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Music Magic, a Heart Connection

“Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!”


Those of us who have at least one sibling know that there is no way of predicting how our relationship will evolve. The rhythm of our shared history, a combination of high notes and low notes, may include rests or breaks in between. Sometimes we fade in and out of each other’s lives because of geographical distance, a difference in personality, political stances, or old baggage. Those who remain connected despite challenges are fortunate.

My brother Bill and I differ in many ways. He’s a basketball fan and loves to golf, but neither interests me. He is stoic. I can be emotional. We are both moderates when it comes to politics, although he is a little more conservative. Even so, our differences don’t get in the way. Having shared seven decades of history, we are linked in many ways.

Music is one of those links that has hummed between us for most of our lives.

In the 1950s, Bill and I, along with our sister Marcia, first learned simple tunes like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. There was comfort in listening to and singing familiar tunes and a certain pride in having memorized them. No doubt our parents and grandparents rewarded us with approving smiles, warm hugs, and a fair amount of clapping.

At Christmastime, Mom and Dad sometimes loaded us in the car after dark to admire all the bright colored lights that decorated our neighborhood. The three of us, kneeling on the backseat, (no seatbelts required back then), would peek out the frosty windows while Mom led the singing. Our favorite songs were "Jingle Bells", "We wish You a Merry Christmas" and, of course, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” which encouraged us to behave ourselves.

One year we must have been awfully good because, Dad, despite being a frugal man, took us to the theatre to watch the famous cowboy, Gene Autry, sing “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer”.

Mom and Dad, perhaps without knowing it at the time, were creating an important link between my brother and me that would keep us connected and bring us joy for a lifetime.

I was retired and in my early 60s when Bill, close to retirement himself, began recommending and sending music to me on CDs. By my mid 70s, he’d sent me nine separate lists containing a total of 165 entertaining and uplifting songs he had personally selected.

Less than a year ago, knowing I would soon take a long flight over the Atlantic and wasn’t crazy about flying, he sent me an email recommending twenty-one songs to listen to before and during the flight.

He wrote:

Barb,

You have frequently brought up your enjoyment of the music I have sent you.

This list consists of music I listen to on an almost daily basis (driving around or walking the dogs). Hopefully you will be provided with a nice listening experience as well as a glimpse of what kind of thoughts are going through my head in 2023.”

Before the trip, I printed out his recommendations, read them, and was touched by how much thought he had put into it.

Regarding the first song on his list, “All Is Found,” performed by Kacey Musgraves, the version played during the end credits of Frozen II, he wrote, “You will understand the context of the song when you watch the film with your granddaughters.”

I’d seen the movie and knew my granddaughters loved it, but I’d forgotten the lyrics so I listened to the music once again. Between the soothing guitar, Musgraves’ clear voice, and the message about the power of memory, music worked its magic on me and I began to think about the past.

When we were young, I hardly knew Bill. My sister, Marcia and I, born less than twelve months apart, were like twins. Bill, being a boy and four years younger, was more of a mystery to me. In our early years I only saw him as a cute little guy who needed my protection.

As a toddler, barely walking, he once crawled up a few stairs headed for the second floor. I spotted him trying to come back down while standing. No railing for him to hold on to, I ran, caught him in my arms, lost my balance, and fell backwards onto the floor. A soft landing for him, a minor bruise for me, I took pride in rescuing him.

When Bill was about three, my concerns for his welfare continued. One morning, our pediatrician, Dr. Sirlin, made a house call. Before his arrival, Marcia and I overheard Dad say the word “polio” in a hushed voice to Mom. Seeing the pinched look on Dad’s face and the tears in Mom’s eyes, we figured ‘polio’ must be something bad.

We were shooed out of the house to our backyard swing set. Marcia and I released our nervous energy swinging our legs up and down and wondered out loud what it would be like to be without a brother. Fortunately, the polio threat was a false alarm.

After that scare, Mom must have felt even more protective. She reinforced my big sister role. On Bill’s first day of kindergarten, my job was to escort him to and from school. Mom captured our return on her 8 mm camera. We walked, hand-in-hand, Bill frowning. After crossing the street and reaching our yard, Bill yanked his hand out of mine, solid evidence of his disgust.

Luckily for Bill, by the time he was in third grade and I was in seventh, my pesky mothering moments declined, but I was always at the ready to help when needed.

As adolescents, our relationship continued to transition into something new and so did our family's taste in music. We memorized lyrics to rock-n-roll and folk songs and Marcia, Bill, and I added dance moves to our repertoire. In my opinion, we could 'groove' with the best of them..

