for me" or "he posted on my blog". I try to show my love and appreciation for others in so many different ways and I would like to think that it makes a difference and inspires others to do the same.

    1. I think you do that, Vapor.

      Also I think every man should want to be remembered for baking cookies. ;-)