Are We Having Fun Yet? Or, I Don’t “Summer” Well

I want to use the word “summer” as a verb…

I have long aspired to being one of those people who uses the word “summer” as a verb.

As in, “where do you summer?”

“We summer in at our villa in Tuscany.”

or, “Why, in Provence, of course…”

or, for me, the pinnacle of “to summer, “…

“We summer in Maine.”

No Maine for me this summer. Spent the money on redoing Mike’s room as a computer lounge for our daughter. Money well spent, but I find myself missing the sea, the salt air, the lobster and the star-stuffed sky.

Not to mention the bracing cold of the sea (except that the water has been warming these past years – causing one old salt I overheard to complain, “the fish’ll be cooked befowah you catch ’em!”)

Yes, we could go down to the lake, where the water is reliably cold, even this deep into summer, but there have been lots of shore warnings this year – waves and rip currents.

So, ninety degrees again today and tomorrow, no air conditioning, humid. Feeling like a wet rag.

I don’t summer well, here.

Frizz, sweat and listlessness. After three solid days of digging weeds in the heat two weeks ago, and a little rain, finally, my front garden looks OK. But my vegetable garden is a shambles. Spent too much time on those darn chickens, and neglected to water it during a month long dry spell. So no squash, probably no zucchini (you have to be really bad at vegetable gardening to get through an entire summer with NO zucchini!) and a meager crop of beans – “haricot vert,”   but then, I’m not summering in France.

But I do get to go to rehearsal tonight.

I was admitted into an excellent choral group – serious, rigorous, disciplined but fun. Such a relief to be among singers who get it right the first time, sight-sing like demons, and could blow me out of the water, sitting down, with their voices.

And who actually read and sing the dynamics. Balance and musicality and glorious music, flowing right along. Wow.

I like feeling like I’m a little out of my league and that I’ll have to work hard to keep up.

Mike loved my singing and stoked my ego when I Puccinied or Mozarted along with WFMT, our classical music station here in Chicago. Bless you, dear, for that. It’s a rare man who will listen to “Oh Mio Babino Caro” or “Doretta’s Song” or “Musetta’s Waltz” or the “Allelulia” a couple hundred times without begging for mercy. But you never did. You listened.

And though I’m a diva who never misses a chance to show off a solo high note (Ridiculouswoman, remember?) I’m a real softie for choral singing – there’s something about a large group of voices united in song that gets me every time. I mean I get choked up when I hear the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home” at the beginning of the derby each year (they’ve edited out the bad old lyrics) and I get a real thrill from any good performance of Beethoven’s 9th or Brahms Requiem. A Welsh men’s choir can stop me in my tracks, and I’m a sucker for a good sea shanty, too (probably influenced by my obsession with the Aubrey Maturin books.)

So tonight I get the thrill of singing with a large, talented, serious group of singers. And bonus, the church where this chorus rehearses is air conditioned! Hallelujah!

Wishing you the opportunity to raise your voice in song, with others similarly inspired, I remain,

your still-working-on-being-humble, devoted, warbling servant,

Ridiculouswoman

My Secret Azalea – or, Inside Out

It can only be seen from inside the house.

The ferns surrounded it, in lush, leafy hug.

And that made me smile.

It was a really good spring for my rhodo and my azaleas – lovely, abundant blooms. I put this one where it is last year so that there would be something evergreen to look at just outside there in the winter, even if it got buried by snow for a time.

I didn’t expect this abundance of ferns to swallow it up in the spring, but I like the effect.

It reminds me to keep something blooming within, even if others can’t see it right away.

Not until I let them in.

The garden is still a work in progress; it looks okay from the outside, but still needs a few more shrubs and perennials to fill in and squeeze out the weeds so I don’t have to spend so much time digging those out. Could use some mulch, too; I’m not much in the mood or the position to spend more money on it right now, so those things will come a little at a time.

