Time Songs in My Own Fields of Gold: A Love Story Soundtrack of Our Lives

I’ve never cared much about my birthday. It seems to be a random marking of chronology that bears very little resemblance to my body or my mind. In other words, it’s just a number, but it’s a number that’s relatively meaningless in the big scheme of things. 

However, time has always been an integral part of my life. The passing of time, how much time, how little time, specific times. I have always been the “calendar” in my family. When anyone wanted to know when a particular event happened, they’d ask me. Because I record life in snapshots of time, literally being able to recall in minute detail, the videos of life in my head and being able to see the time and date stamps associated with them.

For me, time only matters in terms of what I’ve done with it, how I’ve spent it, and whether I’ve used it wisely. Time also matters in terms of the memories of the good – love and laughter – and the bad – sorrow, grief, and tears – that are the underpinnings of our lives.

And time is always a barometer against which I measure change and growth. It’s within this context that I ask the tough questions. Am I a better person now than I was then? What do I still need to change? What lessons have I learned? Was it a waste of time or did I do the best I could with the time I’ve had? Where do I go with whatever time I have left?

There have been and are a lot of days, throughout my life, when an answered prayer would be no more time. It seems to me that time, no matter how young or old you are, is something that always gives diminishing returns.

Read the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon echoes that sentiment much more eloquently than I ever could, especially in the last chapter.

But my time is not in my hands. Psalm 139:16 tells me that: “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.”

So with whatever time I have left, I need to keep going, keep growing, keep changing, and recording the memories for Mama and Daddy now that they are beyond the grasp of time. Who knows? I may be their calendar in the next life, too. 🙂

So with this theme of time and birthdays, I thought today I would give a nod to some of the time-themed songs that became part of my own Fields of Gold: A Love Story soundtrack along the way.

Of course, no post about time would be complete without including Pink Floyd’s “Time:”

Two songs by Bob Seger about the passing of time have stayed with me as well over the years.

One is “Like A Rock.”

The other is “Against the Wind.”

Coldplay’s “Clocks” is a song about time that has resonated a lot with me ever since the very first time I heard the piano introduction to the song that immediately caught my attention.

And a song that figures prominently in the soundtrack of Fields of Gold: A Love Story because it has always made me think of Daddy and his strength and endurance, no matter what the odds were against him or what life threw at him, has now become of one my personal time songs because it suggests going the distance through whatever time this thing called life deals out and still remaining standing at the end of it.

That song is Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.”

Time matters. Time is wrapped around and through the soundtracks of our lives. As always, I hope you never forget the soundtrack your life from the beginning and that you’re building on that soundtrack as time passes through our lives and from one generation to another.




In God’s Country: Northeast Tennessee and Mama

Eighty-five years ago today, about nine months before the Great Depression began, in Flag Pond, Tennessee, Muriel Foster Ross – my mama – was born to Samuel and Ennis Foster.

A doctor and both grandmothers were there attending the long and arduous birth that was taking a fatal toll on Mama’s mother and led the doctor, upon delivery, to dismissively say “that baby’s going to die” as he handed an underweight and frail Mama to her paternal grandmother, Grandma Foster, and turned his attention to trying to save Ennis Foster’s life.

Grandma Foster countered, “This baby’s going to live!,” and put Mama in the warming bin of the oven in the kitchen – a primitive incubator. Grandma Foster hovered over Mama through that afternoon and night, feeding her and wrapping her up in fresh towels every few hours.

By the next morning, Mama was stronger, had color, and it was clear she was going to survive. However, her mother, who’d lost a lot of blood during the birth, was in a more precarious position and her survival chances were waning by the hour.

Ennis died within two days, never able to recover, leaving Samuel and his parents and Ennis’s mother to decide who would care for Mama. There, according to all accounts, was a bitter fight between the grandparents (Samuel, never able to take any stress after his experiences in World War I, left and sought the only comfort he knew in the bottom of a bottle), but once again, Grandma Foster prevailed and Mama went to live with them.

Ennis’s mother, however, did score a victory. Because Samuel was absent, she had her daughter buried in the maternal graveyard in Flag Pond instead of the paternal graveyard at Oakland Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Telford, TN. It was a decision that haunted Samuel, primarily in the form of guilt for not being there, the rest of his life.

The first six years of Mama’s life were surrounded with upheaval and uncertainty – Samuel’s drinking binges became more frequent, as did his hospitalizations at the VA hospital in Johnson City, TN because of the progressive damage to his lungs from the mustard gas attack he was a part of in World War I – but thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Foster, Mama was shielded from that and simply surrounded with unconditional love and care. Samuel’s sister, Tilda Aiken, and her family, were, in no small way, a big part of that safe and protective blanket that surrounded Mama’s early life.

