It was late. Not necessarily “late” in the Connors household, but late according to the normal world. We tend to burn the midnight oil around here, and always have. (Just check out the time I usually post on this blog.) The day had wound down to where the steady heartbeat of the rocking pendulum on the Grandfather clock was heard throbbing against the wooden floors. David had gone to bed, but Kate and Annie and I sat up in the family room, talking. Through all the years our kids were growing up we never had a television in our family room. We were lucky enough to have another room where we could plant a TV, so that when we wanted to watch a show, we could watch a show. Otherwise there was other stuff to do and the “all seeing eye” was not staring at us, tempting us with diversion. The family room, where we gathered most often, was used for guitar playing and conversation, with an occasional couch-nap under an open book.
I cannot recall what the topic of discussion was this late spring night, but I remember it ended up with reminiscence. Kate had recently wrapped up her performance in the high school musical, Footloose, where she played the role of Vi Moore. Annie remarked how beautifully Kate sang Can You Find It in Your Heart; and how crazy it was that Kate was the mother of someone Annie’s age in the play. Kate started remembering all the good times in rehearsal, and in performances, and then Annie talked about sharing music together. Memories started bubbling up and the two of them began reminiscing about sharing other classes together; about softball and basketball and madrigals and choir; about friends they shared; about teachers they loved and some not-so-much. The pace quickened as memories rose, like the pages of a photo album turned themselves before us and they were trying to keep up. I remember sitting there on the red couch, watching them curl their legs under them and lean into each other as they talked. Kate paused for a moment, then in an almost-whisper she said, “In a few months I won’t see any of these people any more.”
“Yes you will,” said Annie… “Well… maybe…oh dear, maybe not!”
Kate got that far away look she gets in her deep dark eyes when tears creep into the corners: “I am not likely to see these people who have meant so much to me…Who have spent every day with me for so long.”
Then it got quiet.
And Annie started to cry, a big tear rising up over her cheekbone as she gasped “What will I do without you?”
The three of us sat there in the quiet of the family room, the Grandfather clock ticking away in the hall, and we wept.
All three of us knew we were on the cusp of some mighty changes. Kate would leave for college, Annie would be the lone child at home, I would chisel away another part of me in the process, losing what most defined me, one child at a time.
I tried, I’m pretty sure, to impart some sort of adult wisdom on the moment, though I am quite sure none of it helped much. We, all three of us, ached with anticipation. Finally we hugged each other, kissed good night, and the two of them climbed the stairs to their bedrooms.
I remained in the family room in silence, pondering the beauty of this portion of my life, quaking at the loss of it. It was one of those moments where life presents itself like a movie. I saw my two littlest girls from birth until that moment, all their laughter and sorrows and antics, all their struggles and triumphs; in a flash. And I picked up my guitar. By morning I had most of the words and most of the music, and I had preserved the memory of that night with my girls. When I got to the very short Chorus I was at a loss for the word that should fill the last line, which would also be the title of the song. I knew it must be 4 syllables, and I knew what I wanted it to mean, but I could not find it. Since it did not rhyme with anything it was pretty much a gift spot, meaning I did not have to fit words into parameters that were so limiting…but still it had to be 4 syllables, and the emphasis had to be on the right syllable, and it had to represent the song. I went to bed, just before the sun rose, without that word.
The next day I worked on the song, tightening lyrics, shifting images, the way I usually do. I completely neglected the dishes and the vacuuming and probably making dinner. The next day, and the next, and the next. It takes me a long time to get the songs where I am comfortable with them. When I am writing a song I end up going CRAZY because I cannot get the thing out of my head. And to top it off I don’t generally share my work until it is pretty much complete, so it’s sort of like I am possessed by a melody and lyric that won’t leave me alone. Really, it can be awful! Non-songwriters will say things like “It sounds so simple it probably just comes that way to you, huh?” And I usually smile and say, “Not really.” If they only knew!
After a couple weeks of working on this song, still not having the hook line, or in this case “hook word”, I felt like I should pay a visit to Tery Binkerd.
Tery Binkerd is a gift of a woman, one who I am sure has no idea how many lives she has changed. She is a teacher at Viewmont High, and the stage manager for the extraordinary musicals Jeanne McGuire oversees every year. She is the sister to Jax Rogers, Jeanne’s assistant and a personal high school savior to so many kids. Tery loves languages. When Kate was a sophomore Tery convinced the school administration to let her offer an after school class in the study of Latin. Kate and a few of her friends decided to take the class, probably as much because they loved Ms Binkerd as anything. Every other day Tery taught, without compensation, a dead language to a class full of high school kids. The next year, when Kate was a junior, there were just a handful of students taking Latin II. By her senior year, it was just Kate and Tery. I visited the school one afternoon, after the school bell had rung. I made my way to Ms. Binkerd’s room and peeked in the door. There was Tery sitting balanced on the back legs of her chair, her legs crossed at the ankles and slung over the top of her desk. Kate sat opposite her, her chair leaning in the opposite direction, her legs slung up on the desk as well. Both of them cradled AP Latin books in their laps. I stood there in silence long enough to preserve the picture in my heart. Long enough to think a prayer of thanks for Tery Binkerd.
Finally I cleared my throat and they turned to me. We talked and laughed about random things, and Kate left to get something from the choir room. Finally I asked Tery if there was a word in Latin that means “remembrance”. She was looking down at something on her desk and without looking up she said “Memoria.”
Four syllables. With the perfect weight on the appropriate syllables.
Memoria is a song for my girls, for all my children, for all my family and my friends and the world…so I will not forget. I can keep them here…right in the safety of my heart.
And it is my silent personal tribute to Tery Binkerd.
And it is my silent personal tribute to Tery Binkerd.
I pictured three sisters on a starry night, looking up. And I imagined the dreams of those girls in the stars…they swoop down and scoop up each girl in her own time. Three sisters…Ann Marie, Cori and Libby. Three sisters…Sarah, Kate and Annie. The symmetry was moving to me.
I thought of my three little girls, of their separate and collective dreams, of the opportunities and stumbling blocks life sets on their paths. I ached with desire to walk with them always. But knowing how paths are marked for individual feet, I knew I could not interfere with their destinies any more than my own mother did mine. I realized that particular night, in the solitary space of our family room, that it was coming on time for me to let go of their soft little girl hands. Though I would have lingered there longer, I knew instinctively that timing in these matters is important, and a parent who holds on too long will ferment some of the sweet juices of memory. So I let go.
But I keep them here…I keep them here…in the remembrance of my heart.
Since we’ve come this far, take a look around
It’s a beautiful road we have been walking down
And all that good born of yesterday
Has gathered here today
Who can tell about tomorrow
It could all be swept away
So I will keep you here
I will keep you here
When the moon rose up and turned the blanket down
And the night rolled in, stars came shining ‘round
There we stood our necks stretched heavenward
As the dreams came out to play
One chose you, and one has chosen me
And they carry us away
Take a look around
Here we are, born of yesterday
Together here today
Come what will tomorrow
They can’t take this away
My friend Debbie Williams told me, when my kids were little, that if I wanted an intimate and communicative relationship with my teenagers I would need to stay up after 11:00 pm. She was right. I cherish the memory of that night, and of many nights before and since.