In the description for my humorous autobiographical book, it states that along with the giggle-snort worthy true stories, there is also some heartbreak and tragedy.
After my mother’s passing in 2013, my father remained in their home and he managed quite well by himself, the vast majority of time. I lived 141 miles south of my parents, yet I was the most logical offspring to care for either of them in their times of need. Thus, I was there to help them through any serious illness or after major surgeries.
During a small, family style New Year’s Eve 2016 party here at our house, I received a call from my brother-in-law, Gary, urging me to come to Ohio right away. Dad had become quite ill and Gary expressed his deep concerns. He and Dad had become besties and Gary would visit him daily and they’d share a cup of Nescafe coffee. I told Gary I’d be there as soon as I could, we ended our conversation, and I explained to my family what was happening. I told my husband, “I think I’m going to be gone for a long time, this time.” In a flurry of activity, I packed my bags with everything I would need for an extended stay, gave my hubby an early Happy New Year kiss, and was on the road heading north by about 10:30 p.m. Little did I know, I would not return home until the following June. Details of this precious time with my father during his last six months on this earth will be included in my book.
As far back as I can remember, Dad loved to watch the news, and my visits home were no exception. He’d watch it every day, many times a day and, most often, very very loudly. Now and then, he’d mute the sound and just read the closed-captioning in silence. I truly cherished those breaks in the media noise, since one could have a difficult time ignoring the sound coming from a bright and blaring TV screen a mere 4.5 feet from one’s face. That one was me, as that is where I sat with him in that kitchen, most times, in that little blue recliner that had been my mother’s and was positioned in front of the television. This television remained on from time Dad woke up in the morning until he went to bed at night.
I possess a very sensitive soul and it simply cannot endure the horrific, often graphic, worldly news that’s splattered all over the TV, internet, etc. So, in order to survive my extended stay by avoiding the news details that, quite literally, have caused me to lose sleep, I purchased a single bluetooth earbud and started listening to music through my Pandora app. I opted for a single earbud so I’d have one ear available to focus on my father’s activity. He required a lot of supervision, the rascal.
Along with my father’s television being on all-day, he also had a small boombox in the living room on which he’d play the local classical music channel, also all day every day. Another of his morning routines was turning on that little box. Now, I’ve personally never been much of a classical music fan. Many of the pieces coming from that radio station would irritate me — a lot, actually, almost to the point of banging my head on the wall. So frantic and unorganized. Eek. However, when a waltz, any waltz, would start to play, I would immediately feel my spirits being lifted, it’d make my heart smile and fill me with the urge to glide all through the house along with the music like Julie Andrews on that mountaintop in The Sound of Music. I especially looked forward to catching Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky on that radio since it became and remains my favorite waltz of all time. I suppose, mainly because it reminds me of being with Dad.
I don’t remember what type of music I listened to first on Pandora, but once I started this courtship, I spent a lot of time listening to 1940’s and 1950’s music as well as waltzes. I do love the sound of a waltz, have I mentioned that? While I sat just 54 inches from the distracting news screen, I could play Candy Crush, or any other game, on my iPhone, successfully avoiding eye contact with the bad news box, while being swept away by the beautiful 1-2-3 melodies playing in my ear. I’d often close my eyes and envision a large ballroom filled with couples in their lovely formal wear, music wafting through the air as they dance ever so gracefully and effortlessly around the ballroom. Then, I’d see myself out there twirling around the vast openness in a totally fabulous full-length ballgown. Oooh, it’s so wonderful to dream. (Sometimes, when I was only listening to Dad’s boombox, the triumphant part of the music would coincide with me winning a level on my game. I loved it when that happened! It’s the little things, isn’t it? Ha ha.) When I’m dreaming of waltzing, I keep seeing myself in an ivory-colored dress. That is most definitely NOT my color. It makes me look like I have jaundice, for real. Some of you may think the proper word is “jaundiced,” but I looked it up. Jaundice is a disease, so it is a noun. Jaundiced is an adjective, so, I suppose I could’ve said I appeared jaundiced? I dunno. I like “have jaundice” better. On that note, I’ll be right back..I’m closing my eyes and changing the color of my dress so I don’t look jaundiced.
That took a little longer than I expected. Almost took a nap! I was going to say white, but that’d make me look like a bride. While I kept my eyes closed, holding the image of my gown steadily in my mind, the color of the gown changed continually, as if I were using a fashion app, until I landed on my very favorite color — red, of course. Not an orangy red, no. A deep, rich, luxurious, true red. Yes, that’s the gown. Now, I can continue writing/typing.
