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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Block Party Surprises--Glen Campbell's Last Song

Who would imagine it? At a block party? That ultimate American experience, where we petition to block traffic on one block, and haul out the grill and lawn chairs, water balloons and sidewalk chalk, and everybody stands around and talks while the children go haywire? 

This wasn't our block. It was two blocks down, but we walk through their block so much that we know everyone and thus were invited. The children were a colorful crew--Asian mom's with African-American-looking children, very tall white German Catholics with Asian-looking children, white parents with adopted African-American kids, and as always in this area, a lot of little blondes and red-heads. Everybody was damp from the water balloons, and mostly wearing great big smiles. 

My oldest chased around a busy baby for a bit, hauling her away from the bottom of the slide and the swings, and announced he wants to become a certified babysitter through the Y. 

One family and brought their amplifier and microphones, while a teenager had loaned her keyboard and a guitar. After some moms sang folk-ish songs, the guitar mom accompanied a slew of children in The Minnesota Spider, which is just like The Itsy Bitsy Spider only colder. 

The Minnesota spider climbed up the water spout
Down came the snow and washed the spider out
Out came the sun but it didn't do a thing.
So the Minnesota spider will have to wait till spring. 

"And we'll all join in on the second verse," said the Mom, "which is exactly the same as the first one. And let's sing it again. And again. And again." 

After that, another neighbor came forward, his mother in tow. Jamie is short, maybe because his feet splay out to either side. His glasses are thick. He wore a nice suit. He has several disabilities including autism and something that makes vision a challenge, so he had to put stickers on the keyboard to make sure that he could find the right notes. He lives downstairs from his parents. "I'm going to play Glen Campbell's last song," he said in his flat, level way.  "In honor of my father, who has Alzheimer's."  

And I knew I was in trouble. I was going to bawl like a baby over someone that I loved who died of Alzheimer's, someone who was a musician, like Glen Campbell. 

But Jamie needed an audience, so I pulled up a chair, put my cowboy hat on, and gave him my attention. 

He sang as simply as he speaks, mostly matter of saying the words on the right notes. Which is perfect, really. The song has a simple melody and simple words. And sometimes, the more the singer gets out of the way, the more power the song has. 

I'm still here, but yet I'm gone. 
I don't play guitar or sing my songs
The never defined who I am.
The man that loves you 'til the end.

You're the last person I will love.
You're the last face I will recall.
And best of all--
I'm not gonna miss you
I'm not gonna miss you
I'm not gonna miss you.

I'm never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids.
You're never gonna see it in my eyes.
It's not gonna hurt me when you cry.

I'm never know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain. 
One thing selfishly remains--

I'm not gonna miss you.
I'm not gonna miss you. 

I was gone at the end of the first line. I pushed the hat down and turned my face lower and just listened. I didn't want to be the focus of attention--this was Jamie's performance. Still, it's honest emotion and no shame. 

My oldest held my hand, and then went to get my husband, who sat with his hand tightly wrapped around mine. Jamie's mother put her hand on my back. A little girl ran up to her father. "What's she doing?" I heard her ask. 

My youngest said later, "That's because kids think that grownups never cry." 

"Well," I said, laughing. "I sure taught her." 

Afterwards, Jamie's mother said, "It's an awful disease." It sure is. Like schizophrenia, where the person you know disappears. With Alzheimer's they forget everything, even how to swallow. 

When he was done, I thanked Jamie for his singing. I said he had made me cry which was a gift. He didn't understand, of course, that's not the way his brain works, but it was a great gift all the same. 

And then, I wiped my eyes, and got up and went to talk to the neighbors some more. A nice crowd. Several families happily settled. One woman afraid of pursing her dream. Three kids with disabilities--those are the ones we know of. Divorced families, whole families. One troubled child had a melt-down, one parent didn't deal with the troubled child melt-down, one neighbor took care of it for him, one step-mother held herself together and didn't interfere. (I bucked her up.) Quiet happiness, quiet pain, quiet courage. Community the way it should be. Nobody perfect, everybody connected. 

It's a great gift. 

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