Thursday, March 4, 2010

IS IT SNOWING TONIGHT

There is a picture, in our drawer full of pictures, which always tugs at my heart when I see it. John and Sarah are 2 and 3 years old. They stand leaning against the legs of their grandparents, Don and Helen Connors. The grandparents’ arms fall down over their little loves’ hearts. They are standing near the jet way in the Pittsburgh Airport. Minutes later we boarded the plane and took their only grandchildren 2,000 miles away; permanently.

I have ached ever since, for them…for us…for these kids. It took a lot of planning and a lot of money and a chunk of time to get to see each other from that point forward. The casual comfort of repetition was taken from Don and Helen when we decided to move to Utah from Pittsburgh. We were NEVER going to live in Utah. We were NEVER going to be numbered among typical “Utah Mormons”. Eeek, indeed! And then the phone call came offering Dave a job with a Wall Street law firm, only he could have that practice and not have to work in Manhattan. It was what he had dreamed of professionally. When LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby & McRae decided to open a Salt Lake City office, they searched BYU and U of U law school archives for graduates with particular training. Ideally they wanted someone with Ivy League training (Dave graduated from Yale); major law firm training (he had practiced with renowned and well respected Pittsburgh firms); and the cherry of a federal clerkship (2nd District Court of Appeals…based in NYC)…they found Dave’s name. I still remember the phone call, listening as I stood at the kitchen counter to one side of a strange conversation.

“What was THAT?” I asked.

“A New York firm, opening an office in Salt Lake City. They want to talk to me”

“I didn’t hear you say yes, did I?”

M-Hm. Yes. I had heard him say yes. “I just think we should consider all options,” he said, all full of that blasted Dave Connors logic.

We had already decided to move to Washington DC, McLean VA to be exact. We had just one week earlier made a trip and found the house we wanted. Kirkpatrick Lockhart, the firm with which he practiced in Pgh, was opening a branch there.

Best laid plans.

So we ended up coming to Utah, which in retrospect was a gift of a decision, but in the process we ripped the only grandchildren of Dave’s parents away from them. And to make matters worse, it seemed to slap the face of family religious tradition for them. They never, ever said as much, but I felt it through my own imagination. Dave came from centuries of faithful Catholics. He attended Catholic school until high school. He was an altar boy. His dad was president of the local diocesan school board. He was a good boy, as he is a good man, and there was a time when he actually considered entering the priesthood of the Catholic Church. So imagine how it must have felt for his parents to hear him say, “I’d like to join the Mormon Church.” It had that strange cult-like reputation there and then, as I suppose it still has. So I imagine it wasn’t thrilling for them, in their truest deepest place, when he returned from his mission, (he had graduated from Yale the week before he left for Italy) and went to BYU law school. Less thrilling, I suspect, when he called and said he was going to marry an 18 year old freshman Mormon girl, in the temple. The only positive thing must have been that I was from Pittsburgh, too.

Moving to “Zion” felt like joining the cult. I love it now, but I did not then.

IS IT SNOWING TONIGHT was written on an August night, truth be known. I was watching our kids play in the yard and I got to pondering Dave’s family and how sad I felt that they were missing seeing their grandkids grow up. I thought, too, how sad that these kids would not know their grandparents in the day-to-day comfortable sort of way I would have preferred. In the pondering, images of Dave’s home came to mind. He grew up in a rock house that rests on the border of South Park, a beautiful state park in south-west PA. Deep, wooded acreage was Dave’s playground. Deer visited regularly. Of course Helen did not help matters because she set food out for them. “They look so pretty in the snow, and so hungry.” On a snowy winter morning Helen would open the window in the dining room and toss birdseed out onto the roof of the porch by the pool in their back yard. Stunningly beautiful cardinals came to feast, then nestled in the trees for a while. Their plump deep red breasts looked like Christmas berries against the white of the snow and the green of the pine trees. In recalling these images, this Christmas tune came bubbling up. I wanted our kids to think about their grandparents who lived all those miles away. I wanted them to see the images of their world. We never visited in the winter, what with school and all, so they did not know the beauty of that season there. I tried to paint it for them, and in the effort I became homesick.