During that same time, my protection services were replaced with chauffeur duties. When Bill was fourteen, I drove him and his cute classmate, Diane, to his first dance. Car radio on, I peeked at the two of them in the rearview mirror and thought they looked adorable in their dress up clothes.

As I continued to reflect on our past, I realized that I'd missed some of my brother’s important growing up years.

Bill was a high school freshman when I went off to the University of Wisconsin and our parents began a series of moves due to Dad’s career promotions. First to Ohio, then abroad to Scotland, then Pennsylvania, and finally Iowa. During the four years when we were mostly apart, Bill grew into a handsome young man who no longer needed a big sister looking out for him.

Eventually, Bill, Marcia and I were all married and had children of our own and had scattered to three states: Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois. Busy leading our own lives, we only occasionally got together for visits with Mom and Dad.

I stopped thinking about the past for a moment and looked at Bill’s playlist once again. Reading the title of another song, I realized it wasn’t until personal tragedy struck, that I began to fully appreciate the depth of my brother's character.

“Get It Right Next Time” performed by Gerry Rafferty was a song that Bill said should be performed by my son Phillip. He added, “I think it’s his style and he would own the lyrics. Very uplifting in my opinion.

He was right. I knew that Phil, who had once been in a band, would appreciate these lyrics, but I owned them too.

I was forty when my marriage ended in divorce and it was then that my brother began to look out for me as I had for him. He called. He visited. He listened. He encouraged me to watch movies that had strong female characters like Sigourney Weaver’s Ridley in “Alien.”

I looked at another music recommendation on Bill's list, “Give You Up” by Dido, which he described as “A beautiful and mellow song about carrying on…”, and recalled when we began to support each other equally.

Marcia had died unexpectedly at age of forty-two. At her funeral, standing at the podium in a church filled to capacity, Bill and I shared the eulogy we had composed together. Knees shaking, I grabbed his hand, grateful he didn’t let go as he had in kindergarten. Later, sitting in the front pew, we looked at each other and shook our heads when the minister incorrectly said Marcia played the piano. Knowing our sister had a quite a sense of humor, we figured she would have appreciated the accolades.

Twenty-two years after Marcia died, Mom and Dad, both briefly ill due to different causes, passed away in separate hospitals within five days of each other. In their final hours, Bill and I played songs they loved, hoping that, like a lullaby, the music might soothe them.

  Remembering the songs we had chosen for our parents' memorial, “Amazing Grace,” Edelweiss,” and the “Navy Hymn”, I began to choke up. Then, “Dust in the Wind,” entered my mind, another song Bill had given me on a CD, and I pictured us gently tossing our parents’ ashes on the soil of our father’s childhood farm.

I returned to the music list and read more of my brother’s' comments about various songs…

“Listen to Your Heartperformed by D.H.T. …I came across this tune while I volunteered at the Iowa City Animal Shelter. It inspired me to make a video for the center to show volunteers in training…”

“What Happens Tomorrowperformed by Duran Duran…Kind of neutral to this song until they hit me with ‘You've got to believe it'll be alright in the end’…” Maybe I’m Amazedperformed by Jenn is the song Andrew and Shannon danced to at their wedding reception. Being the father of the groom, I had a great time that day and that night and I’ll never forget your son Jon dancing to the "I'm Too Sexy for My Shirt" song at the afterparty...”

Finally, I read Bill's comment about the last song on his list, “I Still Believe” performed by Tim Cappello. He said, “I first came across this song in the movie Lost Boys. You remember that is the film about you (as portrayed by Dianne Wiest) and your two sons moving to the Murder Capital which happens to be inhabited by Vampires. This tune always gets me pumped up. Feel free to play this at my memorial service.”

...

My brother, a great teaser, has a good sense of humor and, after all these years, I am happy to say he's no longer a mystery. Like his favorite comic book hero, Batman, he is definitely one of the 'good guys' and his appreciation and use of music continues to be one of his super powers.

There is no doubt our relationship will continue to evolve as we grow older and though I don’t like to think about it, one of us will outlive the other. In the end, whether I play “I Still Believe” at his memorial service or he honors me with a song I have requested, I’m confident that the shared melodies of our past will console whichever one of us survives and our music connection will remain. That, to me, is magic.

What keeps you connected with family or friends?

  


 

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4 Comments


What a beautiful story about your evolving connection with Bill. You had me from the first paragraph!

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Just what I needed to read today!

connections make life rich! Thank you for sharing!

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Barb...What a wonderful tribute to being part of a family. It is so true that sibling relationships have an ebb and flow to them. But we are all connected, by our DNA as well as common memories and stories. Appreciate the reminder. As one whose soul is fed by music, I now have more songs to call up. Thanks for sharing, cuz!

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I'm glad you liked it.We are connected!

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