The blooms on my secret azalea have gone by since I took the photo, but its leaves are there and will still be there there when the ferns fade. Maybe in a few years, it will even grow taller than the feathery, fluffy chaos around it.

My secret azalea reminded me that kindness implies a kind of trust – or faith, if you want to call it that – that those toward whom it is directed will benefit, be softened, encouraged, cheered, made hopeful, whatever,  but also that kindness directed from the inside out is always worth it, even if it isn’t received that way immediately, or ever, even. Being kind provides a sort of stillness, a type of calm, a sense of perspective, that is healing to me, regardless. Tends my inner garden.

My secret azalea reminded me that what’s going on inside affects what’s outside; that beauty within radiates outward, where it affects the world around it.

Let’s face it, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve figured out that I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve type. It isn’t really possible for me to hide my feelings. I send out a vibe, even when I don’t want to. So I have to work on that, pretty much constantly, trying and failing and trying again to send out a good vibe, to be kind, to be positive, to grow into the person I want to be, every moment, because every moment is precious, a gift.

In the words of my literary hero, Jack Aubrey, “there’s not a moment to lose.”

So no pity-parties, please. Fall of the horse, get right back on, keep going. The sun rises.

And the music plays.

I work at a place where I can listen to music, often at a good strong volume, all day – and sing along to it, and no one seems to mind. Or at least they put up with it. Most of the day the place is fairly empty, requiring manual (or forklift driven) labor. I’ve even got a sort of little fan club, that comes in once a week to do what they need to do, who caught me singing once and now seem to look forward to it each week.

The variety of music available is wide – classic rock, ’80s music, stations based on Journey (HA! sing like Steve Perry! who’s with me?) or the Eagles, or REM or Emmylou or Bruce Springsteen – everything from country to opera. Although it is hard to find a mix that always satisfies, I’ve found some really good stations that have brought back songs to me that I hadn’t thought about in years – good, cathartic, cryin’ songs, songs of hope, songs that put things in perspective. And arias – but don’t worry, I only rock the Puccini when the place is empty. Although come to think of it, Puccini, (O Mio Babbino Caro, to be exact) is what got the fan club going.

Remember that movie, Network News, where Holly Hunter, playing a news producer, would set aside a few minutes each day to just take the phone off the hook (hey, it was made in 1987 and set mostly in 1981 – landlines!) and just bawl her eyes out? Then she’d pull it together and get right back to work.

I’m a big fan of the good cry. And of getting right back to work.

During Mike’s illness, I did most of my crying in the car – car crying – because I didn’t want our child to see it and get upset, and I didn’t want to make Mike feel sad, or worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle things.

Now, I cry a lot less, but when I need to let it out, it often happens when I’m in the warehouse, cleaning or closing up, inspired by one of those great songs I had forgotten about, and it helps – it helps a lot. It helps reconcile the inside with the outside; harmonizing with the songs harmonizes me, in a way. Even if a lot of these songs seems sad, that’s not the point – the point is they give me a sort of cleansing that makes me feel better, calmer, stronger. Sing, cry, dry, work.

In no particular order, songs that came up that helped me “take the phone off the hook,” feel what I feel, let it out, and then pull it together and carry on include:

  • Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart For A While
  • The Eagles’ Peaceful, Easy Feelin’
  • Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, Cowboy Take Me Away, Not Ready to Back Down 
  • Iris DeMent’s Our Town (she was a discovery for me – hadn’t heard her before)
  • Any version of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide
  • Long, Long Time, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Shenandoah’s Ghost in this House,  sung by Alison Krauss (really, anything sung by Alison Krauss – Down in the River to Pray, Long Lost Friend, etc.
  • Softly and Tenderly, sung by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt

and the one that kind of sums up what I learned from losing Mike, and why I’m trying to grow in to a better, kinder, more loving person:

When We’re Gone, sung by Emmylou, Dolly and Linda –

…”And when we’re gone, long gone,
the only thing that will have mattered
is the love that we shared
and the way that we cared
when we’re gone, long gone….”

