Thursday, January 07, 2010

daddy walked in darkness

Photo: Me & my daddy on a family camping trip in Vermont.
I was probably three.

The mother of my high school boyfriend was the first person to call me a nomad. J told me about it later, saying she remarked it was a wonder I was so normal, seeing how I lead such a nomadic life. I was a high school senior then, and I had attended twelve different schools, only a small fraction of which were in the same school district.

We were the renters on the block; the kids who were always a little unkempt. I learned in awkward and sometimes embarrassing ways that we were different from the kids who rooted long and hard in a single place and all knew each other from Kindergarten; learned in bright hot flashes that we were the transient ones.

But being the new kid in many lonely lunchrooms gained me the skill of knowing always how to be anywhere, easily. How to make friends; how to be the first to say hello. I suspect it’s also the root cause of my persistent solitude and my wandering. Never having a place to settle and be easy in your skin means it’s best to keep moving.

I know now that our curious habits were my father's doing. At the time I assumed no agency -- that was just how things were. Always. Predictably. Now that I’m grown I have a heart full of theories about why we were on the move so much, but this post isn’t about what was missing, or about what gnawed through the electrical lines in the dark; this post is about what made it all okay somehow.

I suspect the music had something to do with it; somehow managed to anchor it all, somehow produced in all four of us kids a solid center to start from and make our way in the world with some kind of certainty that what we were doing was all right.

The music was always there, and the music was always home. It was there when friends gathered late around the table, or when my dad let us come with him to the studio. It was there when he picked up his guitar, whether an emotional storm had just blown through the house and throats ached from the yelling, or we were just floating collectively on a the sweet tide of Sunday morning.

I still feel it every time my daddy picks up his guitar and plays. Felt it when he strummed just a few fragments over Christmas; felt it when he played for the first time after his coma, after he came back from the dead, when he was home at last and I handed him a rental six-string on the doctor’s prescription, who said it would help the neurons destroyed in the accident wire back up again.

There is something inarticulate in a tune, when it's shared and when it's authentic, that says: it’s okay to search this thing out, to figure out for your own self what it all means. When the music's playing there's an unspoken invitation to ride it, it’s yours; and there's an unspoken understanding that the ones playing with you will keep you company, ride right alongside, and find their own measure.

Where everything is all right.

A note about the clip: My dad recorded this a long time back when he was recording and promoting and producing for Jerden Records in Seattle. It's shown up on a couple of compilation CDs in recent years, but it's impossible to find a shareable clip online, so I patched together this brief video with Apple's iMovie program. I'm still a newbie at the app -- I prefer Adobe Premiere but my PC hard drive combusted and there's no getting at my installation -- so regrettably, until I can figure out how to override the time constraints, all I can offer you is a one minute clip of a three minute track. Of my daddy. Walking in darkness. (It's an old blues cover -- I'll see if I can hit him up for more info about the song's history and the recording itself.)

p.s. My grama, my father's mother, hated this song -- in a what-will-the-neighbors-think kind of way.


karigee said...

Your family—as always—fascinates me. And your writing feeds the soul. As always.

I, Rodius said...

Great origins tale. And you were a cutie! From that picture, I think Mark Wahlberg should play your dad in the movie.

anniemcq said...

love this. it's hitting all the right notes. that is not meant to be a pun, but something bigger. forwarding this to someone I know....

Anonymous said...

Love reading your posts. And I love that song.

suttonhoo said...

thanks tons for your comments, guys. I was super nervous about this one, as I always am when I write about the personal stuff.

thanks for making it all right.

Scrivener said...

Beautiful post and what a powerful recording. I was also always a nomad--went to 8 different middle schools in 3 years and moved an average of once every nine months until I was in grad school. However, throughout my childhood we kept zigzagging back and forth across the same very large county in South Florida, so never far enough to be somewhere new and exciting but far enough away that I lost all my friends and any continuity every time we moved.

suttonhoo said...

so true what you say about losing continuity -- proximity is everything when you're a little kid -- you could move across town and never see your best friend again because 1) you don't drive and 2) it's unusual for little kids to take the cross-town bus by their lonesome.

thanks so much for the comment.

p2wy said...

You and your family continue to amaze...1 minute of that song just left me wanting more!

Anonymous said...

The lyrics come from a Hoyt Axton song. The tune, of course, is House of the Rising Sun. I think you know all of this though (sorry to steal any thunder). Here is a link to the full version, for all of your readers enjoyment:

-Pablo Agua

suttonhoo said...

w00t! thanks, Pablo.

here's that link again, linkified »

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