Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Family Reserve...

This morning, I noticed a visitor from Raleigh, North Carolina visiting a memorial I wrote for my Uncle Carl back in January 2015.  I had just seen Carl a few months earlier, when I last went home to Virginia for Thanksgiving and a memorial we had for my dad, who died in July 2014.

Carl had leukemia.  I don't know how long he had it, but I do remember when I last saw him, he was pale and said that he exhausted easily.  Other than that, he seemed mostly like himself.  I remember having a nice long chat with him over that visit.  I knew it would probably be the last time I saw him alive, but I'm not sure I knew he'd be gone within weeks of our last conversation.  I'm so glad we made the effort to go to Virginia, since I lost three uncles in 2015.  I managed to see two of them during that last visit in 2014.

Today also happens to be the third anniversary of my Uncle Glenn's death.  Glenn was about 90 years old when he died, and he'd had health problems for a long time.  He was my mother's only brother, and was 13 years older than she is.  I didn't know him as well as I did my dad's siblings.  I do remember Glenn to be an adventurous guy with a special knack for electronics.  Glenn, his daughter Sue, and I also all inherited my grandmother's blue eyes.  In 2015, I lost Carl, my uncle Kenneth (married to my dad's sister, Nancy), and Glenn.

Lately, I've felt kind of disconnected from my family of origin.  I used to love going home for Thanksgiving, but the last time I was there, I almost felt like a stranger.  My dad's side of the family is huge, so the Thanksgiving gathering has become a party with a lot of attendees I don't know.  Also, I have different political and religious beliefs than most of my family members have.  Being in Germany makes going home more difficult and expensive, but even if I were in Virginia, it would probably feel weird to be there now.

Nevertheless, sometimes I'm reminded of my roots, especially at this time of year.  The visitor who read my tribute to Carl, who truly was a wonderful man, inspired me to re-read what I wrote back in 2015.  I included a couple of music videos in that post.  One was a piece I had completely forgotten about.  I almost wonder if it was a "drunken download".  Just an aside-- I've been known to drink wine and go on iTunes downloading sprees sometimes.  I get bored and start listening to music, find stuff I like, and the next thing I know, it's in my collection.  Bill doesn't mind when I do this, since he thinks I have excellent taste in music and loves a lot of the stuff I buy.

The first video I included in that post was one I stumbled upon and forgot about, but yet it's so fitting. The uploader had set a musical version of "Psalm 23" to the mountains and lakes of Scotland.  Both sides of my family have very deep British, Scottish, and Irish roots.  The video reminded me a bit of Rockbridge County in Virginia, which is pretty much the origin of my parents.  Dad was from Natural Bridge and my mom is from Buena Vista, which is its own city.

The second video was an awesome mashup of bluegrass and Dixieland jazz-- "I'll Fly Away", which was one of the songs in my dad's memorial.  I watched it again this morning and found myself getting emotional.  It's not unusual for me to cry over music that is well played.  Bill relates, since he tends to get overwhelmed by art.  I'm sure if we'd had a child, he or she would have been a total sap over music and art.

After I stopped listening to the music videos in Carl's memorial post, I was reminded of a song by Lyle Lovett called "Family Reserve".  It was, in fact, the second song I ever heard by him, and one of my favorites of his.  I will never forget the day I heard it for the first time.  I was in Armenia, visiting a Mormon couple who happened to be serving in the Peace Corps with me.  They were playing Lovett's 1992 album, Joshua Judges Ruth.  My ears caught the chorus of Lovett's song, "Since the Last Time"-- probably tied for my favorite Lovett tune...


"Since the Last Time" reminds me a lot of my family...  I love this song for so many reasons.

I asked my colleagues what they were playing, and they told me it was Lyle Lovett.  I only mention that these two were LDS because they were really cool people-- probably the first Mormons I ever really got to know before I met Bill, who was LDS when we first started dating.  I no longer keep in touch with this couple, but they were pretty extraordinary people-- a good example of exemplary LDS church members.  They were the kind of people who would have helped Bill's daughter, Catherine, as she broke away from her mother.  I have also found that many Mormons (or really, ex Mormons) have excellent taste in music and books, even if the belief system itself is pretty fucked (in my most irreverent opinion, anyway).  

The song "Baltimore" played next, then it was time for "Family Reserve".  Although it wasn't quite as quirky or uplifting as "Since the Last Time" is, there was something about "Family Reserve" that just captured my heart.  I suddenly found myself with a new musical obsession.

I decided I had to have that album we were listening to at my Mormon colleagues' apartment in Armenia, but I wasn't able to get it until I got back to the States, back in 1997.  And then, I didn't ask my friends which album they were playing, so I ended up buying all of Lovett's CDs until I finally found those songs that had become an obsession.  I did the same thing with Stevie Wonder at around the same time.  I was on a quest to find his song, "As", and didn't have regular access to the Internet.  Consequently, I now own a whole lot of Stevie Wonder's albums.  I also own pretty much all of Lovett's catalog.  It's not unusual for me to get hooked on a song and hunt it down, even if it takes years.  Good thing my husband doesn't mind. 

Anyway, "Since the Last Time" is track seven on Joshua Judges Ruth.  "The Family Reserve" is track nine.  While "Since the Last Time" is kind of quirky and gospel tinged, "The Family Reserve" is solemn and poignant.  For some reason, as I read my thoughts on Carl, I was reminded of it...


I relate to the backstory of this song so well.  I hate having my picture taken.  But Lyle reminds us that life is fleeting and memories are important.

These are the lyrics to "The Family Reserve", which are stuck in my head this morning.

When I saw the ambulance
Screaming down main street
I didn't give it a thought
But it was my Uncle Eugene
He died on October the second 1981

And my Uncle Wilbert
They all called him Skinner
They said for his younger ways
He'd get drunk in the morning
And show me the rolls of fifties and hundreds
He kept in the glove box of his old gray Impala

And we're all gonna be here forever
So Mama don't you make such a stir
Now put down that camera
And come on and join up
The last of the family reserve

Now my second cousin
His name was Callaway
He died when he'd barely turned two
It was peanut butter and jelly that did it
The help she didn't know what to do
She just stood there and watched him turn blue

And we're all gonna be here forever
So Mama don't you make such a stir
Just put down that camera
And come on and join up
The last of the family reserve

And my friend Brian Temple
He thought he could make it
So from the third story he jumped
He missed the swimming pool
Only by inches
And everyone said he was drunk

Now there was great uncle Julius
And Aunt Annie Mueller
And Mary and Granddaddy Paul
And there was Hanna and Ella
And Alvin and Alec
He owned his own funeral hall

And there are more I remember
And more I could mention
Than words I could write in a song
But I feel them watching
And I see them laughing
And I hear them singing along

We're all gonna be here forever
So Mama don't you make such a stir
Just put down that camera
And come on and join up
The last of the family reserve


This time of year always makes me remember my family, even though I'm many miles away.  For a lot of reasons, thinking about family is difficult for me.  As amazing as they are, they are also the source of a lot of painful memories.  Sometimes I feel like we've already lost each other.  But then I am reminded of our common bonds.  In my case, it's music, storytelling, a love of booze, humor, and an affinity for mountains, lakes, creeks, and rivers.  Those things are a part of me that I share with my relatives, even if they are very religious Trump fans and I'm... not.

A trip home might do me some good... or maybe not.  I don't know.  For now, I have to find our next temporary home in Germany.  Germany isn't home, but it's starting to feel like home.  It's probably time I learned the language. 


Gift from my family.  I need to learn to play guitar, too.  Maybe I'll redo this video and add some harmony.

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