In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Always Something There to Remind Me.”
I was too young to remember it when my mum sang Amazing Grace and rocked me to sleep as a small baby, but I do remember the years of my dad singing me to sleep. My dad can’t hold a tune, but five year old me can’t tell, and his voice and his presence reassure me. He sings familiar songs: Kumbaya, Micheal Row Your Boat Ashore, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. When I grow older and I bustle around some nights tucking my sisters into bed, I will sing those songs too. But now, before Dad leaves me for the night, there is one more song I want to hear.
“Almost heaven/West Virginia/blue ridge mountains/Shenandoah river…”
This song will always be calming to me, will always sound good in my dad’s voice. When I meet my uncle, the country singer, I will ask him if he knows this one. And now, it will put me to sleep.
“take me home/Country Roads”
“There’s a storm across the valley/the clouds are rolling in/the afternoon is heavy on your shoulders…”
Every time I hear this song, it’s like driving along a Saskatchewan highway in the winter. The heat in the van is on, my younger siblings are asleep, and the dark outside is not much deeper than the gloom inside. Frost has formed on my window and I trail a finger across it, then press my palm there hoping to cool down a bit. The slow melody lulls me and I curl up in my backseat, letting my eyes fall shut. The only sounds besides the music is the hum of the engine, and I can almost sleep. One song shifts into another for hours yet, until we pull up at my grandparents’ house in Saskatoon. But when we crawl into our beds and I do fall asleep, this song is the one still running through my head.
Even in South Africa, this song makes me feel at home. I close my eyes and I smell spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove, I see the bright lights of our kitchen and hear my dad singing along tunelessly.
“…strangers, waiting/up and down the boulevard/their shadows searching in the night…”
I feel my sisters’ hands in mine as we dance, see their grinning faces as I spin them. My father is jumping up and down with a spoon in his hand, now. This is his favourite song. I like it because it is his.
To this day, Puff the Magic Dragon makes me think of Viva Puff cookies, and the couch in my grandparents’ sun room, warm light coming in through the windows, the sweetness of the marshmallow and jelly, and my Papa telling me I may have two.
“every time/I close my eyes/it’s you/and I know now/who I am/yeah yeah yeah/and I know now…”
This song somehow is a comfort though it feels so lonely. I listen to it and I feel my head rattling as it rests on the bus window. I hear it and I’m staring out over English countryside at herds of sheep. Somehow, along with it come the sounds of forty band students chattering and singing, and a feeling of anticipation: what will we see today? Where do we play? Who will we hear?
“You don’t know you’re beautiful!”
One Direction comes on next.
Any song by Shania Twain will do it, but Rock This Country is the strongest. I’m back in my grandparents’ basement, the Christmas my cousins got a karaoke machine. My oldest cousin got a Shania Twain CD to go along with it, and I’m certain this was our favourite song. We sing along as best we can and dance like maniacs, jumping around and laughing until our stomachs hurt. It’s just the two of us down there: the boys have wandered off and the little girls are still very little (if they’re born at all). But we are loud and excited and overflowing with energy; we don’t need anyone else to have fun. Just two cousins, rocking out, having a blast. But what I remember the most is that she is herself; loud and happy and energized and fully in that moment. And in that moment she is still alive.