My friend and fellow blogger Rachael is on maternity leave this month and she asked me (among many others) to write a post for her blog which bears the unlikely moniker "The Scientific Nature of the Whammy" (I don't know what it means either, but I like the sound of it). Because of the impending arrival of her little one, she asked all of us to ponder the subject of birthdays.
Yesterday was the day my post was featured, called "Ephemeral Gifts".
When Rachael asked me, I said "Yes" without really thinking much about what I was saying. Rachael's blog is all about family and faith and motherhood and for the life of me, I couldn't think of anything to say on the subject of birthdays that would fit within those parameters.
I've received many gifts for my birthday. Teddy bears gave way to GI Joes gave way to electronics and a 16th birthday car which eventually led to kitchen implements and gardening equipment. And I still have a lot of them. They are either the cherished possessions of childhood or the favorite items in an overflowing house. But as is so often the case the birthday present I cherish most is one I no longer possess.
Two years ago, my telephone rang one evening while I was not at home and my answering machine picked up the call. It was my mom and dad, calling to wish me a happy 35th birthday. Together, the two of them sang that great old son into the recorder for me to find and listen to later.
I'd never heard my dad sing before. Not that he hadn't, but it was always either in church or otherwise among the voices of others so that it was lost in the tumult. He sounded strong, vibrant, and a little embarrassed. It was weird and wonderful all at the same time.
For a few months, that song remained on my answering machine and I would periodically hear the strains of Happy Birthday as either Kristin or I played the messages. I meant to take it and record it into a more permanent venue but I never found a tape recorder or other method of getting that song off of there.
One day the inevitable happened. I don't recall whether it was a power outage, or if the thing got knocked off the kitchen counter or what happened, but the message was lost. I tried everything, including contacting the company to find out if there was any way to retrieve it, but there was not. It was gone.
The simple solution would be to ask him to sing to me once more, but that's not possible. My dad died just before Christmas that year. His voice forever silenced except in my memories and in the few snippets of video tape where he appears (usually saying "What do you think you're doing?" or "Is that really necessary?")
In the end, though, the memory of the song is the more precious for its absence. If it still remained it would live on a hard drive or an audio cassette and I might listen to it once in awhile, but it wouldn't be the same. I think it's the clearer for being a memory.
And never can I hear that song without in my mental recording studio, layering dad's voice track into the chorus. Strong and vibrant, and just a little bit embarrassed.