My dad could play most any musical instrument. He played "by ear", never learning how to read sheet music. He often lamented his lack of formal musical education, and I wished I could tell him again how much his talent meant to me growing up.
Dad died in 2000. I often pass the cemetery where he is buried. Hurried by the workaday need of a waiting family and supper to attend to, I manage a quick "hello" from my car as I drive by. I miss him, more on some days than others.
He worked the second shift at the General Dynamics plant and had a parttime job as a butcher about 3 days a week. Looking back, I don't know when he ever rested.
Occasionally, though seldom on a school night, I would hear him puttering around the kitchen and den late into the wee hours of the early early morning. Softly strumming his guitar to a record playing low on the stereo, he would listen to the chords over and over until he "got" whatever song it was he wanted to learn. I can still hear the skip and bump of the turntable needle as he manually reset it to play a certain track.
As a teenager during the late 60's, my music was nothing he was particularly fond of, but I do recall he was impressed with the talent of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Maybe out of an attempt to connect or just squeeze a little more time with me , he learned "Till There Was You". He couldn't do all of the fancy fret work, but he had a more than pleasant rendition of this early Beatles tune. I was pretty awed and appreciative, but I don't recall telling him. Missed opportunities. How I wished I had just a day to tell him again how much I loved him.
It was during one of these late night one man jam sessions that I heard an unfamiliar strain of really sweet and melodious music. I turned over in bed to hear better. After the third play through of the song, he began to try his guitar chording, and soon had half the melody down.
I got up and walked down the hallway towards the kitchen, intending to get a quick drink of water, give him a peck on the check and go back to bed.
"Come see what I bought today!" he teased. "Bet you've never heard of this band."
Indeed, I hadn't. Dad had bought an album of the Los Indios Tabajaras.
Some of you may remember a tune called "Maria Elena". The song had a quick pop following, and a 14-week run in the US Top 10 charts. Probably the only reason he was even exposed to their music.
It was "Maria Elena" Dad was learning to play. The song is forever etched into my mind along with that sleepyheaded late night I sat up to keep him company while the rest of the family slumbered away. It is a very good and special memory.
Dad never had the chance to become a virtuoso like these two Brazilian boys, but it wasn't for lack of trying. How oddly and serendipitous some lessons are taught by our parents, most times without their conscious knowledge.
From my dad came a love of all genres of music, discovery and joy in the simple tasks of life, and the power of tenacity.
Some things he got right.