But the fragile edges of that blanket began to unravel when Mama was five. Grandpa Foster, whom she loved dearly, died just a few days after her fifth birthday. Then, just a little over a year later, Samuel died.

A few months before Samuel died, he’d gotten his affairs in order, including making sure that Mama was taken care of after his death. He’d visited his much-older sister, Lula Waldrop, in Greenville, SC and, with an assurance of monetary help, asked her to be Mama’s guardian after his death.

Samuel didn’t like his older sister much, but he made his decision pragmatically, instead of sentimentally, trying to give the best future possible to his young daughter.

Tilda, his younger sister, had six kids and a seventh on the way, an invalid husband (he’d had both legs crushed in a logging accident), and their elderly mother to care for. Lula, who was in her late 50’s, had no children left at home.

Additionally, the educational system in northeast Tennessee at the time was rudimentary, at best, while the educational system in Greenville, SC was more progressive, and, in Samuel’s mind (he was right), would better equip Mama to make her way in the world.

Two months after Samuel’s death, Mama left northeast Tennessee. She also left unconditional love and care, comfort, security, and happiness for the next twelve years.

From that day forward, one of Mama’s lifelong desires would be to “go home.” 

We visited northeast Tennessee a couple of times a year while we were growing up, and each time we’d leave, tears would roll down Mama’s cheeks from Oakland Road in Telford, TN to US-421 in Boone, NC. For two years during that time, we lived near Asheville, NC, and our visits were more frequent and Mama was happier.

When Daddy retired from veterinary work with the state of North Carolina, he brought Mama home to northeast Tennessee. They lived in Greeneville, TN and Limestone, TN before buying a house in Jonesborough, TN. 

As Thomas Wolfe, the famous author born just about 70 miles southeast of Johnson City, TN, observed, you can’t really ever go home again.

You can go back to a place where the memories are sweet, but the things that made those memories sweet – and home – are gone or changed, so you’re left with a bittersweet fondness, tinged with sadness for what was and will never be again.

Still, Mama was glad to be home. And it was here, at home, that she lived out the last 27 years of her life.

On the whole, they were good years, but like her early years, they had their share of loss and sadness. Daddy died here in 1998. And, one by one, all of Mama’s beloved cousins died – the last was in 2007 – until, once again, except for us kids, Mama had no family left.

One of the things I admired most about Mama, though, was her strength and her resiliency. She took the losses, the setbacks, the pain and she used what came from that to move forward, to strengthen her relationship with God, to help others, and to create new family connections to her friends and our friends. 

Looking back, I realize that her first 18 years gave her that resiliency. The only option she had was to get up after each catastrophe and stagger forward. The other option was never on the table.

It is only now in my own life that I’m digging into the secrets that Mama learned early on to strengthen and reinforce my own resolve to stagger forward. It’s not easy. But, like Mama, the other option is really not on the table for me either.

So I follow in her footsteps, taking the losses, the setbacks, the pain and painstakingly endeavoring to harness what comes from that to strengthen my relationship with God, to help others and to create new family connections to friends-who-are-like-family and friends-who-are-becoming-family.

Thank you, Mama, for your example. I admit I didn’t always understand and appreciate all of this about you while you were living. Although I loved you fiercely, admired you greatly, and respected you beyond words, as you always told me, “there are just some things you can’t understand until you go through them yourself.” Once again – I can almost see your smile at me saying this – you were right.

I’m still here in God’s country, Mama. I don’t know for how long. But it’s not the same without you. In fact, now that you and Daddy are gone, it’s downright painful to be here.

Too many places bring too many tears because I’m reminded of when you were both here and now that you’re both not.

But my solace and my faith, like yours, like Daddy’s, is in the promise of a future God’s country, the real deal that everything in our lives is committed to, dedicated to, and which gives us hope when everything else here and now is hopeless.

So, as a small tribute to God’s country for you while you were on earth and God’s country that we look forward to, I’ll close with one of your favorite songs from U2’s The Joshua Tree. I love you, Mama, and look forward to seeing you soon there.

Big Band Music in the Fields of Gold: A Love Story Soundtrack of Our Lives

Daddy and Mama were teenagers in the years after World War II and the Big Band sounds were very much a part of those years and in the soundtrack of our lives in Fields of Gold: A Love Story.

On Sunday mornings, these sounds filled our kitchen after breakfast as we sat at our large kitchen table and played board or card games. These sounds brought smiles and memories to Mama in her last few years as I filled our home with her musical favorites and they still have a warm and permanent place in our lives all hours of the day and night as we recall those Sunday mornings and Daddy and Mama.

