It is still dark out; the dawn is near. I spent the night drifting in and out of sleep, sitting in my favorite chair, watching and listening to programming on the Public Broadcasting Service. I finally roused myself at three-thirty and turned off the television, made a fresh cup of coffee with the last of my dark Sumatra fresh-ground coffee beans, and ate some leftovers I remembered and found in the fridge. My favorite book in my lap, A New Way of Living, Push-kitty sitting across my legs, I read for a while. The words are significant reminders for me to greet each day free of doubt and fear, to search within for my Reality of Truth and Light. I require these reminders, for it is easy to succumb to old habits, to forget that all I need know is with me now.
The last time I wrote, I decided to get in my car and drive to Madison, Wisconsin to visit my son and his partner. It was a twelve-hour drive and amazingly, I never once felt the desire to pull over to sleep. By the time I reached Madison, however, I needed guidance into the city, so I called my son, who seems to also keep late hours. He talked me into the city and within ten minutes as I turned onto the street where they live, the headlights gave me a glimpse of him as he said, “You are here. I see you.”
I spent two days with Chris and Jennie and Olive, their teenage cat. My initial meeting with the cat did not go well. He claws penetrated my forehead the first time I tried to hold him, within the first ten minutes of being there, which depressed me, as I have never really been much of a “cat person,” and I knew I would have some hours alone in the apartment with this little dude while Chris and Jennie went to their jobs. I went to sleep, and when I woke up a couple of hours later to find the cat sitting on the bed, gazing at me, just a couple of feet away from my face, I yelled at him to “GIT,” and he jumped off the bed and ran into the kitchen as Chris came out of his bedroom saying, “Geez, Mom! It’s only a kitten!” “Take him with you, please! I don’t feel safe being in the same room.” Nestling back into the futon, I mused on how I might have to return home sooner than I planned, all because of this cat. Later on, Chris showed me the one toy that would tire out Olive and I used it a lot over the next two days. Towards the end of my stay there, Olive wanted to hang out near me, and it took all my courage to allow the cat to wrap himself about my head, this time without claws extended. “He loves you, Mom,” Chris said, watching us from across the small living room.
Madison seemed small, for a city. The traffic was bearable, unlike the traffic in Austin. The first morning there, Chris and I went out for lunch. Afterwards, Chris drove around, helping me get my bearings. After he left for work, I decided to find my way to the natural foods co-op where Jennie works, to get a few items. When I left home, I decided to not pack a cooler, as I assumed I would not be gone more than a couple of days. I found the place easily and once inside, asked for Jennie, who was on a break. She showed me around, introduced me to a couple of co-workers and then went back to work. I found the things I needed and was glad Jennie got permission to let me use her employee discount.
I found my way to the car wash/detailing business I saw earlier and pulled in. It was about four-thirty and the fellow said they would be open the next day. I went back to the apartment. I had to park down the street, and looking for the apartment, realized I was turned around. The apartment was on the opposite side of the street. I saw a young man sitting on the porch and realized it must be the musician from out of town Chris told could stay with them. Part of the reason I went to Madison was so that I could hear my son perform this Saturday night. He was part of a planned evening of “eclectic” music, and Sean Gaskell, playing his 21-string West African kora, was also part of the show. I apologized for being late (I forgot Chris told me to watch for him around five), introduced myself and led him upstairs. Sean traveled five hours that day on a bus, from Minneapolis, and I assumed he could relate to having a shower and perhaps a beer. I was correct, and as Sean took a shower, I put away my purchases.
I decided I should empty my car of all the clutter, make it ready to be steam cleaned the next day. I went back down the street to my car, unlocked it, opened the trunk and began transferring all the accumulated stuff on the floor of the car to the trunk. I put my car keys in the front pocket of the light jacket I had on, and went around to the curbside to deal with the stuff on that side of the car. As I bent down to reach for things off the floorboard, I felt the keys slide out of the jacket pocket, heard them hit the grate over the drainage system and land below the street, about twenty inches beneath my feet. Just then, Jennie showed up, home from work, and I must have had a look of utter distress on my face. She said, “What’s wrong?” I pointed to the drain, telling her how I lost my keys. She went back to the apartment and returned carrying a wire clothes hanger. Chris drove past, saw us, parked and came over. I was getting ready to reach down into the drain with the, by then, straightened-out wire hanger and try to pick up my keys. My son took over, saying he would get them. I did not resist, held my breath and trusted him to do what needed doing. He placed the keys in my hand and I stuffed them into my jeans pocket. I felt such relief and simultaneously, so idiotic!
Back upstairs, Sean was finished showering. Introductions all around, it was clear that this stranger was no stranger, but a new friend whose light was brilliant through his eyes and smile. He visited with Chris a bit, and Chris pointed to the large case asking, “This is the instrument? It is big!” Sean opened the case and took out the kora. The neck, at least 36 inches long, maybe longer, attached to a hollowed-out, halved gourd, maybe 16 inches in diameter, had an amazing number of pegs sticking out on opposite sides of the neck. Sean sat in a chair, placed the kora between his legs, and produced the most exotic-sounding notes I have ever heard. The sequence of sounds reminded me of the rippling water of a slow-running stream, gentle and free-flowing. He played for just a few minutes and then placed it back inside the case. I was in the kitchen, preparing supper, a ratatouille, eggplant, squash from my garden, onion, tomato, and garlic. I cooked some rice, as well. Chris and Jennie, meanwhile, retired to their bedroom for a little nap. When the food was ready, Sean and I ate, and eventually Chris and Jennie joined us. All fed, Chris and Sean needed to leave for the venue, and Jennie and I would follow a little later.
