Strumming Soul Strings

I grew up with the strumming of guitar strings vibrating in my eardrums. As a pre-teen, I would pad downstairs on a sunny late weekend morning to find my dad or brother plucking acoustic Taylors, harmonizing on a Beatles or Tom Petty tune. My dad and I used to practice melodies: I can still remember sitting on the bench in our family room, hair still damp from a bath, a fresh nightgown on, singing "As Tears Go By," by the Rolling Stones. It is a memory indelibly seared into my mind.

A few years later, Friday and Saturday nights were reserved for a local coffee shop or dive bar where my brother participated in open mic nights. If it was the latter, I’d get in with large permanent marker “X”’s on the tops of both my hands, the ink bleeding between bony knuckles. In my late high school to early college years, I’d learn to bolt to the bathroom and use the reusable hanging paper towel to scrub the marks off while they were still fresh. A shadow of the ink always lingered, so I’d order my vodka soda with a splash of cranberry from the bartender: one hand in my pocket and the other coyly tucking a stray hair behind my ear).

I loved when my brother would play the local places. He performed Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and David Gray covers, inviting my dad, his girlfriend (now wife), and sometimes even me, to come and sing with him. I used to love to practice certain songs. Even though my range wasn’t great, he’d secure the capo way down on the lower frets of the neck of his guitar to match my voice and we would practice my favorites from Jewel or Sheryl Crow. With five years between us, music was one of the ways we connected. He always made room for me.

Music has always comprised much of who I am. My husband Doug was shocked to find that I used to drive to the train station and commute nearly two hours each way, most days, without music pumping through my headphones. He couldn’t even understand that I craved the quiet. In fact, I'm such an introvert that I typically had my headphones in with nothing at all playing from them. They were utilized primarily as my signal that I was unavailable for small talk with fellow commuters.

I’ve found that my love of music is intentional. The words to Dylan’s “Forever Young” hang on a huge hand-painted wooden sign in my baby’s nursery. When I was pregnant, my husband purchased “belly buds,” headphones with sticky pads to adhere to my swollen belly, with a set of earphones for us to listen to our favorite songs along with our unborn child.

The Beatles “Hello, Goodbye” was the soundtrack when my son’s first cries echoed in the empty hallways of the maternity floor during the onset of the pandemic. Completely unplanned, the Pandora station set the scene for his arrival and I marveled in agony at the irony. I recall my OB/GYN exclaiming, “one more push, Christine! He’s going to arrive with the words ‘I say hello!’ playing: this is so cool!”

It is natural for me to sing to my son. In the early newborn stage, I’d make up songs about the morning, my love for him interlaced in every melody. I hummed, cooing and cuddling him as my voice carried us both through an exhausting haze. When he was about two months old, I sang a Zac Brown Band song to him as he sat in his bouncer chair, his tear-soaked lashes from a bout of reflux, matching mine, from a bout of exhaustion. Our massive doe eyes mirrored awe for one another, unblinkingly locked in love. 

Music is always there for me. Even when I yearn for quiet, my soul intuitively takes me back to song. At night when the house is silent except for the sound machine we use to lull my son to sleep, I hear the distant songs of the crickets and frogs, grounding me home. Music is family. It is the place where I grew up. It marks every milestone and jogs memories tucked in the caverns of my mind. Music is life.

Music is the theme for my writing group this month.

Read more pieces about music from my fellow Illuminate members:

Across the Lines by Hannah Kewley
The Music of Postpartum by Leesha Mony 

My Big Day by Crystal James

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