Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, September 10, 2009

me, Bob, Mac, Jen & Robert, with 2 friends in front, at AlleyFest a couple weeks ago

The kid’s first day of first grade yesterday. Kindergarten was all-day, so the shift is not drastic -- it’s just another step. I listened to “All Summer Long” by the Beach Boys over and over: “we’ve been having fun all summer long.” And we have been.

2 weeks at my mom’s place with my sister and her family, lots of kids running around. Connecting with a 3rd cousin on my mom’s side I’ve known all my life but never connected with -- he’s 10 years younger and I’ve never known him as an adult -- really nice guy. Family reunion of my dad’s side of the family on the 3rd of July; 23 people there, great to see them -- got my dad’s cousin’s 2-year-old grandson playing in the lake with me. Great to see aunts and uncles and cousins and their kids. Aunt Joyce, on her way out of the cottage (where my mom’s family has summered for 90 years): “A lot of memories in this place. I hate it!” Not in a bad way: She was lamenting all the loved ones who have passed on -- my dad, his brother, my mom’s parents, all of whom Aunt Joyce loved and knew for many many decades. 4th of July, parade down my mom’s lane, and a party down the beach, and then fireworks at night. 5th of July, Jay’s parent’s 50th anniversary party, a beautiful party with a band and dinner and friends and relations flown in from all around the country. Jay’s brother made a beautiful toast, and Jay recorded a gorgeous song for the occasion, and I spoke on behalf of my family, as our families’ friendship goes back 90 or 100 years (my great-grandparents and Jay’s great-grandparents were friends); I spoke about how the Godfreys had been with my family in times of sorrow and times of joy (thinking of Jay’s mom spending the day with us the day Grandpa had a stroke; and what a comfort she especially was when Dad died, helping us organize the reception after the funeral; and thinking of being together at weddings and baby showers and many many many many many many parties, planned and impromptu, going back to many years before I was born), and how happy I was to be with them on this joyous occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, and thanking them for the beautiful party. And -- playing guitar with Jay later that night, and with his cousin Tanner, and hanging out with a group of people talking poetry and arguing religion and trading songs until 3:00 AM. I didn’t want the party to end.

And then a week visiting my beloved spouse’s family in California, and a weekend long family reunion there, with 21 people. My 6-year-old son and I wrote a song for the family reunion. We were working on it when my son’s 14-year-old second cousin joined us and helped us finish it -- everybody contributed musical and lyrical ideas, and the three of us sang it for everybody -- the 14 year old has pipes! He’s a professional actor, sings in musicals professionally and has a recurring role on a primetime network TV show -- nice kid too. I’d only met him once before, at my beloved spouse’s brother’s wedding 7 years ago. Two babies were at the reunion, 15 months and 10 months -- delightful. I made up songs for the babies, off the top of my head, for fun -- babies like a good tune and a good beat and will forgive lame words. My 6-year-old son doesn’t, though.

[Sung to a lilting waltz]:

Rebecca, Rebecca, you’re eating solid food
Rebecca, Rebecca,
[tiny pause, as I search for a rhyme]
You’re not a dude

At which point my son walked over and clamped his hand over my mouth, shaking his head with grim finality, as if to say, This Will Not Do. I cracked up.

Gave my son swimming lessons through July and August -- he made great strides with the crawl, and got totally comfortable in water, swimming underwater for long stretches, starting to learn the sidestroke. It was a blast.

The last Saturday afternoon in August we hosted 3 bands (including mine) and a solo singer-guitarist in the alley behind our house, got the grills going, and had a potluck picnic -- and 100 people came. Another blast. I didn’t know a lot of the people. The other bands were friends of mine who didn’t know each other, though one of the bands knew the solo guy. All of the acts were terrific; party at 4:00, music from 5:00 till 8:00, so we’re done before kids turn into pumpkins and neighbors get grumpy. Food, from all reports, was great, but I didn’t eat until most of it was gone, as I was MC-ing the bands, running the sound, co-hosting the party, and playing 3rd on the bill. I was pleased with our set -- we debuted 3 new songs; played 10, none of them from our CD; and all 5 of us took at least one lead vocal -- Jen, Robert, Bob, and I with 2 apiece; Jen, Robert, and I trading leads on another; and Mac reciting the long spoken part of a story-song, one of the hits of the night. We were going to do another song, with Jen singing lead, but ran short on time and cut it. My friend Nick M. joined us on viola on two songs, which was a treat.

So all of this life and music all summer, reunions and connections and parties and swimming -- these are the good old days.

And then a day or 2 after the alley concert party I got word that the brother of an old friend had killed himself. My friend and I met in college; we have slammed danced together, heard Pharoah Sanders together, acted in a play together, traveled around the country in borrowed cars and buses together, argued vehemently over matters of deep principle together (he was right, I was wrong, and I'm glad he convinced me), broken bread together and gotten drunk together. I haven’t seen him in 9 or 10 years, and I never met his brother. And the shock of death, compounded by the grief of suicide -- I simply can’t imagine. Other friends have lost family to suicide, and I have never been able to imagine it. Death . . . eats language.

My friend’s brother left behind a wife and a 7-year-old son; I tracked down another college pal, a mutual friend, to get my friend’s address, and heard that only a few weeks ago the three of them were together -- my friend, his brother, and our mutual friend -- with their kids, all close in age -- and playing freeze tag together, parents and children, everybody throwing themselves into the moment with abandon -- and the mutual friend had no idea that our friend’s brother had struggled with depression -- and ain’t it an incomprehensible shock and grief.

There’s no balancing. Suffering can obliterate joy. I can only hope that -- well, you know what I hope. What we all hope. My heart goes out to my friend and his family.

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