This song helps me remember there’s not a moment to lose, and not to skimp on love – it helps me nourish my inner, secret azalea, gives me hope that what blooms within will radiate out as love, as kindness, and as hope, one precious moment at a time.

May you find the music that gives you hope and peace, as this song does for me.

 

 

Memories in Minutiae – and in Music

…when all six cans had been used…I found myself automatically pulling out a pair of scissors to cut the plastic rings apart….

Stuff I haven’t thought about in years comes back to me suddenly, triggered by the most ordinary things – things like a six-pack plastic ring thingee. I haven’t seen one of those for quite a while, because, due to its ability to blow me up into a gigantic beach-ball shaped human, I gave up beer several years ago. I used to buy it exclusively in bottles, anyway. Don’t really ever buy soda or much of anything else in six-packs of cans, held together by those plastic rings and I haven’t, for years.

But there is a type of diet mixer that I discovered recently that I can only get in those held-together-with-plastic-rings six packs.

And when all six cans had been used up, I found myself automatically pulling out a pair of scissors to cut the plastic rings apart.

I froze in the middle of this action, remembering why I was doing it and where I first heard of doing it, cutting those plastic rings open.

I was doing that to protect sea life, particularly dolphins, who I was told had been found starved to death, their noses (beaks? mouths? snouts?) stuck inside those plastic rings.

I was told this on our honeymoon, when Mike and I swam with dolphins. The guide-trainer guy said that these plastic rings find their way into the ocean, having been washed into rivers or just dumped overboard by some careless boater, and dolphins get their noses stuck in them, and he asked us to always cut them open.

So I have been cutting those rings open ever since.

Our honeymoon was a little over 25 years ago, and swimming with dolphins, even as an educational exercise, is now considered inappropriate.  Some argue it is even cruel to these amazing beasts. I’m grateful I got to have a close-up experience with these creatures, and I got to discover how soft their skin feels to the touch, but even then I could have done without the obligatory flipper-flapping and jumping through hoops.

I hadn’t thought about our honeymoon in ages (maybe because there was a video of our dolphin experience that our child watched incessantly for probably more than a year running, so I’d had enough of remembering that) but then zap all of a sudden, there it was, front and center, because of something as ordinary as the six-pack plastic ring thingee.

A few days ago, I went alone to the bookstore to do something Mike and I had done annually at Christmastime – to try to find a hidden gem or two in the bargain bin of CD’s in the music section.

And what I found was a drastically reduced bargain bin, and a supply of CD’s that had largely been supplanted by – vinyl records. Which the hipster Millenial generation has recently re-embraced, playing them on weird vertical turntables, and insisting that the sound is better than on CD’s.

And these vinyl records were priced at TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS!

Oh, bless you, hipsters, bless you, Millenials – because of your newfound enthusiasm for vinyl, the price of the (still drastically reduced supply) of CD’s in the bargain bin seems to have gone down a bit. And you have inspired me to ‘more appropriately price’ my old vinyl records at my next garage sale – authentic, original 1970’s relics! Rare gems! Get ’em while they’re hot! A bargain at $15 bucks per LP! (up from fifty cents! Ha!)

But my trip to the bookstore took on a mood of melancholy when I saw how slim the pickings were in that CD bargain bin – many that we already own, some that I just will never be able to bring myself to buy (Mariah Carey Christmas, just sayin’) and others that didn’t seem quite worth the risk. Nevertheless, I persisted.

I found one of the Boston Pops Orchestra with Arthur Fiedler conducting.. Fiedler was the conductor of that orchestra when I was a child, and a favorite in our house.  I found another of the same orchestra when John Williams was the conductor.Each less than ten bucks. Score!

I found the soundtrack to The Polar Express  really fun and well produced, also less than ten bucks. Bingo.

