It's coming.

07/25/2012

 

I miss Memphis in November. 

When my ancestors came over from England and Ireland they all seemed to somehow target Memphis, TN.   It’s odd but true.  I like to think it has something to do with the music and food but who can know what drew them all there.  What I do know is they all did seem to wind up there and throughout the rest of Tennessee.  So as a child, every Thanksgiving we’d go up to Memphis for our annual family reunion.  I remember the family, sure.  I mean somewhat.  I was quite young so only certain aspects stand out to me.  One person in particular stands out the most. 

When my mother’s cousin Gerald was 19 yrs old he was sunbathing on the roof of the Methodist Wesleyan building in downtown Memphis and somehow managed to fall off.  Thus he spent the rest of his life paralyzed from the waist down.  This didn’t limit his musical abilities though as he simply played that incredible Memphis swing piano while sitting in his wheelchair. 

Bless Gerald’s heart, at the family reunions I made it my mission to keep him at the piano.  Being that these were family reunions – key being to reunite and catch up with family - I’m sure he wanted to enjoy a time of conversation.  I didn’t want that though - I wanted him to play the piano.  I was a sweet child – to the core I was sweet.  But I was undoubtedly strong willed.  On several occasions I would get behind his wheelchair and try to push him over to the piano by myself.  He just wasn’t going fast enough.  Needless to say I ultimately resigned to simply asking again but this time in a more persistently polite manner. 

You don’t understand the way Gerald sang and played the piano.  There was something about it.  You couldn’t witness him make music without smiling and wanting to make music too, that or dance.  He was so boisterous.  Music emanated from his entire chest cavity.  I remember being fascinated by the way his fingers would slap the keys sideways at lightning speeds.  I would lean over the piano and be mesmerized by the fact that my eyes couldn’t keep up with which keys his fingers were hitting and when.  But I’d try.  If I wasn’t dancing, I’d either be standing beside that upright piano hypnotized by his playing or I’d be sitting on his lap.  I much preferred sitting on his lap though as it was a great deal more fun.  His broad chest would vibrate against my back as he’d belt out whatever song he happened to sing next.  Everything was always exciting with Gerald. 

Other than Gerald, these reunions were somewhat odd in their own right.  But I suppose, what family reunion isn’t.  There was no bickering or fighting that I can ever remember.  The majority of these relatives were from British stock.  So yeah, very even-keeled.  Even-keeled while being extremely kind and loving.  Again, odd though, as the reunions were held in the same place every year – at The Somerville Bank & Trust Company.  As a child this never seemed odd to me.  But looking back, we had our family reunion in a bank every year?  Okay.  Sure.  It never seemed like a bank to me.  It seemed like an unending area of which I could investigate.  Every year I would climb up on a counter in the kitchen area and insert one lone dinner roll into the air duct above the sink.  It was my hope that when I came back to check on it the following year, my little science experiment would somehow have yielded mind blowing results of what happens to a dinner roll when left alone for roughly 365 days.  Each year I had big hopes for this discovery, though upon my return the following year, the decaying dinner roll was never there waiting on me.  That didn’t stop me though, maybe this would be the year that the cleaning crew would leave my experiments alone.  It was that or finding creative ways to dodge the onslaught of familial cheek pinches.  Yes, yes, I was a remarkably cute child.  I know.  I mean can you blame them.  Though this side of seven yrs old, I can’t blame them, at the age of seven I had no desire to re-meet the same relatives that I had met countless times before.  Children age rapidly, I get it.  I didn’t so much mind them not remembering me.  I minded them getting so excited upon that moment of epiphany when they never failed to unleash an “OH!  You’re Janice’s baby!  You look just like your mama!  Well aren’t you just!... Look at her honey!  Look at who this little one is!”  Yes, I looked just like my mama and truth be told I still do.  But even now just thinking about the way their voices would go up an octave or two into that high-pitched area of excitement, still makes my legs kinda go numb.  It would make me incredibly uncomfortable as a child.  I mean what do you say to someone who is getting so excited by how much your face looks like someone else’s face?  It’s an odd social trainwreck.  You might not think so but to my young literal brain it always made me very uncomfortable.  But we’re talking about why I miss Memphis in November, not facial examinations.  Stay on track Laura Katherine.

Memphis has a very distinct color in the winter.  Once winter rolls in, everything in the area immediately becomes more muted and the sky gets a white-gray haze to it.  It’s something that the Instagrams of the world continually attempt to fabricate.  But for Memphis it’s a very real thing, and I lived it.  Things begin to look more industrial and there’s a feel of apathetic drear in certain areas of town.  But not in downtown Memphis. True the filter was still that white-gray film but the Christmas lights strung from tree to tree lining the boulevards were quite the sight.  I don’t know if it’s just my childhood memory being candy-coated but as I recall, jazz music seemed to always be playing no matter where we went.   And it wasn’t just the dank nightclub jazz, there was that too.  The jazz I remember being so prevalent was the high stakes jazz.  The regal jazz – elite even – the kind of jazz that doesn’t need your approval because true class can’t be quantified.  But as a child visiting Memphis, everything seemed regal to me.  Even the dreary parts.

I always loved the day after Thanksgiving most.  We’d be driving back to Mississippi and from the backseat I’d ask my mother if it was really now officially Christmas time.  I remember as a young child hearing them announce on the radio that it was now the Christmas season and being fascinated by how the passing of one single day into another somehow magically initiated the Christmas season all over the world.  That people everywhere, all at the same time, knew that we were now all in the official counting down to Christmas.  I loved nothing but my family more than Christmas time… well maybe the Christmas carols blaring through radios and televisions.  Coca-Cola commercials?  Oh yes and some Campbell Soup commercials too, anything to herald in the Christmas season even a bit more was a good, good thing to me.  There was and still is something that I find deeply moving about Christmas time.  It being a time to celebrate the birth of our Messiah might have a good bit to do with it… combine that with family and nostalgic music?  Yeah, I’m everywhere and inside that one.  And as a child I was too… pure Americana I tell you.

Autumn meant something to me.  Autumn meant seasons changing and holidays coming.  And I sense that now.  It’s the end of July.  Next comes August and before you know it we’ll be through September.  Then it will be fall.  Then the cozy feeling will start to set in.  I’ve learned now to not fight it.  Just accept it as the beautiful thing that it is.  It’s this same beautiful thing that enchanted me as a child visiting Memphis.  The feeling that something big was around the corner.  Something big and something filled with an all encompassing comfort.  And it’s that comfort I expectantly look for now.
 


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