When I inherited my father's meager record collection, I rediscovered a few favorites that I used to listen to when I was younger.  He had the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  He had the Creedence Clearwater Revival album that had 'Fortunate Sun' on it.  I remember him giddily showing me a Steppenwolf song called, 'Earschplittenloudenboomer' and my lack of appreciation.  In fact, there were several albums I just didn't get and never really listened to.  Blood, Sweat, and Tears' self-titled album.  Ten Years Later.  Led Zeppelin III.  Classics that I didn't appreciate until much, much later.  And some I've yet to crack...but time has a way of wearing away the soil that obscures my understanding.

I saw Django Unchained this week and REALLY enjoyed it.  Among the great cast, the gorgeous cinematography, and the witty dialogue it had a fabulous soundtrack.  There were a lot of songs I'd never heard, yet they found a home instantly in my heart.  I got home and immediately bought the soundtrack.  I listened to it several times on Christmas, and several times yesterday.  Today, I realized there was a song in the movie that wasn't on the soundtrack.  That's not unusual; albums only hold so much music and rights cost money.  I was determined to find this song, though I only knew one word:  Freedom.

After some research, I discovered the song.  It was a 1969 tune by a guitar player by the name of Richie Havens, conveniently titled 'Freedom'.  The guitar soothed me and the voice haunted me.  I had to hear it again.  But every version I found on Youtube was a recent recording, and the few older recordings I found were live.  After more research, I found out why.  The version that is most well-known comes from the album cobbled together from the live recordings at Woodstock.  I discovered this, and had a moment.  Time stopped for just a second.  I paused, stood up, and walked to the living room.  I bent down to the box that holds my vinyl, both new and old, and extracted a tattered three-cover album simply titled 'Woodstock'.

I never played this when I was younger.  'Live' recordings weren't my thing for the most part of my life.  The only time this record spun on the turntable is when I wanted to let one of my friends hear 'The Fish Chant' by Country Joe and the Fish.  Otherwise, my ears were virgin to the entire Woodstock experience.  Sure enough, there it was on side one of disc one:  Freedom.

Even though the hour was late, I took out the groovy disc, put it on my player, and listened to a song that I had just fallen in love with in all its crackly glory.  A song that had existed well before I did.  And one that sat, waiting, in my living room for the past two years.

It was as if my father had grabbed my shoulder and said, 'Son, sit down a minute.  I have a song I really want you to listen to.'  It just took me a while to hear it.



Merry Christmas

It's been the best Christmas I've had in quite a long time.

I am largely a social creature; I am happiest when among others.  My giving season started on Friday the 14th.  I love to host, and I invited my closest friends over for a fancy-dressed party to celebrate the holidays.  We laughed, drank, exchanged gifts...and had a fantastic time.  The gifts I gave were well received, and my friends were generous.  We sat around and played the Wii U as well.  I looked around at one point, saw my friends enjoying themselves, and was filled with a gladness of heart that would've sustained me for the entire Christmas season.  But a week later, I had another gathering.  I met my weekly board game crew for another gift exchange and a game of 7 Wonders.  Once again, it was a group of friends sitting around and enjoying each other's company in the spirit of giving.  In the last two weeks, I not only had these two gatherings but hung out pretty regularly with other friends, too.  

This brings me to this past extended weekend.  I made a quick decision to head up to Pawhuska early and get some extra visiting time with my family.  I took my camera, too, and took my time driving up Highway 11 to reach the city of my father's family.  The next two-and-a-half days were full of the kind of family time that had only existed in distant memory.  We hadn't all been together as such since Grandma passed in late 2010.  Since that terrible winter of death and divorce, I've felt somewhat estranged from my family.  And my friends, really.  As happy and busy as I've been, I have not been able to shake this feeling that I don't fit anywhere.  Do not misunderstand me; this is not the fault of anyone but myself.  I've just felt out of step with everyone in my life, and it has cost me relationships and left me with many sleepless nights.

After a wonderful few days with the Martin clan, I came home and spent today with my family here.  Mom 'n the Gang.  Once again, it was an environment I hadn't felt I'd fit into for a very long time.  But today felt good.  We were laughing, enjoying each other's company, and there was no rush.  I felt normal, for the first time in a long time.  I wasn't trying to think of an exit strategy so I could get back home and sulk in the dark.  Everything was fine.

At the end of this busy season, I sit at home listening to music by myself and I feel FULL.  I can close my eyes, smile, and the smile is deep.  I know I still have a long way to go; the high that comes with these gatherings will wear off sooner than I expect.  But this Christmas was a big win.  I have my friends and family to thank for that.  You are all wonderful people and I am so very thankful for you.


A New Store

Steven Chbosky wrote, “I am both happy and sad at the same time, and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.”  There are words in the English language we use to define such an emotional place.  Ambivalence.  Bittersweet.  They hardly do justice to the actual emotion; I think those moments are some of the most important we can experience on our journey through this world.

I found myself in Bixby this evening, after having a nice visit with my friends Billy and Joy.  Next to their apartment complex stood a brand-new Reasor's grocery store.  I left the Carr's apartment tired and ready to go home, but the allure of a sparkling, pristine supermarket was too much for me.  I pulled in and looked up at the fresh neon.  The glow against the night sky, positioned above the flourescent light pouring from the glass storefront, called to me as a porch light calls to a moth.  I feel the same way about a new grocery store that a lot of folks feel about new cars.  As it was, it was late and I pretty much had the store to myself.

I walked inside and was hit with something unexpected; the smell.  Growing up, I visited grand openings of grocery stores with my father many times.  There's a smell that can't be narrowed to any one thing...it's a mixture of the new product, the new fixtures, the paint, everything.  It triggered a flood of non-specific memory from childhood.  I smiled as I wandered through the produce section and took in the layout.  I will never know even half of what my Dad did about the why's behind grocery store layouts.  I know there is purpose behind everything, and some of it is rather logical.  But just because I don't fully understand something doesn't mean it I don't appreciate it.  

Walking up and down the aisles of the store, I could hear my father's voice speaking softly into a micro-cassette recorder.  He used to walk the competition and speak products and prices; afterwards, he would go home, replay his tape, and compare it to the giant green-and-white spreadsheet that represented his prices.  The shelves were full of perfectly faced product.  The freezer cases were untarnished and clear.  The lights were bright and even.  It was a gorgeous store, and I smiled genuinely as I explored.  That elation mixed with the melancholy tendrils of loss, my memories of Dad all those years ago muddying with the more recent memory of an etched stone on a hill in Pawhuska.

There's something beautiful that happens when such strong emotions come into contact.  It breathes life into those old memories, bringing appreciation for those old times to a point where, for a moment, reality takes a back seat.  I wandered those aisles not in grief, but in service.  I could've been checking the place out as a favor for him.  Maybe it was his store, and he was in the back somewhere helping the stock boys.  In any case, Dad felt alive within me.  The same thing happens when I watch an old film he loved or I experience something new I just know he would have.

Although it's not that strong on regular trips, grocery shopping always brings him back for me.  I think of the things he'd say, the teachings I've almost forgotten about the business, and the times I spent in stores with him.  I think of the way he treated people, with respect, and how much he really loved it.  I wouldn't be surprised if I found myself in one again someday, perhaps with a head of silver hair, smiling and helping strangers with a task many people consider rote and a chore.  My smile would be genuine, because I would not only be myself, but I would be my father and his father before him.  There's something so deeply comforting about that.