For Old Songs Past

As we enter the lull between Christmas and New Years, I tend to find myself reflecting on the past. The song Auld Lang Syne comes from earlier folk ballads that tell about not forgetting past relationships. “Let’s remember the earlier days together for old time’s sake” it tells its listener. The song’s words have changed over the years, but the sentiment remains.

Each year, we pull out our memories—some good, some bad—and we replay the times of holiday and childhood and those old times past. Even when we wish the past would stay buried, it rises to the top during these days. Memories are a strong influence over our minds and actions and behaviors. We store them away, sometimes not even aware they are there until some event happens. One of the most incredible triggers for memories is music. Every Christmas, I enjoy going caroling with our spiritual family. This year, we sang at two nursing homes. One thing I’ve noticed through the years: When we start singing those familiar Christmas songs, vacant eyes snap to and look up at us. Fragile, shaking men and women begin to mouth the words or tap the arm of their chairs. In that moment, singing words like, “Oh, what fun it is to ride…,” I get to see the wandering spirits inside meet my eyes and connect. Just for a moment. Afterward, I’ve approached some of these strangers to thank them for singing with us. They look up at me with eyes full of intent to say something, but their mouths only tremble or they utter syllables that don’t make sense to me.

On Sundays year round, some of us drive over to the nursing home after church services to worship with the men and women there. The talkative ones see you walking down the hall, and they will ask, “Is it Sunday? Take me to church!” Sitting in their wheelchairs, they push the floor impatiently with their slippers. Others don’t say a word, but you know they’re waiting when you catch their eyes. They smile and lift their feet, ready (to keep them from dragging as you push their chairs).

When I first participated in the worship at the nursing home, I got kind of tired of singing the same songs over and over. It only took a couple of new songs for me to realize how important the repetition of the old songs really was to them! Music is so incredible! Memories are somehow linked inextricably with songs we’ve sung over and over and over.

One special lady passed away this year. When she saw you coming, she’d smile like her happiness was bubbling over, and she’d make happy noises when you talked to her. She was a bubbly person all around, and she would sing with all her heart—sometimes long after the song was done. Then she’d look at the person beside her and give a “Woo wee!” And we knew how she felt.

Those old songs create a path to the mind that, when the body starts to shut down, makes it possible to remember again. Remember the people and the joys and the sorrows of a life well lived. When the past comes alive, the spirit seems to reconnect with the physical world again. And that’s a good thing. So, for old times past, sing those old songs. Come alive in those moments to remember, connect, and celebrate those relationships. And tell me, what’s your favorite old song?


Character Research: Rekindling My Memories

One piece of research for writing the sequel for Dragonfly Prince involves a character who doesn’t actually appear in the book, yet her influence is part of the story. She is based on my great-grandmother, who lived to the glorious age of 98. My great-grandmother was a fascinating woman. There were aspects of her personality that, to this day, I’ve never been able to reconcile. She was a variety of eccentricities with a heart of gold.

On Sunday morning, Realm and I worshiped with members of the Lord’s church in the building my great-grandmother took us to when I visited as a kid. The congregation happened to be having their homecoming, celebrating 123 years. There was another visitor there who said he hadn’t been back in sixty years. He talked about some of the things he remembered as a boy living there. He knew my great-grandfather—well, step great-grandfather.

Listening to him sparked my own memories. I remember arriving at Gaga’s (that’s what we called her–no, not Lady Gaga) at night when I was little. She came out of the house to meet us—she loved people, especially her own flesh and blood. She had a wrinkly, round face framed by a filmy scarf. Beneath the scarf was a head full of curlers. She wore a duster and tiny little slippers. Everything was tiny about her except her eyes and her personality.

turning down memory lane
Turning down the road to Gaga’s house.

The house she lived in she kept like a museum. You see, her second husband had been married before to a woman named Lucy, who died three days before I was born. When Gaga remarried, she came to live in “Lucy’s house.”

I remember entering the house as a kid. It was like going back in time. In the corner of the sitting room was one of those big televisions you see on black and white films—you know, the ones they would depict a smiling family sitting in front of. There were long, plastic mats laid out anywhere there was carpet. It was Lucy’s carpet. Even as a child, I knew to stay on the walkways. I remember losing my balance and stepping on the carpet by accident. Fortunately, Gaga didn’t see it.

down memory lane
The road to Gaga’s house.

I loved going upstairs. There were two big rooms with dormer windows that jutted out of the roof. They let in all the light. Between the two bedrooms was a hall with a big walk-in closet. I could not imagine what that closet was any good for. It had no shelves. It was completely bare except for a big vase-looking thing that Gaga always reminded us was “the slop jar.” I had no idea what that meant, but I would comment that I wished that closet had been a bathroom. It was the perfect size. 🙂 And that way I wouldn’t have to walk all the way downstairs and across the house to the only toilet—which happened to be in front of Gaga’s bedroom, where she was sure to hear you, grab your arm, and start talking before you ever reached the bathroom door.

Gaga could talk. She had a way of saying things like they were well-kept secrets that she was letting you in on. But what she said often didn’t make any sense! It made sense to her; and if you took the time to listen, she would explain what she meant. Then her eyes would twinkle, she’d purse her lips in a special Gaga sort of way, and look at you as though she’d just told you the answer to the most interesting question you hadn’t thought to ask.

gaga's house
Gaga’s house

Today, the house is falling apart, but my memories are still vivid. I can still hear Gaga’s slippered feet shuffling along the plastic. I can still see her wrapped head looking up at us from the bottom of the stairs. I can still feel her warm fingers clutching my arm because she has something to tell me. Something wonderful.