One pricier new one by Sara McLachlanfor my young adult, which was surprisingly OK, especially when Emmylou Harris’ voice showed up unexpectedly.  Ring the bell.

And one from The Piano Guys who have been all over the internet, and oddly, for a group called “the Piano Guys” seem to feature a lot of cello. But cello is my favorite instrument (OK, now I’ll have to write a post about my never-ending search for the perfect recording of the Bach cello concertos) so that one was fine, too.

But there were no really weird or funny ones, the kind that you think, oh man, it may turn out to be awful but for $4.99 I just have to hear this! A few old Frank Sinatras (already have them) and a Rosemary Clooney (maybe next year, if there are any CDs next year) and, inevitably, Elvis.

Streaming may take over entirely when the hipster fad for vinyl fades. And then I guess I’ll listen to new Christmas music projected from my phone to the bluetooth speaker that came as a freebie with the last new phone I bought for Mike – I’ll put it next to the picture of him on the little side table by my Dad’s chair, where I sit deep in the night, “regarding the tree,” with only the outside lights and the tree lights lit, just as Mike and I used to do together at Christmastime.

They say (and I saw, with my Dad’s decline) that memories of music last the longest. When Dad could no longer speak, he could still sing and recognize songs and music. And whatever the medium, CD, vinyl or stream, the memory of Mike lives with me in the music he liked; at this time of year, the music he chose from the much better selection in the much bigger bargain bins of the past. Mike’s choices invariably turned out better than mine.

A week or two ago, as I was “wondering as I wandered” out under the crisp black winter sky, “where are you out there, loves? Hanging around with Orion?” –  just as I thought that, and turned to go back in the house, I saw a meteor: a shooting star that blazed, then faded.

As Mike did. As will we all, eventually.

Our aduilt child has been anxious lately – checking in, “you’re good Mom, right? You’re here in this world, with me? Dad’s in the next world. A day without Dad. But you’re good, right?”

Yes, lamb. I’m good, as long as I can listen and sing, and hear the sound of your Dad’s voice singing along to Vince Gill’s recording of Breath Of Heaven (Mary’s Song) or Pavarotti’s O Holy Night in my memory. I listen deep in the night, while regarding the tree, to the music he chose for us for Christmas.

Getting a Handle on Handel

I would never find the perfect recording… two favorite recordings … come closest to what my ears need Messiah to be..

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There’s no escaping it this time of year (even though it was probably written for Easter), but why would you want to? From do-it-yourself to professional performances, Messiah is pretty much required Christmas music and hearing it, even for the umpteenth time, can still be a delightful or even profoundly spiritual experience.

But what about listening at home? A few years ago I decided I would finally make a definitive selection  of which recording I would own, to enjoy at home, and sing along to (at the top of my lungs, yes, because it’s my house and I can, so there!)

It was kind of an overwhelming assignment – how to choose? There are hundreds of recordings of this masterwork.

Most of them seem to fall into one of two camps: the big, loud, huge nineteenth century versions, with large orchestras and choruses, and often, to my dismay, draggy tempos, or the nimble, smaller, lighter, often original-instrument ensembles, with quicker tempos and a less ponderous, more joyful or mysterious, feel to them.

The three features of any recording that were most important to me in choosing the one I’d listen to most often were tempos, the quality of the singers and the size and nature of the orchestra.

Which ran me straight into the mix-n-match problem.

What if there were stupendous soloists, singers I’d always want to hear, coupled with a conductor whose tempos I didn’t like or an orchestra that sounded too big? Or what if the chorus was spectacular but the soloists unknown or over-the-hill?

