My thoughts were triggered by a fuzzy and out of focus black and white photograph a high school chum sent me. Our parents had been friends since the Nineteen Thirties until their deaths. My high school friend was the first girl I ever kissed. We were two or three years old sitting on top of a sliding board but that is a different story…not a very interesting one. While we remained friends the kiss didn’t quite take.
In the photo my mother and father are sitting in a prewar sedan complete with suicide doors. So young. Dad in a snap brim fedora with the brim turned up, an unlit Lucky Strike hidden from the camera. My mother’s gaze is drawn away from my father…maybe father to be. They are both looking out in the distance…maybe at their futures.
I draw a purely fictional mental picture of the next frame. My mother turning and resting her chin on his shoulder, eyes twinkling with a “Mona Lisa” smile just showing on her lips. His Humphrey Bogart to her Lauren Bacall complete with coffin nail hanging from his lip? I imagine the photo was made in the early Forties before my Dad shipped out to the Pacific. This was during their “courting” days.
It is hard to think of my parents young, fancy free, and all lovey-dovey. My father trying to be suave and debonair, attempting to sweep the red-haired fair maiden, my mother, off her feet. It must have worked. I don’t believe I made my appearance due to immaculate conception but still…my brain might explode. The thoughts of parental romance made my shoulders all shivery as goosebumps race across them.
In a family not known for displays of conspicuous affection, I don’t remember many overt displays but somehow, I knew my parents loved each other. Sometimes it is how you treat people and not just overt displays. Sometimes it is about the stories you create in your mind, stories that might be more fact than fiction.
As a child, I remember an old RCA Victor tabletop radio/turntable and the old 78 RPM records it played. There were stacks and stacks. Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and “Big Bands” seemed to be favorites. I’m sure there was a fortune in those old platters now resting in a landfill someplace.
I suspect my Mother was the motivation for the music. The old RCA Victor was traded in for a cabinet model in the Sixties and a Columbia Record Club subscription followed. She seemed to be partial to Billy Vaughn and his mellow saxophones.
I’ve created a mental image of her carefully seating a record or tuning into “Your Hit Parade” on a Saturday night. I don’t remember my Dad sitting and listening, he was more “sit and work” the crossword puzzle guy. I didn’t think my Father was much of a “Music Man” but he would fool me…something I would not find out until after my Mother’s death.
There was another musical form that caught my ear on those early 78s. Early country music…called hillbilly, Western, or Western Swing music before the late Forties when it became known as Country-Western. A heartbroken Ernest Tubbs was walking the floor over his one true love, and Hank Williams seemed to be very lonesome…so lonesome he could cry. Eddy Arnold, the Tennessee Plowboy, sang “That’s How Much I Love You” in a scratchy baritone, scratchy because of the record, not his baritone. Vaughn Monroe and the Sons of the Pioneers were desperate for “Cool Water.”
With enough imagination, I can almost see my parents waltzing to Bill Monroe’s nasal tenor singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky” while the Blue Grass Boys added their instruments. Almost. It is easier to envision my parents holding hands in front of the old RCA, listening to the Grand Ole Opry on a Saturday night date. Holding hands? Stealing a kiss?
I stood in my garden this morning thinking of my “unromantic” parents. If I had neighbors to watch me, I’m sure they would have been curious as to why I was standing so still in front of my sunflowers. My mind had taken a pig trail and followed it down a rabbit hole in between picking tomatoes and moving toward my okra.
My pig trail took me from sunflowers turning their heads toward the sunshine to “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray.” It was a song my father sang to my mother, I’m sure. Not fiction, but fact. I have it in writing. I’m sure he didn’t sing it well, but am sure he sang it with feeling. Of that, I’m sure too, although I have no recording.
I knew it was “their” song. I read a letter sent from my father to my mother from somewhere in the Pacific during World War Two. I found a packet of those letters in a King Edward’s cigar box after her death. They were hidden away in a cedar hope chest, still in their unique airmail envelopes with the red, white, and blue edging and bound with a light blue ribbon. Occasionally there would be lines or words blacked out by censors. There were other lines I wish had been censored. There was nothing X rated but my Father…the romantic? No.
My father quoted the song and lamented his separation and his desire to return to “his sunshine”, an ocean and a continent away. He promised to sing it to her upon his return. Maybe he did or it might be fiction, created in my head. I like to think he did.
There was a well-used 78 record by the same title in that stack of records from the Thirties and Forties. I don’t remember the artist but suppose it could have been Gene Autry or maybe the original sung by The Pine Ridge Boys. It doesn’t matter. I just know I think of my parents whenever I hear the song by any artist and follow a pig trail when I see a sunflower.
Further writings by Don Miller may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2RFMbKqFgEKWPLbpeiVotmz3GATsjIROGRGUqnRwt_XPe2uanDwztdlcE
Image is of a 78 RPM RCA Victor Recording of “You Are My Sunshine” by the Pine Ridge Boys. Distributed by Bluebird Records.