My grandma played the piano at church, and I remember watching the bracelets on her wrists in the morning light, wondering if I might sit on that bench someday. I did, eventually, find myself seated at that cranky upright piano, and even as a teenager, I was amazed that our roles could change that quickly...that Grandma was now sitting on the dark wood pew, while I was the one making my fingers sing the notes from the hymnal.
But it was the mandolin that played the soundtrack to the family gatherings of my childhood. My grandpa played, leaning back in his chair, a smile on his face, and the songs were the music of his childhood too. Others joined in, uncles on guitars, perhaps someone at the piano. I played occasionally at Christmas, when the songs were ones with notes on a page. But most of Grandpa's songs were chord progressions from long ago, music that had not been learned from a book.
Last summer there were four generations of musicians together. Grown-ups sipped coffee and visited, and little ones ran barefoot in the grass. Grandpa played his mandolin, and voices and strings joined in... We sang everything from Bill Grogan's Goat to Amazing Grace, and then Grandpa played songs that told stories without words, music that made us hold each other closer.
Known by so many for his generous spirit and twinkling eyes, my grandpa's heart is now failing. His body is spent, having served and loved so many with such faithfulness. Last night my dad came home from visiting Grandpa. Words aren't quite as easy to hold on to now, so Dad had picked up his guitar, and Grandpa held the mandolin, and they made music together.
My son played Tom Dooley on his guitar this morning, a tune he learned first on the mandolin from my dad. He hopes to join the circle around Grandpa the next time we gather. I wonder at this, the gift of generations sharing music.
On my parents' wall there is a poem that reads:
For the common things of every day,
God gave men speech in the common way.
And He gave to the poet, words to reveal
The deeper things men think and feel.
But for the heights and depths no words can reach,
God gave men music, the soul's own speech.
Today, I am thanking God for the gift of music and for my grandpa, who shares his soul through music.
|:: my grandpa and my dad, summer 2011 ::|