I quickly learned that I would never find the perfect recording  – I’d be wailing along with one of them and then all of a sudden the tempo would go south, or the soloist would run off the rails. So compromise was inevitable, and I ended up choosing two favorite recordings that come closest to what my ears need Messiah to be, and here they are:

This falls into the Big Singers and modern orchestra category, but the tempos are great and Sam Ramey – well, he’s Sam Ramey.  When he sings “I will shake…” he’ll have you trembling in your boots. Kathleen Battle is her usual crystal-toned self, nimble and birdlike and often a little too flashy, but that just gives you something to strive for in the sing-along department. Plenty of  “hey let’s see of they can do that one in one breath” moments, and usually they do. I only have this one as a digital recording so I don’t have what used to be called “liner notes,” that now usually come as booklets with the CD, but listening to this one is kind of self-explanatory. It’s just plain great.

Here’s my other favorite:

This falls into the nimble, original instruments category with a wonderful lightness, or solemnity and mystery, where appropriate. I do have this as a CD and the accompanying booklet is terrific – a very enjoyable and unpretentious music history lesson in a jewel case. The best thing about this recording to me is the wonderful surprise of hearing the “Rejoice” done in a dancy 12/8 version.

I’ve listened to a lot of other recordings and performances of Messiah, and I have a few rules:

  1. No “highlights” or “greatest hits.” Handel nearly killed himself in a frenzy of composition writing the entire thing in about three weeks, and although he changed it and reworked it a lot for different solo voices and different performances, I think it was always intended to be heard as a whole. So yes, I am requiring you to listen to the whole thing. You won’t regret it.
  2. If  you are attending a live performance, yes, you have to stand up during “Hallelujah.” I stand up at home anyway, howling along with it, often messing up my part in a fit of overconfidence – “I’ve sung this thing so many times, I know it backwards and forw…oops, missed that run there…better get out the score…where’s that score?…”
  3. Take the “one breath” challenge during “Thus Sayeth the Lord” and “Rejoice” – yes, I’m a soprano but I sing along with the other parts, including the bass, because it’s my house and I can, so there.

Messiah is the kickoff of the holiday music season for me, and once I’ve had a few good sing-throughs, I move on to the carols and the CDs that Mike and I picked up on a lark each year from the bargain bin. We listened to a lot of drek, but also discovered several unexpected gems which I’ll share in my next post and over on my Books and Music page.

The Presence of Absence – or, Bookends of BoDeans

…absence is a thing – a weighted blank thing that lurks … where he should be.

UPDATE

Well, it turns out there will probably never, ever be any reunion of Sam Llanas with the BoDeans, and it appears there’s a real good reason on top of the ones originally given – how sad – and how creepy, since this band once recorded a song with the lyric, “sweet little Mary was just 13, walking down the street she’d make a good man mean…”

Eeeeeewwww. I debated taking this post down when I heard about this, but the post reflects my experience before I heard of these accusations. Yet I didn’t think it would be right to leave this post as it is without acknowledging that I now know these accusations have been made. I wish I could unknow about them, but I can’t.

______________________________________________________________

Even if you knew it was coming, the death of a spouse or other family member creates an absence that feels physical; that heavy blank space over there is where he is not.

And it feels like that absence is a thing – a weighted blank thing that lurks in chairs where he should be sitting, over there on the rug where his hospital bed used to be, by the stove in the kitchen where he should be cooking.

I spent the last fourteen months managing that thing, first raging at it, crying and sobbing and panicked by it, hating it, feeling attacked by it, as if it would erase me or reduce me to a shadowy thing myself, some kind of half-being, ghosting around aimlessly. “I’m just a ghost in this house.”

Then I decided to engage it. I started talking to it, taking it out places with me. I created a sort of “memory tour,” attending concerts and events Mike would have enjoyed, trying and many times succeeding in feeling him with me in the car, in the box at the opera or the too-expensive seats at the hockey game.

And I went to see the BoDeans.

Years into our marriage, Mike and I discovered, in casual conversation, that before we met, we had been at the same BoDeans concert at the Riviera Theater in Chicago. I was there alone, he with whoever his then current girlfriend had been.

And Sam was there.

If you haven’t heard this band, go back in time to their earliest albums – Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams, Outside Looking In, Black and White, Home.