One of our favorites was Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade:”

Artie Shaw’s “Stardust” was also usually in the repertoire:

Daddy and Mama liked a lot of the jazz and swing music that the Big Band era’s heyday featured. Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald were some of their favorites and I loved the bluesy sound of Billie Holiday the first time I heard her sing (I still do). Ella Fitzgerald grew on me over time, since I prefer the instruments that make the distinctive sounds of jazz over voices imitating instruments, but Daddy and Mama liked her.

We all liked the sound of Count Basie and Duke Ellington playing together. The song I remember hearing most is their version of “Battle Royal:”

Ella Fitzgerald’s “It’s Only a Paper Moon” was one of her many songs that we grew up with:

And then there was Billie Holiday. As a child, I knew nothing about her personal life and her continual struggles with drugs – heroin in particular – and alcohol, which finally beat her in the end, cutting her life short in 1959 at the age of 44 when she died from pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver.

But, as with every real blues artist I’ve ever heard, from Robert Johnson until today, Billie Holiday’s voice spoke volumes to my intuition about pain, about suffering, about a desire for a better and different life, but the lack of a clear and easy way to get there.

Even Holiday’s most famous song, “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, has this poignant, longing, unattainable feel to it:

I hope you enjoy this Big Band sampling from the soundtrack of our lives. Don’t forget each of us has a soundtrack of our own that we build, share, and pass on to our families for them to add to and keep passing on.

What songs are in the soundtracks of your lives?

Fields of Gold: A Love Story – The Songs That Keep Daddy and Mama Close in the Soundtrack of Our Lives

There are those songs, in the course of building the soundtrack of our lives, that instantly take me back to a moment or moments in time where they figured prominently or, perhaps, just made their first – and lasting – impression on me. Not just from my own personal soundtrack of my life, but also from our Fields of Gold: A Love Story soundtrack of our lives.

These are the songs of many of our Sunday mornings growing up, and they were often revived and discussed even after we kids had grown up and left home. They were just always a part of our time together.

Somehow, though, when Daddy and Mama were still alive, the tenor of some of these songs never seemed to be that of dirges (which they were), but instead songs that wrapped themselves familiarly around us like warm blankets on a cold winter’s night.

Two of the more dirge-like songs in the soundtrack of our lives were Mama’s favorites. She loved Jim Reeves’ voice and we heard that voice a lot growing up. Mama’s favorite song, “The Blizzard,” was, in my opinion, Jim Reeves’ saddest song. I was a teenager before I fully understood what really happened. However, despite that, it’s also my favorite by Jim Reeves as well:

The second song was a dirge song. Often played at traditional New Orleans funerals, “When The Saints Go Marching In” by Louis Armstrong was one that Mama would sometimes say, before she started singing it, as we were growing up that she wanted played at her funeral.

After I was an adult, Mama and I would laughingly tease each other about me giving her a proper New Orleans funeral, complete with a Dixieland Jazz band.

When she had her aortic valve replacement surgery in September 1994, I went into surgery preparation with her while Daddy stayed in the waiting area with a couple of Mama’s cousins. Almost as soon as she’d gotten the first dose of anesthesia, Mama started smiling and singing “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

She started urging the nurse and me to join in with her. The nurse didn’t, but I held Mama’s hand and sang softly with her until the anesthesia had taken full effect and Mama was under. I smile as I write this.

There are many other songs from Sunday mornings in the soundtrack of our lives that keep Daddy and Mama close, and I’ll include them in later posts. But for now, I’d like to share just a couple more.

One is Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz,” which Mama and Daddy would sing together:

Daddy and Mama both loved Nat King Cole’s music. Daddy could sing bass if he had to, but he was a natural baritone, so he could sing Nat King Cole almost as well as Nat King Cole. One of my favorite memories is of Daddy singing along and smiling at Mama all the while to Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall In Love:”

Have a wonderful Sunday morning! I hope you have some time to remember and share your family soundtrack of your lives to build the memories that will last a lifetime. 

The Protest Music of the 1960’s in the Soundtrack of Our Lives in Fields of Gold: A Love Story

Reflecting in the past week on the death of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 and how momentous it was in our personal lives within Fields of Gold: A Love Story, as Daddy and Mama reminded us time and again how personal President Kennedy’s assassination was for them.

Mama had just left Dallas with us babies when the news came over the radio, first that President Kennedy had been shot, and then that he had been assassinated. Mama told us over and over as we grew up how she pulled the car off the road upon hearing of his death and cried.

When Daddy got home from work that Friday afternoon in 1963, we went out as a family and bought the television that would be a mainstay in our lives for the next twenty years.

Mama and Daddy were as apolitical as two people could be. They cared about their country – the United States of America – but they cared nothing (and talked nothing) about its politics. For that I’m thankful because they passed that legacy of apoliticalness on to me.