Home in the hills of West Pennsylvania…wishing it wasn’t so far.

Once, years after this song was written, I was singing it at a gig with Merlyn. We performed almost nightly at Christmastime. Sometimes twice in one night. We were singing this song and I started to giggle. I caught myself before I ruined the song, but Merlyn asked afterward what that was about. I told her I had never considered the fact that Dave’s dad was named Don.
“And…?” Merlyn asked.

“Well, it sort of changes the meaning of the line: Do the redbirds still come for the food you toss from the window at dawn (Don).” I pictured Helen opening the window and tossing out a plate of eggs and bacon, with a side of buttered toast.

When I am really missing them, the missing being more permanent these days, that image helps pull me out of the sorrow which overwhelms the performance.

Some other family owns that beautiful back yard now, and the rock house in front of it. The setting is left in the memory box. Mom and Dad are both gone.

I wonder if it snows in Heaven?


IS IT SNOWING TONIGHT

Is it snowing tonight where you are
Are the evergreens covered in white
Are you warming your love by the fire
As you gather together tonight
There are presents surrounding my tree
And I’m dreaming and longing to be
Home in the hills of west Pennsylvania
Wishing it wasn’t so far
Is it snowing tonight where you are?

Is it peaceful and still in the wood
Has the doe come to feed with her fawn
Do the redbirds still come for the food
You toss from the window at dawn
I am here in my miles away world
Telling my boy and my girls
Of home in the hills of west Pennsylvania
Under the same sacred star
Is it snowing tonight where you are?

Ah, home in the hills of west Pennsylvania
Wishing you weren’t so far
Is it snowing tonight where you are?

6 comments:

  1. Once, while I was making my mongrel little college apartment bed, I was thinking about - maybe longing for - the world to be what it will be. After everything is finished. But then I remembered the thing about it becoming a sort of Urim and Thumim (sp) - pure and crystalline - and my heart fell. Why on earth should I work my soul to the bone, trying to do everything right, just to live in a cold, sterile place like that? Even all the right things - love, warmth, sharing, beauty - how could they become the character of such a place.

    It really upset me, distressed me, when I thought about the loss of tree and leaf and lilac and lilly of the valley. Until it came like an answer (except I don't get answers) - don't you think God knows you and knows what you love? Don't you think that the sweet longings of your heart are probably tuned to the real things of value? Don't you think that what he has in store will be exactly right and fit your heart beautifully?

    So I don't know if it will snow in heaven. But I think maybe there will be something just as good, or better. Though it's hard to imagine anything better than cardinals in snow or deer in the backyard or a backyard full of trees, all tucked behind a stone house. Or a stone house full of people who love you.

    Dang it, Cori. I've got enough things to ache about. Now I'm grieving over something I never had.

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  2. Kristen-
    Not only do I appreciate you leaving a word of comment when you visit- not that I am writing for comments, though its nice to know that if someone is by chance reading, they have something to say one way or the other - but I appreciate that you give back to me stories. This does not surprise me, since you are such an accomplished writer. But knowing what energy and time it takes to put something into words makes me feel connected to you, like we have had long, interesting conversations over lunch, only there are no calories involved.
    Thank you for that.
    The world of a writer can be (as you know) a rather lonely place.

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  3. love it!

    this song always tugs at me. Don't know why, it just does.

    And John has totally inherited or learned some of that same blasted logic. :)

    love you!

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  4. I already loved your songs. Learning about their beginnings makes them all the more wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  5. And why do you think I do it? Because I know the lonely place, and here is a story motel, just begging for fellow travelers to rest. We can do it with calories sometime, too - You give to me. I have to return the favor.

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  6. I grew up in the hills of Pennsylvania, right outside of Pittsburgh. I went out to Utah to go to school and met my husband here. It has been amazing, but I ache for my family and for my hometown. I haven't had a Christmas with them since my move. I heard your song and just cried, it relates to my life tremendously. Thank you for writing it!

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