It was the week Prince died. Music was on our minds, so I gave my class this writing prompt: Write about music you loved or music you hated. Let it take you back in time, in your head and on the page.
We did a three-minute meditation, then wrote, nonstop, for fifteen minutes. This was mine:
I don’t remember my mother singing me lullabies. But I know she did because I sing them to my own children. When my son, my first, was a colicky newborn, I’d often spend the whole night dozing on the rocking chair in his room, as I held him against my chest, to lull him to sleep. Sleep wouldn’t come to him unless he felt my heart beat next to his. And, perhaps more to entertain myself than him, I sang. I was too exhausted to think of song lyrics. I had to sing something I knew without thinking.
So I sang my mother’s lullabies. Daisy daisy, give me your answer do, I’m half crazy, all for the love of you. . . Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home . . . Mama’s lil chillen love shortnin shortnin, Mam’s lil chillen love shortnin bread . . . Tur a lu ra lu ra, tur a la ra li, tu ra lu ra lu ra, hush now don’t you cry . . . And the one I remember best of all. The one that chokes me up even now (the one my daughter still asks for): I gave my love a cherry without a stone . . . The part that always gets to me is the last line: “The story of my love, dear, it has no end.” It’s a cliché. There’s nothing artful or original about that last line. But in my exhaustion I felt the endlessness of love, that when your body and brain are drained and you have nothing left, when it’s three in the morning and you’re still rocking in that chair, it feels like you must be doing it all for a reason and that reason must be the endlessness of love.
The music I do remember sharing with my mother evokes less sympathetic feelings. She listened to country radio, which felt, to me, like a glorification of two timing, heavy drinking, truck driving, foul mouthed rednecks. I’m not proud that I judged the music so harshly, so stupidly, back then. I was unsophisticated enough to fancy myself sophisticated, immature enough to think I was above all those twanging guitars and country roads take me home (I was moving to New York City! I knew where the real action was). I was no coal miner’s daughter, or at least I didn’t want to admit it. Only now, living so near bluegrass country, can I appreciate how much I missed out by dismissing my mother’s music. And, by extension, my mother.