But you really should listen to their live compilation album, Joe Dirt Car.  The BoDeans are a kick-ass live band and put on a great live show.

And the lead vocal you hear on almost every song is Sammy – Sam Llanas.

I remember that show at the Riv as just that –  kick-ass rock’n’roll fun – singalongs, clapping, stomping, great time.

That was a long time ago – 1989.

I had put the albums (yes, vinyl) and CDs away years ago, and hadn’t thought about them until last year when I saw a poster around town announcing a BoDeans show – they were playing at a benefit at a community center very close by, and I couldn’t believe my luck at getting a chance to hear them again, and to take Mike’s “present absence” with me, and remember with the memory of Mike what fun it was, to dance and stomp and sing along with this band.

And I went and they put on a full-blown, burn-the-house-down rock-n-roll show with lights and fog and great sound at this recently rehabbed little theater that started life as an elementary school auditorium.

I had a great time there by myself with the crowd, as I had done so many years before.

But Sam wasn’t there.

Because something happened, years before, as often does in marriages, and in bands that have been together for a long time – Disagreement? Jealousy? Misunderstanding? Resentment? Exhaustion? Who knows.

But Sammy wasn’t there – Sam’s voice wasn’t there.

It didn’t really register with me too much last year at that event – the band seemed to stay away from the songs that really had to have Sam’s voice to make them what they were. Or maybe it was the crowd – a liquored-up, wealthy, charity-event attending crowd that knew how to party and was on their feet, dancing and singing along the whole show (so this is how rich people party? Oh, OK. Pretty cool. And for a good cause.)

And then this year, by accident again, I found that the BoDeans were playing within reasonable driving distance, almost exactly a year (less one day) from that show I went to in memory of Mike.

So I went, and this time I knew that Sam wouldn’t be there.

And his absence was very present for me this time.

Maybe it was the geriatric nature of the crowd – they just wouldn’t get up and dance, even with the bar open, until after the break, when several women of a certain age, dressed as if in memory of their younger years, got up to shake and bounce what they had, groupie-dancing down by the stage.

And I was shakin’ it in the aisle, dressed in my own recently-achieved too-tight jeans and shirt, trying to remember the fun, but hearing that live album, Joe Dirt Car, in my head, and missing Mike, and missing Sam.

There were some fun moments – a Tom Petty tribute inserted in the middle of the show, some amusing musical quotes of other artists, and the sing-along songs that depended more on the crowd than on Sammy’s voice. And although geriatric, the crowd at least managed some singing along.

And then the band did a song called “Naked.”

I can think of a lot of BoDeans songs, “Black, White and Blood Red” or “Going Home,” or “Far, Far Away from My Heart” or “Misery” that require Sammy’s voice, but none more than “Naked.”

It’s about sharing your secrets, committing to not holding back in a relationship – at least that’s what I hear in it – “I’ll stand naked with you, you’ll stand naked with me too.”

And when Sammy sang it, there was a raw, raspy desperation in the sound, like he really was tearing himself open.

You just can’t sing it without that – without Sam.

So you have a choice – don’t sing it.

Or forgive, forget and ask Sammy to come back.

Because he can. He’s right there in Wisconsin. It would have been a few hours drive, no more.

Mike can’t come back.  He can’t come with me to a BoDeans concert, ever. In fact, after our child was born, we never went to a rock show together. He’d go to shows he wanted to go to, and I’d go to mine, and whoever wasn’t going was staying home with our child because we didn’t use sitters, not with our special needs child – our beautiful, vulnerable amazing child.

So we switched off, took turns – called it a “shift change,” when I got home from work, and he, exhausted from a day of cooking, cleaning, playing, shopping and chauffeuring, retreated upstairs to read and relax.

No shift changes for me anymore. Adult child is far less vulnerable now, and I’m doing the best I can at my job of enabling greater independence, but each day there’s still, “A day without Dad. You ok Mom? You’re here in this world, the first world, with me? Right? You’re not going, you’re here. You’re good.”

