April 2013

The Sound of Music

Leigh Montano

There’s a friend of the family, one of my mom’s best friends’ moms and like a surrogate mom for my mom, who we call Grandma Arnold. My mom’s told me the story a hundred times of why we call her that but I couldn’t tell you for the life of me why we do. Her name isn’t Arnold. Her last name isn’t Arnold. She doesn’t have any kids named Arnold. But to us she is always Grandma Arnold.

She was Grandma Arnold.

She was one of the nicest people you would ever meet. She was the embodiment of small town America. No matter where you ran into her, the grocery, the bank, the library, she would stop and chat with you and catch up, even if you just saw her just the other day, and even if you really were in a hurry.

She was one of the smartest people I knew. She regularly blew me away with what she knew on all kinds of topics. She would regularly talk about various scientific things that would go way over my head, but she never talked down to me, to anyone.

She was one of the funniest people. Numerous times, I stopped in my tracks after she said something that sounded innocent, but the twinkle in her eye made you realize she didn’t mean it to be innocent. I remember laughing at her various off-handed comments, although I can’t remember any of them right now. I just remember that they were never things you expected a little old lady to say.

A few years ago on Christmas Eve, we were all sitting at the table after our pierogi, digesting our food and contemplating playing a game. Grandma Arnold always got a party game or a board game for us to play after dinner on Christmas Eve. Somehow we started talking about The Sound of Music. I can’t remember why, I just remember what she said about it.

“I am 67 years old and I’ve never seen The Sound of Music. At this point it’s going to be my life goal to never see it. I figure I don’t have much longer before I reach it.”

My mom called me last Monday, the same day as the bombings in Boston. I was at work but I figured that is what she wanted to talk to me about. She feels the need to make sure I’m alright whenever there is a tragedy anywhere in the world, just to make sure that I’m safe and that I didn’t take a spur of the moment trip to wherever tragedy has struck. Motherly instinct and all that. I figured it would be a simple phone call talking about how I had been to Boston the year before on the exact same day and would’ve been a few blocks away from the bombing. I figured we would share a moment of awkward silence, both of us imagining what would’ve happened if I had been there this year. I didn’t expect the call I got at all.

“Grandma Arnold died.”

The “oh” that fell out of my mouth was clumsy and almost rude. I didn’t think…I couldn’t think. Of all the things that I expected her to say, that was one of the last on the list. That was on the list right after, “The president of Burundi has stopped by for tea and Spam.”

My mind stopped. I didn’t realize I was crying until my coworker looked at me. The pause on the phone was awkward, like I expected, but for a different reason. I tried to shove the tears down hard so I wouldn’t look like a fool crying in the middle of a factory.

My mom filled in the silence with details, of how it was sudden and her friend Samantha, Grandma Arnold’s daughter and my mom’s friend, just found out. There weren’t any plans yet. She’d call me back when they figured them out. She ended the conversation with telling me about the Boston bombings. I chokingly told her what I knew and that I would’ve been there a year earlier.

I cried on the way home, as my boyfriend drove us. I tried not to, thinking of all the times I’ve cried coming home from work and for various reasons, mainly from exhaustion and frustration. The mail that day was mostly junk mail with a rejection letter. I knew it was a rejection letter before I opened it because I had already received one from that university. The previous letter included the sentence, “This decision is final.”

“If this is another rejection letter, I might fucking scream,” I said, partly to my boyfriend but mainly to the unopened letter in my hand as if it had any say in the matter.

It was. It was an exact copy, almost as if they had gone through my trash and taken the previous letter I had thrown away and mailed it back to me.

“Don’t they know that my grandma died today?” Angry thoughts don’t do much when you’re already angry.

The next few days were a blur of sitting and waiting to do something. My mom, my brother and I helped Samantha, a New Yorker, clean out Grandma Arnold’s apartment. I felt weird cleaning and organizing someone else’s things. She won’t mind. “It’s not going to change the fact that she’s dead,” Samantha kept repeating as if she was trying to process this information herself.

We had gone to dinner, all of us and my stepdad and my mom’s other best friend and her husband and daughter and grandson. We went to a Mexican restaurant.

“It’s hard to get good Mexican in Cooperstown, New York.”

The guitarist playing live music was doing a great job covering classic songs. He started his set playing “Sweet Caroline,” and dedicated it to Boston. My brother and I sang along (including the “BAH BAH BAH!”). The rest of the party looked at us, as did the rest of the restaurant, but we had fun. The music played through dinner and interrupted conversation when my brother or I decided we had the urge to sing along. The guitarist then started playing “In My Life” by the Beatles. My mom and Samantha took turns mumbling lyrics while fighting off tears. My mom told me of how often she and Samantha would sing and listen to Beatles albums at Samantha’s house. They called each other by the band member’s names. My mom was Paul.

I recognized the notes and I noticed the tears bubbling up in the corners of my mom’s eyes as she smiled at me. It was one of those coincidental moments that make you think that there might be something more in the universe. “In My Life” isn’t an incredibly popular song, especially not for live sets in Mexican restaurants on a Wednesday night, but there was something so perfect in that moment, all of us gathered because we were mourning the loss of someone we all cared about and loved, laughing and singing.

It’s those perfect moments that we have to remember, singing with our friends to our favorite songs, laughing and talking with our family about anything and everything, eating a meal with people that you love. The small but perfect moments have to be remembered as a reminder that there are good things in the world and that it isn’t always about death and tragedy but sometimes as simple as the right song at the right time.

I hope she reached her goal.

Leigh Montano tends to knit. A lot. Probably more than anyone should or than is healthy for her. Every once in a while, she pretends to be a writer. She also talks about Sherlock Holmes more than anyone wants to hear. She can be found at http://elementaryschooled.blogspot.com and http://ofyarn.blogspot.com for those who might be interested in her babbling about knitting or Sherlock Holmes and she understands if you aren’t. Leigh was featured in Issue One of
Embodied Effigies, and is a returning Featured Writer.

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