Jennie and I got to the bar, a dungeon-like place, below street level. The seating was wooden booths lining two walls of the large room, a bar with stools and a large open dance floor, plus the small ground-level stage. That was it! I wondered how many people might come out, and hoped there would be enough to fill the place. A dark-haired young woman was on stage, electric guitar in hand, wearing a long, pink, flowing chiffon dress that glittered under the stage lighting. Her voice was strong, sultry, and confident. Her guitar was very loud, so loud that I wished I had some ear plugs. Chris came over and I got across to him that I might not be able to handle the volume. He went over to the bar and came back with a set of fresh earplugs which I immediately put in place. Ah, now I could listen. Sean sat down with Jennie and me and I saw him wince a couple of times, placing his left hand up to his ear. She played and sang several more pieces, then stopped. The few people sitting at the bar and in the booths applauded her. She gathered up her instruments and made her way out of the venue, stopping to greet a few friends. I asked Sean if his music would be that loud. He said he would halve the volume for his set.
The next musician played a kind of harp that he placed across his legs. His sound was eclectic alright! It was downright weird. He spoke and sort of sang his lyrics, which were almost harsh. I would not call his sound beautiful, but it was interesting. I was glad when he finished.
Sean was next. He introduced himself, and gave a description of his instrument and how he came to learn to play it. He began to play, and then he began to sing. I was mesmerized. I felt emotion well up within me. The purity of the rippling notes and Sean’s voice elicited in me an understanding of how long music has been in this world, bringing together people who can hear and feel Soul. Tears stung my eyes and I dried them with my fingers, hoping my mascara would not give me away. Sean played song after song, telling the story of each one, how long it had been sung and played, and for what purpose. The small crowd did not move or speak. Everyone listened. When he finished his set, the applause was loud and long, augmented with some appreciative howls and hoots. A few days later, when I got back home, I found Sean sent me a “friend request” on Face Book, which I immediately confirmed. On his page, I found a quote from a newspaper describing Sean’s most recent concert in Minneapolis:
“Need more proof that music is the greatest international language? Listen to how eloquently Sean Gaskell, a young fella from the grunge and coffee mecca of Seattle, plays the 21-string West African Kora, a gourd-bottomed harp that delivers both acres of melody and gently rippling rhythms.”
– Tom Surowicz, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Oct 03, 2013)
Chris was the last performance of the evening. As far as I knew, he had not practiced at all, and in fact, mentioned that he was having the pre-performance jitters, which, apparently, he always has. Had he never said anything, I would not have noticed. He seemed so at ease, in his element. The moment he started playing, then singing, I felt a rush of joy. He had some sort of board with buttons at his feet that he could push, which recorded a riff, which he then came in behind with his guitar. I think it is called a “loop.” The music expanded, sounded much richer somehow. His voice was also rich, emotionally expressive. He did not play very many songs, and when he indicated he was finished with his set, the small crowd insisted he play another, so he did. I was the proud mom. By then I was on my third beer, and could not stop smiling. What an evening! So glad I made the long trip to hear him, I was also glad to get back to the apartment and hit the bed.
The next day Sean had to catch another bus back to Minneapolis. I went to the car wash and turned my car over to them so the inside could be steam cleaned and the outside, bathed. The attendant proceeded to lock my keys in the car. I still do not know how that happened, but it did! Chris waited for me in his car while I spoke to the person in the office. The girl assured me that they could get the car open, and that if I wished to wait to pay, I could. Later that day, when I picked up the vehicle, I was happy to find it refreshingly clean inside and out.
Chris and I spent a couple of hours together. We sat down by the lakeside and visited. There is something so soothing about being alongside a large body of water. I miss it. It was a very sweetly spent afternoon with my son.
Monday morning, I decided I should get back home, even though Jennie and Chris made me feel welcome to stay longer. I packed up and got back on the road. The drive home was uneventful and easy, and I was glad to sit down in my favorite chair again, once home. In fact, back home, I spent the next three nights falling asleep in my chair, getting up and having coffee in the early morning, just as I did this morning. Maybe it is an unwillingness to give up my tendency towards being ready to move, jump up at a moment’s notice and leave for parts unknown. I like my bed, but I also like how one day moves into night and moves into day without my changing clothes, kind of like a cowboy must feel when out on a cattle drive, sleeping on a blanket on the ground under the stars, always ready to move, when necessary. (I have been reading too many books by Larry McMurtry!) Now that I do not have any work to get to (am in a “down” period, as per the company’s needs) I do not have to worry about being on time for any appointment. Thus, I can be my grungy self, ready to go outdoors to keep plugging at the chore most needing doing: getting in the wood for the winter. I have tried to find someone to help me with this chore, but nobody responds. I am going to get it done, alone, slowly but surely. The dark of winter nights will soon be here, along with the cold. Today’s dawn brought with it a gentle shower, and now the mist is everywhere, a gentle breeze moving the leaves of the tall trees. This is probably the last few days of more or less warm weather, before frozen air blows in. With my desire to not give in to the typical depression I usually experience with wintertime, I am counting my blessings and greeting this new dawn with a readiness to move, despite my older and stiffer limbs!