Songs to Sing

Tuesday’s RemembeRed  memoir prompt, from The Red Dress Club, asked us to dig deep, from our childhood, and write about something we still remembered from heart.  I immediately thought about my paternal grandfather and the songs he used to sing.

Papa and me

The songs were nothing you would probably recognize, songs about sixpence and pretty little girls, songs about tiny bubbles and wine, but they were his love language. They were lyrical treasures I could share with him. He would sing them in the car while Grandma caressed our cheeks, sitting in the backseat, reminding us to spit out our gum if we felt sleepy. He would hum them in the morning, pouring his cup of coffee, reading the paper. He would sing them by my bedside when I was sick at Christmas. He would belt them out while we took long walks together. He would croon them while making lunch for me on our special weekly visits and he would sing them when he thought about Grandma, telling stories of his beautiful bride.

When grandparents die, you see a grief deeper than you ever imagined, a sorrow that lingers, shadowing your parent’s thoughts and your immortality. You get a glimpse of your future loss. As generations pass, your parents become the patriarchs of their families.

“Papa is in the hospital, ” my mom said over the phone, her voice strained and tired, “You’ll need to get a flight soon if you want to say goodbye.”

While flying back to San Antonio, I heard Papa’s voice in my head, his songs playing over and over. I pictured us dancing at my wedding. We were fortunate enough to have a live band perform. Besides the traditional Daddy/Daughter dance, I also requested a special song for my Papa, a song that conjures vivid memories of catching him dance with Grandma in the kitchen, singing sweetly in her ear:

Tiny bubbles (tiny bubbles)
In the wine (in the wine)
Make me happy (make me happy)
Make me feel fine (make me feel fine)

Tiny bubbles (tiny bubbles)
Make me warm all over
With a feeling that I’m gonna
Love you till the end of time

So here’s to the golden moon
And here’s to the silver sea
And mostly here’s a toast
To you and me

So here’s to the ginger lei
I give to you today
And here’s a kiss
That will not fade away

During our dance, Papa held me close, and sang sweetly in my ear, the same song he had sung dozens of times before with Grandma.

I didn’t make it home in time to say goodbye, but while my mom and I were cleaning out his house, we found a tape marked “Dot and Me” (my Grandma’s name was Dorothy). We gingerly placed the tape in the player and held our breath. Papa’s voice echoed clearly through the house, together with Grandma’s. They had made a tape of themselves singing.

He had left us his songs.

15 thoughts on “Songs to Sing

  1. I lost my grandpa suddenly in February, and it still breaks me apart some days. Thank you for sharing such lovely memories about yours.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. I find that writing things down, the good, the bad, and the ugly, helps me grieve more easily. It also puts things in better perspective at times. Hang in there – it will get easier.

  2. That is so sweet. So amazing. So thoughtful that he left you guys the tape. I’m blessed to have all four of my grandparents still living, and cant imagine what it’d be like lose them. Your post brings tears to my eyes.

  3. Oh, the tape of the songs.. What a gift.

    Get those into digital form before the tape degrades…

    The photo of you both is absolutely precious.

    My grandpa sings what I think of as “a little ditty”, things from his navy days. I couldn’t tell you the words.

    Thanks for sharing, Emily.

    1. I’m pretty sure my mom did do that, because I seem to remember her putting a CD in the last time we listened to them singing. For my brother’s rehearsal dinner, she made an incredible slide show and had my grandparents singing a song during part of the presentation. What was even more amazing, is that she had a recording of my brother and his wife singing together too!

  4. Ah, that’s so beautiful! My grandfather passed away just over a year ago now, which was hard. We have one of those really old tapes with the two big reels on the thing (that sentence made no sense) of him reading aloud some kids’ stories. I love it. It’s like a homemade audiobook and though it’s hard to find a tape player nowadays that’ll even take that sort of tape (when I say old I mean before cassettes and stuff), if we ever do it’s nice to hear his voice. It’s very hard though, because if I ring my grandma and it goes onto answerphone it’s his voice. She never rerecorded it. I heard that just a few weeks after his death and it made me break down, because I just wasn’t expecting it.

    1. I am so very sorry for your loss. It is hard to hear them sometimes. My aunt passed away just a couple of years ago, and her voice is still on their answering machine too. It is always a shock to hear it when I leave a message for my Uncle.

  5. None of my grandparents are alive, but the memories I have of them are still vivid. Something that I remember from my heart is playing traditional Indian board games with Paati, my maternal grandmother. In fact she bequeathed an antique Indian board game, Pallankuzhi, to me. I not only inherited the game but also all the love that came with it.

    Beautiful post, Emily.

  6. How deeply you captured a picture of your Papa. This is so incredibly touching. I am so thankful that you got to know such a wonderful man and love him the way he loved you. Well done, Daughter. Excuse me, but I need to get another tissue…

  7. Damn it Emily…I’m about to break down right here in my cubicle. I’m fortunate to have 3 or my 4 grandparents still alive today though the reality is that I will only be able to claim that for so long. It’s hard to fully cherish our elders I think until they’re gone and we don’t have their stories and memories to hear and feel. I do my best to talk to my grandparents as often as possible and I hope I’ll be able to do that for awhile longer. Beautiful post!

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