At the memorial service for my dad, my nephew, Chris Kiehne, sang a John Denver song:
Still I love to see the sun go down
And the world go around
And I love to see the morning
As it steals across the sky
I love to remember
And I love to wonder why
“Around and Around” was the perfect choice for celebrating Dad’s great zest for the world. Thank you, Chris. (I get a real kick that my nephew even knows who John Denver is. I thought only old fogies like me know John Denver.)
My father died, still exuberant at 92, while taking what was supposed to be a short nap. My mother went to wake him and he was gone. Still in his bed, but gone.
I had a moment when I realized that my father was really dead. I stepped in the study and saw, on the bookshelves, his CDs.
Dad adored music. Now he would never play his beloved CDs. Never listen to “God of Our Fathers” or “A Mighty Fortress” on Sunday morning before church. Never blast John Philip Sousa on the Fourth of July or Ray Conniff at Christmas. Never slip on my favorite songs just for me or play “Alberta Bound” to remind my daughters of the fun they had dancing to the song when they were little.
“Take some of his CDs,” my mom said, and I did.
But I didn’t play them. Couldn’t. Too sad.
I had a few dreams that my father wasn’t really dead. He called us up. “I’m fine,” he said standing in a phone booth. (He wasn’t much for cell phones.) “I’ll be home soon.”
But he didn’t come home.
And for about six months I had the strange feeling that I could bring him back. Yes, me. (Hey, it’s not that weird. Joan Didion recounts a similar idea in The Year of Magical Thinking.)
But Dad didn’t reappear. And his CDs sat on my kitchen shelf. Silent.
But then one day I put one on. And then another and another. Gordon Lightfoot. Phantom of the Opera. Mama Mia. Simon and Garfunkel. Peter, Paul and Mary. South Pacific. The Drifters. Mitch Miller. Willie Nelson. Glen Campbell. John Denver.
Dad in the music! Dad in my kitchen! Back to life. Not in the same way, but still, back to life.
Photo Above: One of the last pictures of my father, Ernie Kiehne, taken in his office in Baltimore for an article in The Baltimore Sun.
Photo Below: At my daughter Katherine’s wedding, with me, June, 2007.
My nephew, Chris Kiehne, is a singer/songwriter who lives in Brooklyn. He says: “I write songs about dogs, wolves, Hamlet, living and dying, Baltimore County, the Loch Raven reservoir, and dark forests. A lot of the music that my friends and I make is available for free download at our collective website, theburgundycord.tumblr.com. You can also listen to music online at chriskiehne.bandcamp.com.”
“Around and Around”: You can hear John Denver singing his magnificent “Around and Around” here. Of course, even though he wrote the song, John doesn’t sing it nearly as well as my nephew did that August 2010 morning.
PS: Dad was an Orioles fan, therefore the touches of orange in this post. He loved classical music as well, especially Brahams and Beethoven, but mom asked that I leave the classical CDs for her. I also left some I thought my brother, a musician too, would like.