Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Daniel, my dad

Father's Day is coming up here in the States, and so this post is dedicated to my dad, a very talented man and the one person I've always considered a mentor in my writing. His Kelven's Riddle fantasy series is available on Amazon and through other major bookseller's sites. I have read each of them at least three times a piece, in rough draft as well as in final form. I am now anxiously awaiting Book 4, and while biding my time, I have been trying to get my hands on copies of my Dad's music. That is what this post is about, but I wished to share his books, too, so I have a link to them above.  

It was perhaps a couple years after I got married that I began to regret the absence of something. It was nothing I had lost because of my marriage. I have always considered myself insanely blessed in life, including marriage (knock on wood, rub my head and pat my belly, throw salt over my shoulder while hopping on just the big toe of my right foot, and all that good superstitious "keep the good times rolling" stuff). No, what I began to regret was my foolishness in leaving something behind, something it would have been easy to ask my parents for, something that would have taken up only a teeny bit of space in my departure bags, something that would have entertained me, warmed me, reminded me and comforted me when needed. That something was my dad's music.

In my parent's home there was a whole white box of tapes from recording sessions in Dickson and Nashville, Tennessee - tapes from the days when my dad was struggling to make it as a singer/songwriter in that country music town.  I woke up one day and realized I wanted them, at least some of them, and I knew the tape I desired most. It had Dark Streets, Chris and the Boys, Gone in a Whirlwind and Green Eyes on it. I called Dad, begging him to send one to me, and he did. It was that easy.

But then I got it, and oh no! The cassette was labeled for Dad's songs, but the tape itself, Hillary's music it said, was all wrong. I jammed it hurriedly into the stereo. What I heard, though good music, was not at all what I had hoped for. It wasn't Dad.

Shortly after that my parents moved away from Idaho, where I had lived with them. They left a whole lot of things behind them in a storage unit to retrieve at a more convenient time. It is hard to believe, but Dad's music, all of his demo tapes, were stuck in that storage unit. Abandoned as if no one wanted them. I didn't think about that if I could help it, because I did not have the wherewithal to save them at the time.

And so for years I eagerly yanked out an available guitar every time Dad came around, sometimes giving him warning and sometimes not, and implored him to play his songs for me and my family. That was always a wonderful but too rare occurrence, and it left me even hungrier for the day when I might perhaps have a Dan Hylton CD of my very own to play whenever the mood struck. You can imagine how I felt then when I read my Uncle's post on Facebook announcing that he had transferred some of his own copies of Dad's music to CD - what a great day for America! What a great day for me! I thought, and I wrote him quickly and told him my sob story, offering to send postage for a copy.

I've sent copies to your Dad, he told me. Bug him.

So I did, of course....

And then my torture began - pacing, hair-pulling, fantasizing about walloping a postal worker with junk mail, yelling at the kids and My Man for no good reason kind of torture. I received a message on a Thursday from my dad telling me the CD was on its way. By Monday I was already expecting it.

My mood was in steady decline all week. Tuesday I called Dad and respectfully asked where my Cd was, and he told me he had just sent it on that Monday along with something very special for my son. On Wednesday the living room curtains and the front door were open, so that I could hear as well as see the approach of the mail truck. Yes, yes, I knew the chances were slim, but I still ran out as the mailman pulled away, conscious that this was something usually only little old ladies with walkers do - hoping as they do to have a bit of interaction with a fellow human being. And sure enough - there was a little old lady two houses down rolling her walker toward the mailbox. I only hope she didn't hear the cuss word I uttered when I found out what was absent from my own box. No doubt she heard the bang when I slammed it shut.

Oh, the next two days were like some silly romcom where the audience gets to see the female love interest slap the man in the face a few times before she realizes that she really could or does love him. Every day built up to the the point of the mailman's arrival, and I stormed out my front door pumped up on adrenaline or hope, with maybe a kid or two trailing, and each time I gave a grunt of disgust at the contents of my mail, slammed the mailbox shut and huffed and puffed my way back into the house.

And the worst of it was this: I was expending all this time and energy in anticipation of this CD, and it wasn't even the one I hoped for. Dad had told me on Tuesday that the songs on it were some he had forgotten, ones from his earliest songwriting and recording efforts.

"I warn you, Hillary. I don't know why you want them that badly. I barely remember them."

My heart sank. What songs could they be?

"Oh, Don't Let Me Know is one of them," said Dad when I asked him.

And with that the melody of a song I could scarcely remember took over my mind, playing over and over again with the same snippet of lyrics, " Don't let me know/Don't let me know/I don't want to be around/When you go...." I couldn't recall any more of the words.

And then came Saturday, and Saturday was doom's day. If the CD did not come on Saturday, it would never come; it was a myth, a legend, an impossible dream.

I flew out to the mailbox, and it wasn't - GULP - it wasn't there! I threw the door of our poor defenseless white box back against itself in a rage, said a bad word loud enough for the neighbors, and then proceeded to beat the mailbox with the junk mail I held in my hand while the mailman watched me sidelong with trepidation.

It was a great big trick. I would never have Dad's music.

That day my husband Matthew did not want to be around me. It took upwards of two solid hours to drag myself out of my funk. I had to eventually realize there were so many worse things in the world than not having a CD, even if that CD carries the tenor voice of one's own dad. I kissed my husband, apologized for my horrid behavior and let it go. It is after all true: a watched CD never comes.

Until the following Tuesday, that is.

Monday was Memorial Day - no mail. But Tuesday found me once again with an ear cocked for the special noise of the mail truck's engine. At last I heard it far too late in the afternoon, and I dashed out, all four of my children behind me.

This time I forestalled the mailman who stood sorting flimsy pieces of paper mail in his hand.

"You don't have a package for me?" I whined pitifully.

"Actually, I do," he said with a brilliant smile.

He turned and grabbed it from his seat. I thought I might kiss him when the moment came, flush with my gratitude, but I didn't.

Instead I said, "Thank you. Thank you so much. You don't know how long I've been waiting for this!" And then, "You're the best person ever!" I called after him as he started off. I would have thrown flowers if I'd had any.

I cut open the box impatiently when back in the house, and I pulled out two CDs - all my own! Wrapped up carefully underneath was the proof of The Sword of Heaven, Dad's third book in his Kelven's Riddle series, and inside the flap was a personal note to my littlest boy. It was his birthday gift from his Paca on his first birthday, and I'm not ashamed to say I had asked Dad if he might have it.

Over a week later, I was driving my kids to the park, and I was for the first time really enjoying listening to Dad again. Already I had become reacquainted with the songs I once knew so well as a little girl, and I had gotten over my anxiety about whether they would do credit to the whole body of my dad's songwriting work, including his later more personal songs. I already had my favorites even.

So, really, as with my Gordie (Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot), so with Dad. I will listen to his music in the car until my kids exclaim to their Papa one day, "Wow, Paca must have....like 500 songs on that CD!"

Then Matthew will have to tell them, "No, kids. Mama just listens to them over and over and over...."

And that's my right. Heaven knows I've waited for that privilege long enough. And next time I have the chance to go to Idaho, I'm going to dig out that priceless white box of old tapes from its imprisonment in a musty old storage unit, drag it home with me, and get to work transferring my Dad's music. Some fine day, like his books, his songs may be available to anyone who wants them, and that will truly be a great day.

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