By: Donna R. Wood
“In the corner of my mind stands a jukebox. It’s playing all my favorite memories…” ~ Alabama, (1990) written by Dave Gibson & Ronnie Rogers
Music has a way of connecting us with memories, some of which are not so pleasant. As a young person, I often dropped an imaginary quarter into that old jukebox in the corner of my mind and let it stroke the chords of sorrow, regret, and misery. I’d listen to it for hours and connect to times in my life that weren’t so good.
In my childhood, my mother would always listen to music as we cleaned house on Saturdays. My mother had a beautiful singing voice. She would sing along to the radio as we dusted, mopped, and did laundry. Every time I hear Kenny Rogers’ Lucille, it takes me back to the late ‘70s, cleaning house with my mom. It was the first time I heard my mom sing out loud. The memory is haunting and beautiful at the same time. My mom had left my dad only a few years before, and well, there were four of us children. Only, my mom took us with her, for which I am eternally grateful. I never realized how important and healing that song might have been for my mother at the time.
By all accounts of the family, my father was a monster in a large man’s body. He was explosively violent and abusive – both mentally and physically – not only toward my mother, but also my older siblings. Years later, I read a letter that my grandfather sent to my mother when he was in his late 80s (around 1971), recounting how my father had come to his home and beat him senseless. My father had beaten his own elderly father senseless, and had landed him the hospital where he didn’t wake up for five days.
At first, I thought it was my kindly old grandfather – the one I had imagined him to be – confirming that my mother’s assessment of her husband was correct. The truth behind the letter is that my grandfather was attempting to manipulate my mother into taking my father back, because my father was taking his rage out on others.
I’ve seen pictures of my father. I never had the misfortune of knowing him personally. My father looked like a mountain next to my mother. Just like the man in the song next to Lucille. My father was so large that when they lived in Florida, they called him Gordo, which means fat in Spanish. However, my father wasn’t just fat, he was tall. He was every inch of 6 foot 4; my mother a petite 5 foot 5 inches in heels.
The healing part of that song is that my mother, in one fell swoop of a good decision, crumbled that mountain into a pile of rubble. He quaked and shook as his heart broke, and in the end, my mother had won. Oh, there were letters and phone calls, and all the like, but she had stood her ground, no matter how difficult life was for her with four hungry children.
As an older and wiser adult, I can listen to Lucille with a different perspective on the memory of cleaning house with my mom. I can hear her voice singing along to the radio, not in pain or sorrow, but in courage and triumph. She wasn’t taking joy from making him look small – okay, maybe a little bit, but encouraging herself to look forward to the love and the laughter in the here ever after that would be her life; without him.
My father was indeed a monster. He will always be defined in my mind as a monster. However, I had some healing of my own to do in regard to this monster that lived in the shadows of my past. My father died in 2004. There is nothing left but shadows of the things that were. They were real. They were true. They were horrific. Yet, I had to find the part of me that was willing and able to forgive him for all of it. I wasn’t forgiving him for his sake. I was forgiving him for my own sake.
I had to let go of all of it. Forgiveness is a soul process. It transcends us above the reality of what was and allows us to release the hooks that anchor us to the past. Once the release occurs, there is an overwhelming sense of peace that takes its place and new melodies begin to play from the jukebox in the corner of our minds. Melodies that may be old, but are heard in a different way.