One theme. One poet. One memoirist.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

There Was a Time

Happy Saturday!

My reflection on music. One of the struggles I'm confronting as a result of this blog is remembering how to tell stories. I don't succeed in this post either, but I'm getting closer. Details have always been a struggle for me; reflection comes much more naturally. My mother used to edit my papers for me when I was in grade school and high school. "You're not painting the picture," she'd tell me in an effort to get me to describe something better. When I sit down to write, that phrase is constantly in my head--"paint the picture."

I do like what's here though. I've not written about my grandparents before, so perhaps this could be better considered a character sketch.

It intrigues me that both Kelly and I chose to write about our grandmothers for this topic and that we both wrestle with memory as a result. Just an observation.

I'm certainly open to thoughts or critiques.

If you're not familiar with it, this version of "I Dreamed a Dream" is quite stunning.


Music and memory—they are intimately bound. “American Pie” reminds me of my dad. “How Great Thou Art” and “World Falls” of my mother. Indigo Girls’ 12:00 Curfews was my soundtrack when I left home for the first time and went to college. There are songs that remind me of friendships, of relationships that were or were not, of who I was and who I am and who I hope to be.

My grandmother has Multiple Sclerosis; it is a disease she has lived with for nearly thirty years. Despite the pain and frustration of the disease, she remains one of the most positive and trusting people I know. My grandparents lived close to my mom and me until I was seventeen; then they moved to Washington state to be closer to their other grandchildren and in the hopes that the absence of temperature extremes would be better for Grandma.

I carry with me many memories of Grandma: watching game shows with her; drinking caffeine free Diet Coke; shopping at antique malls; watching her beautiful hands quilt works of art that still decorate my bed; going to church with her and Grandpa; decorating the Christmas tree; setting the table for holidays, the table that Grandpa slept on when he was a baby; going with her every year to get new shoes for school; the way she laughs at jokes and stories.

But perhaps the memory that evokes the most feeling is the memory of her singing. We Murphys are good at many things—owning businesses, being creative, fixing problems—but spectacular singers we are not. My grandparents had an upright piano in their home for years, and my mom and her siblings remember Grandma playing it frequently. But this is their memory, not mine.

When I was younger, we would drive to Nebraska, Colorado, California, or Washington for family reunions or visits. Grandma and Grandpa would be in the front seat, smoking cigarettes or cigarillos, while mom and I sat in back sleeping or reading. Aside from the near asphyxiation, these memories are great ones. I’m sure we listened to a variety of music; I know we listened to Neil Diamond. But the memory of Les Miserables is in my bones. No doubt we all chimed in, but “I Dreamed a Dream” belongs to Grandma. Her voice—deep, loud, dominating—commands that song, even today.

And I wonder what dream she dreamed.


  1. Okay. Now that you've made it to the end, I can give you my other critique of this piece.

    I think the end implies that my Grandma isn't happy with the life she's had. That's not what I mean. In fact, she's one of the most joyful people I know. It's more that I want to know what her dreams are and were. How has MS affected them? How did the death of one of her children affect them? How have the births of her grandchildren and the successes of her children affected them? How has her relationship with my grandfather affected them?

    Perhaps a phone call is in order.

  2. I would like to congratulate you (one month later) on your admirable use of semi-colons.

    That said, I agree with your critique of the ending. I feel like I'm getting little glimpses into your life and family, but I don't have a complete picture yet. I want more stories surrounding them. Introduce me to the cast of characters and let me form a relationship with them.