All my grandparents are dead. In fact, they’re long dead. I lost my last grandparent (mom’s mom) when I was in elementary school.
My family is unique in that it was tragically affected by death on a biannual basis. Cancer, MS, and heart attacks took grandparents from us. I’ve never really figured out how this shaped me other than I didn’t have trips to see my grandparents like so many of my friends had and dreaded (wanna trade?) through middle and high school years.
I have some faint memories of each of my grandparents. Some are of past Christmas times, some are of the games we’d play together, and some are just me trying to hold on to what their face looked like. These memories are few and far between. Especially scattered are my recollections of my pop-pop (dad’s dad). From what I have heard, he wasn’t a very welcoming person and the loss of my grandmother was especially hard on him. He was successful in business so he had a lot of money but he seemed to be pretty lonely. He bought an RV, he had a boat, and I remember flying with him in his plane; but I don’t know how happy he really was. Regardless, he had things.
One very specific memory I have is spending time in his house after he died. My dad, my aunts, and my uncle were trying to move things out and I happened to be around. I was in the sunroom fiddling with a boom box (probably the first one I had ever seen) and it had a CD player. I remember some of the CDs that were in the CD box very well (probably because my mom eventually took them away from me). The ones I remember best were:
- Top Gun Official Sound Track
- Boyz II Men - II
- Yanni Live At the Acropolis
- Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits
There were probably more that I don’t remember but those are the ones that stood out so well. Up to that point, the music I had access to was what my parents played in the car or what I heard at church (often the same thing). When I played Boyz II Men, I had no idea what these smooth, harmonious sounds were on Thank You or what the hard snares were on Playing with the Boys. The album that stuck out the most though was Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits.
I remember the sound and scratch of the cd player queueing up and reading 00 on the track listing. Suddenly as the laser in the CD player found it’s mark on the disc, the number would jump to 01 and the most unbelievable sound of acoustic guitar came through. This was followed by men singing nonsense words “dee dee dee” and “doo doo do do do doo” then came a bold chorus talking about Mrs. Robinson, Jesus, and Heaven. The lyrics were crisp and clear. I knew I had stumbled on something great, but I had no idea why or what it was.
I held onto that CD and listened to it over and over. Every time I played it, it was in that same boombox. Even though it was a greatest hits compilation, the songs seemed like they were made to flow in and out of each other.
I watched The Graduate a few days ago and was impressed by the soundtrack that features Simon & Garfunkel almost exclusively. As I was watching and singing along with every word, I couldn’t help but find myself sitting in that sunroom of my grandfather’s house. It was my first memory of music having a meaning outside of what the lyrics said. It became something for the soul, something that conveyed the feelings of not only the artists but the feelings of a generation. I was undoubtedly too young to understand all this at the time but I remember the feeling of wonder.
It’s the same feeling I get as I sit here listening to America. I can’t say I know what it means but it feels careless yet hopeful.
I’ll take it.