Our little family is a family of storytellers. Daddy and Mama were both natural storytellers and much of the time we spent together, both as children and adults, was filled with stories about their lives and our lives.
Sunday mornings and every night at the dinner table were storytelling times. While dinner storytelling was mostly confined to each person’s activities that day (everybody got a chance to tell the story of his or his day) interspersed with teachable moments with Daddy and Mama when any of our stories had ethical or moral dilemmas where right and wrong needed to be delineated, Sunday mornings were Daddy’s and Mama’s historical storytelling time.
That is when we heard their histories separately and together, our individual histories as their children, and our histories together as a family rehearsed again and again. It was a treasure trove of information that I’m thankful I never checked out of because it was a repeat of something I thought (usually there was a new detail or aspect each time) I’d already heard.
Although Daddy and Mama wrote their stories well, they told them better. Daddy’s writing style was personal, but you could tell that he was looking at it from a more objective distance. Mama, on the other hand, was working out a lot of issues and the strong emotional and psychological pain she’d suffered during her childhood were repetitive themes in her writing.
When Mama began working on her second college degree in English, she began writing short stories that were clearly based on her life and which had the same themes her non-fiction writing contained. It was truly a unique experience when both us had our writing (one of Mama’s short stories and one of my poems) published in the same edition of our university’s literary publication.
(Yes, I write poetry. It was my first foray into writing in my early teenage years, and I continue to write it today. Poetry is my private way of getting to the heart of the matter in the deep questions and the intense soul-searching I do in my own life. Which is why it is not – and I don’t intend for it to be – published.)
Mama continued writing short stories until dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease took the logical flow of putting coherent thoughts on paper away from her. I begged Mama, while she was still able, to use a digital recorder to tell her stories so that, in her own voice, she could preserve them for us and her grandchildren. But Mama was never comfortable with talking while the recorder was on, so, sadly, all that we have left are her written accounts.
Since storytelling is such an integral part of our family, it is no surprise that music that tells stories is part of the soundtrack of our lives in Fields of Gold: A Love Story.
Today I will include a sampling of some of the storytelling songs in the soundtrack of our lives. Some of these we grew up with and some I included in Mama and Daddy’s soundtrack along the way as I began to build my own soundtrack of my life.
James Taylor was one of the childhood storytellers in our lives. Perhaps because he was a North Carolina native, Daddy and Mama both liked him a lot. And this song was – and is – a favorite (even now, wherever I am in the world, when I hear it, I cry):
Another childhood storyteller was Harry Chapin. Although he was established as a musician when this song came out in late 1974, it was the song that made him a household name:
A third childhood storyteller that both Daddy and Mama liked was John Denver. I think both of them identified with the everyday things that we all think about and deal with that a lot of his early music addressed. One of their favorites was:
And, as I began to build the soundtrack of my own life, I appended a lot of music to Daddy and Mama’s soundtracks. Here is a sampling of the storytellers I added.
R.E.M. emerged on the national music scene from Athens, GA (along with fellow University of Georgia alums and friends, the B-52’s) in 1980. Fortunately, most of us who were listening to indie and college radio stations then got to hear them from the beginning (they didn’t really get a widespread following until 1992’s Automatic for the People, which included the ubiquitous ballad, “Everybody Hurts“) and develop a deep appreciation for them. One of the songs I added to Daddy and Mama’s soundtrack was this one:
Another storyteller group that I added to Mama and Daddy’s soundtrack was Toad the Wet Sprocket. Like R.E.M., they had been on my musical radar from their initial CD in 1986, but it was not until 1992, with the release of Fear, and that summer’s single-you-couldn’t-escape-from, “All I Want,” that they gained national attention.
This was one of the songs I added before Fear (I added that and subsequent CD’s as well) to Daddy and Mama’s soundtrack:
There are many more, but I’ll include one more that I added to Mama’s soundtrack after Daddy died. The last couple of years of her life, we spent a lot of time together working on jigsaw puzzles. I would always play music on and off, leaving time to talk in between, alternating between the soundtrack of our lives and either Radio Paradise or the Adult Alternative music station on cable.
Mama liked the same kind of music I do right up to her death (even when she couldn’t hear the words, I’d explain them to her so she knew the stories), and I remember the first time she heard this song by Death Cab for Cutie and I saw her keeping rhythm with the music. As I explained the story behind it, she nodded thoughtfully and said it reminded her of how she felt after Daddy died:
Have a great Sunday. Don’t forget to be storytellers in your own lives with your families and loved ones, and be sure to add some storytellers to the soundtracks of your lives.