Return to me sitting in my mother’s blue kitchen recliner. Since I’d been imagining myself dancing to the songs, I had a brilliant idea. I could check YouTube for videos of actual people dancing to the actual song which had currently resonated with me. Insert lightbulb above my head! Voila!! I watched countless videos of people dancing to songs I’d heard through my earbud. I’d watch couples dance the jitterbug, foxtrot and the Lindy hop, among others, and that is where my long-time dream of learning to dance intensified. It looked like so much fun. Along with my favorite waltz of all time, I quickly acquried my favorite waltz videos, which were promptly saved in my favorites.
I told you about my dance lessons at Arthur Murray, right? After this week’s lesson, my instructor gave me homework. To prepare for upcoming events at the studio, I am to compile of a list of songs that mean something to me along with the dance I’d like to perform to each song. Although, Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky is my very favorite, beloved waltz, it would pose an unnecessary choreographical challenge to my instructor. I told him not to worry and that I would find another waltz, no problem.
After I got home, I started looking through the songs on my Prime Music playlist. It was very easy to find my very favorite disco song, Fantastic Voyage by Lakeside, that I’ll be dancing the hustle to, oh yeah. Maybe not the advanced hustle, just yet, but the hustle. The real deep disco beat in that song just revs me up. The foxtrot would most definitely be to the musical genius of Glenn Miller and/or Mills Brothers. After all, they are truly the best. My parents would agree! Many moons ago, my parents hosted dance parties in their basement. I can still hear the catchy, addictive beats of their 40’s big band music and the sounds of dance wax being shuffled all over the floor by dancing couples having a splendid time, while I’m upstairs watching primetime shows like The Partrdige Family and The Brady Bunch on a black and white television. I enjoyed listening to those dance parties, plus the snacks Mom served her guests were really yummy.
But, now, the waltz…which waltz? I didn’t have a second favorite, nor could I even name another one. Along with the 40’s, 50’s, and waltz music stations on Pandora, I would often listen to solo piano. It is so relaxing, soul-calming, and reminds me of my mother playing her piano which was also located in their basement. I did a lot of this type of thing while I stayed with Dad in order to remain calm, present and to lessen the stress of being away from my husband and my family back in Kentucky. I searched waltzes on Prime Music and the name of one of my favorite solo pianists caught my eye. His name is Brian Crain and the waltz listed, Butterfly Waltz. It’s a piano and cello duet and has a lovely album cover, too. Of course, I had to play it right then and there!
I didn’t recognize it as one I’d ever heard, but it immediately touched something inside of me. Something very deep in my soul and completely unexpected. Within mere seconds of listening to this beautiful waltz, I felt the welling up of emotions in my chest which grew and grew until they were bursting out of my eyes. Streams of tears were soon cascading down my face faster than I could wipe them with a tissue, and I let them. You see, I hadn’t fully processed my grief after losing Dad, now nearly two years ago. Oh, since my father died, I would allow some tears to fall here and there, but only in small, metered increments which I felt I could withstand. You see, I’d still had a job to do and was determined to see it through and, hopefully, make my parents proud: I had to clean out their house, their memories and personal items, and sell their house. The house they’d lived in since 1965. The house that was built in 1949, the year they got married. So, not realizing it, I’d put my personal grieving on hold. A serious hold. My job of selling their house was completed last October. I still haven’t been back to see it, though I know it is being truly loved and well taken care of by my niece and her little family. There’s new life in my parents’ home now and I’m very thankful. It, too, had mourned my parents’ passing and its grief was much more evident than my own.
I have found my waltz. It feels as though Butterfly Waltz narrates my entire life, playing it back for me in 3:43 minutes of beautiful music. It represents the sacrifices I made in order to take care of my parents, no matter the inconvenience or the cost. “Doing the right thing isn’t always convenient,” I would often say. It’s the putting myself on the back burner for one reason or another and the many decades of maybe somedays. But, most of all, it is me saying, “I did it, Mom and Dad! I took care of everything the way you wanted me to. And, look at me! I’m dancing to some of your favorite music now! Can you believe it?! It has been very hard, but I think I can let go of you now, feel my sorrow, and move forward with my life — my life without you here on earth. I hope I’ve made you proud. I love you both and will miss you every day — for always.”
At the next Arthur Murray event, I may look like one of the celebrities on Dancing With the Stars, dancing under the mirrored ball to a personally meaningful song with tears streaming down their face as the camera zooms in to get a serious closeup like they’re trying to count each tear that falls. I may be a blubbering, floor-soaking mess. But, I’ll be out on that ballroom floor — waltzing.
P.S. I fully intend to master that advanced hustle dance, too, daggonit!!