“I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas in to my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.”
~ George Eliot, English novelist (1819-1880)
“Let’s not wait till they leave, honey,” she says, leans over and pats my knee, eyes twinkling. “Put it on now…”
“Sure, go ahead…we’ll be on our way soon,” her daughter, my close friend, laughs, bustling around behind us, leading husband and daughters of her own to hurry for their meetup with friends. A sort of summer hurrah as daughter one is about to go off to her first year of college. Catching one more night of teen girl chatter, husbands tossing footballs, ice cream cones in an old fashioned parlor and confidences shared lakeside. Music… of an equally exuberant kind.
I grin, reach for the remote and push play. I’m not sure Mrs. C. really liked the idea of having me come tonight. “That’s right, now I need a babysitter,” the 91 year old sharply noted when told the evening plans. Because even though she needs someone to help her maneuver around, it isn’t her mind that needs help. She doesn’t see or hear when her daughter taps my shoulder though, whispering some details to assisting with her walker, should she want to get up.
But now, as soon as the first note of song lilts across screen and credits, I feel her delight in sharing this old love with me. And we become two compadres, side by side, she in comfy pajamas and rollers on her head, her fluffy little dog stretched out at our feet in chummy joy of his own. I wonder how he sleeps as the decibels rise higher and higher to accommodate elderly hearing… and the romantic voices of Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy sweep and soar and schottische round the room.
The plot is thin and creaky and totally predictable. But we aren’t watching it so much for that. It’s the glory of classical music set to words, the screen presence of two who once captured and held captive so many hearts of our nation, maybe the world, reigning as King and Queen of the movie musicals. And nostalgia… that takes Mrs. C. back to her childhood. And in a way, brings me to mine too…because these stars, this music so filled my own mother’s and aunt’s hearts too. I hear echoes of their voices a sparkle over these, wanting me to feel what they felt… and imparting that appreciation to me too…
And…because…there is such stirring beauty in this music. The kind that inevitably, inexplicably, stars tears behind my lashes…leaves a lump in my throat. I always try to identify that feeling, like the Thin Man, going through his classic whodunit clues. But that reason…it’s sort of ethereal, wispy. And every time I think I have it in my grasp, it wiggles free, flits off and leaves me wondering. Nevertheless… savoring.
Maybe, it’s a hunger for that beauty and sweetness and tenderness of bygone days and a feeling of oneness with people — some, entertainers I didn’t even know personally –and a yearning that came upon me strongly even as a child. Because… in a larger way, perhaps…it is a a kind of sensing of Heaven? There is pure goodness in this music and in these people…however fictionalized…that transports, transforms, illuminates souls.
Stealing glances at Mrs. C., her face slightly averted so I can’t totally see her eyes, I do see radiant pleasure in her gentle smile. Every once in awhile she elbows me, communicating in gesture and nod of her head, “See what is about to happen? She is pretending not to be in love with him, but they are so in love…” Or she purses her lips in that coy, knowing way she has, then nudges me, to share how she gets the witty word play between the stars and maybe wonders if I do too…
I think of my own mom, and how even when she could no longer form words for her own conversations, this music always lit her face, set her to singing those songs that wrote themselves into her heart and soul and mind as a child of the thirties…and never, ever left. Because — music! Oh how it transcends mind disorders, heals, speaks, takes hands and lifts you up to dance if only in mind… even when you thought you never could again!
Mrs. C. takes my hand, thanks me over and over for bringing the movie. “Where did you find it?” she wonders. I tell her how I recognized the name when I was checking the Classic Movie Channel, and hearing of her love for J and N, taped it just for her. How I’ll keep my eye out for more…
Halfway through, she moves close. “Do you think people today would love these pictures so much?” she asks softly. I recognize the wistful in her – that somehow, they might.
“I don’t know,” I admit, soften, “but isn’t this music glorious?”
Two hours later, the movie ends. I’m thinking she may be tiring as she often does. But she looks at me, eyes shining, girlfriend to girlfriend. Like one who is about to do something naughty or to steal just one more bite of a treat. Like a child, clapping her hands at a brilliant idea. “Do you want to watch another?” she breathes, nodding at me expectantly. “Oh, let’s do –“
“I do have another hour-long special I taped about Jeannette and Nelson,” I tell her, “if I can figure out how to change the tape in this machine…”
I do, and once again she is mesmerized. She laughs and moons and grabs my hand when they mention some well known and beloved places of her hometown and mine… and I see how she is going back to days before my time. We listen as Jeannette’s real-life husband actor Gene Raymond, then very old, remembers his beautiful wife with tears in his voice… telling the cameraman just how extraordinary of a woman she was, of their 27 years of marriage until she died, really so young, of heart failure. I wonder if Mrs. C. is thinking of her late husband too…
The phone rings, my friend letting me know they will be home in five or so… The special is just ending, and Mrs. C. turns to me in surprise. “But — I thought they were out for the whole evening!” she exclaims.
I laugh. “Well, it has been three hours since we began watching these,” I say.
She looks at me wonderingly, then chuckles. Silently, eye to eye, we seem to agree. Time is timeless when music soars.
“Thank you so much, Pam,” she tells me again and again. Then, kicking into motherly hostess, she is trying to wrap me in snickerdoodles and other goodies-to-go…
And when the door opens and grandchildren and daughter and son in law return, she remembers each word of this show, recounting some of the facts and moments with ringing delight. She could go on and on seeing pictures like these, she exclaims.
“I have many more I can bring over sometime,” I assure her. Thinking of Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland, Howard Keel and Gordon MacRae and Doris Day…
“Oh, that will be delightful, honey!” she enthuses.
Sitting there on the couch, in her soft PJs and curler-lined whisps of blond colored hair, reaching up to kiss my cheek goodbye, she is little girl, mom, grandma, sweet child of God all rolled in one. I see my own mom for a moment…recall days of sitting at her feet while she rolled my hair and we dreamed away the nights before classic shows. Contrasted with hearing again the wonder in her 80-something voice each time a song took her back…
And music… it is the ribbon that runs through and ties a bow of His rippling joy, intermingling our hearts with His and each other’s.
And Life… it’s the miracle of so many miniscule moments shared… and oftentimes the most precious are the tiniest…
Something even Duffy the dog knew, curled in content, there at our feet.
© Pam Depoyan