[Mom passed at the age of 89, and about two years after this essay was written.]
My Dad loved music. When he was a boy, my grandfather bought him an accordion. He took lessons. He got, well, so-so good at it. We have a photo. Standing in the backyard with that contraption strapped to his chest: skinny, hair slicked back, and a big toothy smile. 1938.
And then he managed to win the affections of the prettiest and smartest country girl for a hundred miles around. And, guess what – she loved music too.
Dad was a townie. He and the Birong family lived in Buchanan, Michigan, a company-town with 5,000 or so other souls (the company was “Clark Equipment,” by the way). Mom lived out in the boonies – five miles away. Born with straw in her hair, she is prone to say. They had met while attending Buchanan High School. To this day their photos grace the north wall of that institution, along with every single graduating class since its founding in 1924.
And they loved to dance. They would go to the music halls in South Bend, Indiana, to the south, and in Chicago, 90 miles to the west. Get home in the middle of the night. Never enough. In fact, Mom once told me of a summer evening when they were so taken by the “swing” coming from the radio in Dad’s old Chevy that he pulled the car over and the two of them got out and danced – right there in the middle of a deserted road under a star-filled sky.
They were married in 1942.
# # #
And then Dad went to war. Two years gone.
For Mom: Two years with a light in the window.
For Dad: A year as pilot of Liberty Run, a B17 bomber flying sorties out of the UK; and a year in a stalag in Germany.
Then, as God would have it, in ’45 he returned to his loving life partner. He presented her with a free country; she presented him with the nation’s first baby boomer.
After two more youngsters arrived in the household, Dad built a home for his family on the outskirts of town. By then he was chief industrial engineer at Clark’s. He used his engineering skills not only to build a home for his brood on a hill overlooking the countryside, but to pre-wire it throughout with a state-of-the-art stereophonic, high fidelity sound system – probably one of the first of its kind (all with Electro-Voice components, of course). And then everybody in the family became a part of the music. And then he bought the most cherished tangible object of his life: an H-100 Hammond Organ. His kids learned to play musical instruments too. No surprise.
# # #
Mom, now 87 and a widow of fifteen years, sits in her favorite chair and strokes the head of little George, her Chihuahua. And she slowly rocks and listens to one of scores of cassette tapes that my dad recorded of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra; the big bands of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Lawrence Welk; and the soundtracks of the film musicals of South Pacific, Oklahoma and, of course, The Music Man.
And she remembers. And she smiles. And she sleeps at night with a song in her heart.