Yes, my lovies, for as long as I possibly can be. I’m here right now, for you.

But Mike can’t be here for me, or for our child, anymore.

Life is short. Forgiveness is worth it.

I have to wait until the end of my life for a reunion, but you guys don’t.

And I find now that the presence of Sam’s absence in that band means I just can’t see them again. And listening to Joe Dirt Car just makes me sad now, thinking about the permanent presence of absence.

Because Mike’s not here for me, and he can’t be, and he can’t be here for our adult child either, and the best I can say is “remember what Dad told you? Dad’s love never ends.”

And it doesn’t, but it is so hard even for a neurotypical person to understand that, and to feel the abstraction of love from the next world.  How can I help an autistic person understand that?

My year of dating Mike’s shadow, his present absence, is over, and I’ll have to find something new, a new band to follow or maybe a new person to love, to be a presence for the two of us, now.

But I’ve been honest with our child – we’re never going to stop missing Mike, or stop feeling incomplete, without him. That is a present absence we will just have to absorb, and carry, within and around us, every day. We can’t add anything or anyone that will take that absence away. We can only try to love what we carry – memory and hope and whispers of love in songs we hear in this world as Mike’s messages from the next.

A Journey with Journey: Fall Excursion, Part 3

Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again. Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

Unexpectedly, the forecast is for some sun, one last time before Halloween.

Carpe this freakin’ diem, for sure.

We didn’t have a trail ride scheduled, so we got going early, and I had actually planned a route that could intersect with several “rustic roads,” and a few more days had passed for more leaves to turn, so this, I was sure, would finally be the day for the perfect fall excursion.

And the rustic roads did not disappoint. Out by Lake Geneva, then west and north, back east and north, hills, ponds, bowers of boughs over strips of smooth asphalt, like ribbons through the moraine. Hawks circling, big red barns, horses, cows and the occasional llama.

We stumbled upon a pristine local park right when we needed a bathroom, and although as usual the “bathroom” was an outhouse, it was the cleanest, freshest outhouse I’d ever had to use.

And the road signs were there, this way and that, to lead us down those rustic lanes and give me what I needed from October’s bright blue weather – a stress-free, no-anger, no-pain, no-yelling fall excursion.

And I want to believe he was with us, enjoying it along with us, this time, free from pain.

Our child has taken to repeating wistfully, “a day without Dad.” He’s been gone 14 months, but on the spectrum, processing time is individual, and often long.

And I say, “every day for the rest of our lives on this earth will be a day without Dad, sweetie, but never without his love. You remember what he said to you?”

“Dad’s love never ends.”

“That’s right. And I believe he’s here with us and he sends us little messages from the next world – the monarch butterflies, the Journey songs.”

Yes, Journey songs. Mike could sing just like Steve Perry – Really, high notes and all.  And it was mostly a running joke for us three, whenever it came on the radio – “just a small town boy, livin’ in South Detroit….” But it was damn fun to sing along with, and they’re actually really good songs. And despite the haircut (c’mon, it was the ’70s), Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again.

Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

And our child has an uncanny knack of changing the radio station to land directly on a Journey song, repeatedly, during the day.

I know, I know, Journey has been resurfacing constantly since “Don’t Stop Believin'” but who cares why? To us, the impulse to change the radio station right now is a little signal from him, from the next world – change it now, you’ll get a little hello from me.

Faithfully. Separate Ways. Open Arms. “O-pen Ah-AHHH-Ahms!”

“It’s Dad!”

Yes, sweetie – a little message from Dad from the next world.

Up toward Waukesha, found the road with the farms. Pumpkins, corn stalks, gourds.

And this time, we ate at Taco Bell.

And it was good. Back on the road in plenty of time to enjoy the last of October’s bright blue weather, singing along to Journey, and with Mike.