It’s funny the memories you carry with you once a person dies. My dad has been gone for 6 years now, and when I think of him I tend to rehash the same memories over and over again, but on occasion I’ll be suddenly reminded of a memory I’d all but forgotten that still resides in the depths of my mind – it just takes a special coincidence to remind me.
Two weeks ago I was headed to Massachusetts for work. My initial flight was delayed three times for weather and then a final time for mechanical problems. After spending over 5 hours at the airport, I finally boarded my hour-long flight to New Hampshire, where I’d rented a car to drive the rest of the way into Massachusetts – a trick I’d learned from my Boston-born husband to avoid Logan airport. By the time I picked up my rental car it was dark and the storm that had prevented me from arriving earlier was just hitting New Hampshire. Awesome. I prepped for the hour-long drive by stopping at a Dunkin Donuts and getting a large black iced coffee, and off I went, phone GPS in hand in a strange tiny car with rain and tropical-storm force winds. “I can do this,” I told myself. “No big deal.” As I got on the highway I flipped through the radio stations, not being particularly picky, but just wanting something – anything other than static – to focus my mind as I drove through the dark mess of the night. Finally, after several minutes of searching I happened on an oldies station, and playing from the beginning was a familiar song: American Pie, by Don McLean. I turned up the volume and looked at the empty passenger seat beside me, finding it strange that I was the one now who was driving. I felt my dad beside me.
My dad was a music lover, and listening to songs in the car as a kid was something that we did all the time. To this day, the car is the only place you’ll find me singing along to any song, and I think it had something to do with my dad’s appreciation for music and his wanting to share it with me in that place where I’d be a captive audience – the car. I couldn't have been more than 6- or 7-years old when my dad would take me for car rides down a certain stretch of highway in Georgia that topped a levy. He had an old white cassette tape he would pop in whenever we got on that stretch of road. The song he’d play: American Pie, by Don McLean. Partially, I think he played the song to educate me about what a levy was, but I also think the song was a distraction tactic. I’d notice the drop from the levy on my side of the car, and I’d get nervous when I looked out the window. Despite my fears, as soon as he’d pop that tape in, we’d turn up the volume and sing that song at the top of our lungs, me no longer worried about the car rolling down the levy – a memory I’d completely forgotten.
So there I was, late at night on a vacant stretch of highway in another state in a strange car in the middle of a rain storm singing American Pie at the top of my lungs, tears streaming down my face. Was it a coincidence, I wondered? Did I really feel him, or was that just hopeful thinking? The song ended and the radio station faded back to static. Trying to wipe the tears from my eyes, so I could focus on the road I simultaneously scanned the radio for another station to provide background music. The first clear station came through after several clicks to the radio. The song? American Pie, by Don McLean from the very beginning. I burst out into laughter and tears and once again cranked up the volume to sing along one more time. I had my answer.