They voted in only one election – 1956 – as newlyweds. They registered as independents, but voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower for President of the U.S. They never voted again for anything, as far as I know, in their lives.

But they must have identified with the kindred message that epitomized President John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960. Daddy and Mama, several years younger than President Kennedy, were not typical of their Silent Generation in some interesting ways (this was one of them), perhaps because they were only children with no siblings to influence them, and because they were orphans, with no parental guidance or influence in their lives.

In many ways, that was a negative that I believe became a positive for both of them. Daddy and Mama were always service-oriented, others-centered, and typified one of President Kennedy’s most famous quotes: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Daddy and Mama lived that philosophy with everything and everyone in their lives.

I always believed – and often told her, laughingly – that if Mama had been born twenty years later, she would have been right in the middle of the revolutionary activism for racial equality and social justice in the late 1960’s (she had too strong of a staunch moral conviction to have been involved in the moral lapses of the same period, so, in the end, perhaps she was born when she was supposed to have been born). 

I suppose, then, it’s not surprising that some of the protest music of the 1960’s made its way into our very early lives, and probably had a greater influence on me than I realize, leading me ten to fifteen years later, with the help of my intriguing discovery of Rolling Stone magazine on Sunday afternoons spent at the local libraries in the towns we lived in along the way, into unlocking the treasure chest of all the music of the 1960’s and adding that to the soundtrack of my own life.

Here are a few of the songs and artists Daddy and Mama liked and included in this section of the soundtrack of our lives:

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” – The Kingston Trio

“Blowin’ In The Wind” – Peter, Paul, and Mary

“A Change Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke

“The Sound of Silence” – Simon and Garfunkel

“Masters of War” – Odetta

These are a few of the many songs I have tucked away in the memories of my mind from the days and nights of my earliest years on this planet, and, as always, I am thankful for the incredible soundtrack of our lives that Daddy and Mama began and we, their children, continue to add to now that they’re both gone, but never forgotten.

Maybe on this Sunday morning you can pull out the soundtrack of your lives and share it with your family, and don’t forget to keep adding those tracks. This will be part of the legacy you leave to them when you’re gone, and it’s priceless.

Mama and Daddy Songs: Love, Commitment, and Death – Fields of Gold: A Love Story and The Soundtrack of Our Lives

When Daddy died on October 15, 1998, a chapter in Fields of Gold: A Love Story ended, in a physical sense, for Mama and for us kids. One of the first things I did after Daddy died was to compile music that encapsulated his and Mama’s life together. Their love. Their commitment. Daddy’s death.

Here’s a small sampling from this part of the soundtrack of our lives.

One of the songs I included is part of the title of their memoir. “Fields of Gold” was a track on Sting’s 1993 album Ten Summoner’s Tales. I first heard Sting when he was the front man (and primary songwriter) for The Police. The moment I first heard the opening riffs of “Roxanne,” I knew there was new genre of rock music emerging (I had these same realizations the first time I heard Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and later Coldplay’s “Clocks“), and it was a refreshing alternative to the mostly banal tenor of music that characterized the decade before (1970’s). 

A former high school English teacher, Sting also caught my attention because of his intelligent and insightful lyrics and his frequent allusions to English literature in songs like “Wrapped Around My Finger” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”

As a solo artist, Sting departed from the more stark and bare bones musical sound of The Police, and embraced a more full orchestration musically. His lyrics also matured as they revealed a man who was building a family and a life. Sting’s first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which I consider his seminal album, featured the haunting “Russians” and the introspective “Fortress Around Your Heart.”

By 1993, Sting’s transition to a happy and contented family man was complete, and Ten Summoner’s Tales is evidence of that, with “Fields of Gold” as the most compelling testimony. I heard many shades of my own parents’ love story that included us kids in that song:

Another song that I included on my compilation was an old Jimmy Buffet song, “He Went to Paris.” One of the last lines of the song seemed to encapsulate Daddy’s optimistic outlook on life:

Daddy and Mama, because of their educational pursuits and careers, had times in their lives together before and after marriage when they were apart from each other for longer-than-they-wanted-to-be periods of time. Another song that I included, Firefall’s “Just Remember I Love You,” reflected the endurance of their commitment and love despite the physical distance that separated them at times:

And, as I witnessed, in the fall of 1998, Mama’s heart-breaking grief process as she began to adjust to life without her best friend and soulmate, I could not help but be reminded of Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn:”

The soundtrack of our lives is sometimes bittersweet. But as the narrator of “He Went to Paris,” summarizes, in the end “Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.” 

Have a great Sunday morning! Don’t forget to not only remember the soundtrack of your lives, but to continue to add new tracks to it!