Communing With the Dead

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Last weekend my husband and I went to my uncle’s house in Ringgold, GA to watch some college football and hang out. We had a great time, even though Uncle Steve’s Georgia Bulldogs lost to the Tennessee Vols and my Oklahoma Sooners lost to the Texas Longhorns.  Aunt Cindy made my Granny Marie’s famous chili and other goodies, there was some alcohol for those who like to imbibe, and there was music.

My uncle’s old friend Ivan Wilson and the lead singer of The Courtney Daly Band, the lovely Courtney herself, were also present. Some other old friends were not able to make it, which was a disappointment at first. I think we all expected that maybe Ivan and Courtney would sing for us, the way Ivan used to when he brought his guitar to Granny and Pa’s house on Edgewood Circle in Ft. Oglethorpe and he belted out all those tunes my family love, with that old Stella Harmony acoustic that his mom got him when he was eleven-years-old and he eventually gave to my dad.

Instead, we all listened to an assortment of old songs from the same collection that belonged to my grandmother and grandfather, those old vinyl records with the scratches and pops that Uncle Steve and Aunt Cindy now keep and treasure.

We broke out some Al Green, Lou Rawls, Brenda Lee, Mac Davis, Kansas, Sam Cooke, and Donna Summer. With drink in hand, we danced around my uncle’s den, interjecting lyrics with, “Remember when…” and smiling until our faces ached.

Uncle Steve, Aunt Cindy, Ivan and I remembered more than Courtney or my husband, John. We were there when my grandparents, uncles, aunts, dad and mom, and others who are long gone, were singing and dancing and drinking. We “remembered when” Granny Marie used to get up and sing with Ivan at his microphone while she shook her hips seductively and cut her blue eyes at us in her disarming way. We remember Pa Bill Phy laughing. A lot. He enjoyed seeing Granny Marie in her element. It wasn’t hard to make Pa happy. All he needed was the smile on his wife’s face and a beer. Uncle Mike taught me how to do The Bump and to disco dance to those records that spun on the turntable while I spun in the middle of my grandparents den, the notes and lyrics, and me, defying the force of gravity.  Ivan showed my dad chords on the guitar and they sang, “Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul and “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, all while I danced and watched in utter fascination.

There were some moments I could feel the brush of our family members long dead, like a burst of cool air when the breeze kicks up in late October, swirling the lifeless crimson, gold and brown leaves in the air before they fall once again to the cold earth.  I could hear the lilt of Granny Marie’s laughter, a gauzy echo, retreating as quickly as it had come. I could almost feel the warmth of my dad’s arms as he hugged and kissed my sister and me goodnight, the music still thumping from the den below our room as we were lullabied by tunes from Motown and Nashville.

A couple of times I caught Uncle Steve’s or Aunt Cindy’s or Ivan’s eye and we exchanged knowing looks and sad smiles. They, too, could hear and feel them. But the dead moved swiftly, flickering about us, just out of our reach.

Towards the end of the night I sat next to John and took it all in. There was a sense of failure, that we were not able to resurrect those dead while we communed with their memories.

Then I heard the first notes of the xylophone, and I was instantly transported to my dad’s 1973 Ford pickup, with a green and brown tattered bench seat and an 8-Track of O.C. Smith in the deck. Dad was next to me, his calloused hand on the wheel and a Marlboro in his lips. The windows were down and the wind pushed and pulled at my long, dark hair as I watched the mile markers gleam like lanterns in the glaring summer sun as they flashed by us on I-75 up from, or down to, Florida.

“…God didn’t make little green apples

And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime

And there’s no such thing as Dr. Seuss, Disney Land, Mother Goose,

There’s no nursery rhymes

Oh God didn’t make little green apples

And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime

And when my self is feeling low

I think about her face aglow

To ease my mind…

God didn’t make little green apples

And it don’t snow in Minneapolis when the winter comes

And there’s no such thing as make believe, puppy dogs and autumn leaves

And bee bee guns

God didn’t make little green apples

And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime…”

–O.C. Smith, Little Green Apples, 1968 Columbia Studios, Bobby Russell songwriter

(Originally written for and performed by Roger Miller)

And for just a moment, a brief whisper of time, I communed with the dead.  Listening to the beat of the music, keeping time with my heart as the hot tears leaked from my eyes, I smiled.

Kim Deal

October 13, 2015

4 comments

  1. Kim,
    This was beautifully written and I enjoyed the glimpse of you and your family communing with the dead, and the sweet memories and wisps of detail that played their own melodies. Towards the end I could feel myself wanting to step into that rich moment.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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