Monday, February 18, 2013

"They Never Gave Up"



My dad’s parents, my mamaw and papaw, passed away in 1998 and 1999 respectively. My mamaw was the first to go. Cause of death: unknown. The family didn’t want an autopsy. Speculation has it that an aneurism may have burst or that she may have had a heart attack. The cause is not important and I guess we’ll never know. The fact is she was gone before the ambulance could get there. I don’t remember the last time I saw her. I do remember without the use of pictures what she looked like. I remember how she sounded when she spoke. Sometimes I can hear her laughter even still. My mamaw was a beloved member of her church’s congregation and she loved serving God (she passed away on a Wednesday night sitting in her pew at her church). Her nails and her hair were always done, and she loved playing the game Trouble. 

She was the first loss of that kind that I experienced in my life. An immediate heartache. I was already a resident of New York City by then so I was fortunate enough to be nearly 27-years old when it happened. I was an adult and could deal with the loss with a greater understanding than that of a child. Of course that didn’t make the loss any easier, or hurt any less.

I can still remember my granddaddy (mom’s dad) telling me. My mom had left me a message, on my answering machine, to call home. That was back in the day before we were all reachable at any given moment through our attached-at-the-fingertips smart phones. Her message didn’t set off any alarms. She just plainly, with no emotion in her voice, asked me to call home. Unable to reach her at her house, I called her parents, my grandparents. I can hear my granddaddy telling me the news to this day. I remember clutching a shelf that ran the length of my, then, kitchen on West 45th Street. I remember going into a squat position as I cried, a hand still holding that shelf. My tears fled my eyes as if they were running from something trying to extinguish them. They came fast, hot, and furious. I remember choking out the word “No” many times alternating with the inability to speak. I remember being unwilling to hang up. I remember my granddaddy’s calm voice calling me “son” as he tried to calm me.

When death catches you by surprise it is an overwhelming emotion that isn’t soon forgotten.

Within a year-and-a-half my papaw was in a coma. The doctors determined he had leukemia. It was shocking. Leukemia? How was that possible? We weren’t sure how long he was going to be with us. I debated what to do, and finally made the decision to fly home to see him; and if I’m honest, to be with my family, to see my dad. The last time I saw him he was in that coma, but I know that he knew we, his family, were there crowded around his bed. I saw a tear slip from his closed eyes and fall to the pillow. One might argue that tear could have been anything, but I choose to believe that he felt our presence and could hear us talking to him and just couldn’t wake up to answer back. I choose to believe that tear was his joy that his family was at his side and his frustration at not being able to defeat what was keeping him from joining the song we sang around his bedside.

I flew back home to New York City, but was back in Kentucky less than two weeks later to attend his funeral.

I wasn’t writing my blog back in 1999. There wasn’t even a thought in my head that I might one day write about my life, or rant about social issues, or create characters that I would weave into stories of fiction. One thing that did happen in my life was I started to write songs. I was shocked, I won’t lie. It all started with a break up.

My first boyfriend and I broke up in 1998, a month after my mamaw passed away. I worked through that ending by pouring my feelings into lyrics, but not just lyrics, full songs. I love country music and somehow I opened myself up and allowed all the emotions I was feeling to be channeled into songs. I wrote the lyrics and the music; the two always came together, never separately. It was so interesting because I didn’t know I could do that. Sometimes the lyrics flowed out of me faster than I could write them. I carried a notebook with me everywhere I went. Songs came from nowhere. Some were good, some were bad, some are still unfinished. It was an exciting and fruitful period in my life. On a side note: as quickly as this song writing ability entered my life it seemed to dry up.

My sister and I, calling ourselves AJ & Mike, teamed up as writing and vocal partners during that time in ’98/’99. After my papaw died we wrote the below song, eventually recording it and giving it to my dad and his siblings as a tribute to our grandparents and to the strength of our family.


THEY NEVER GAVE UP

(Verse One)
A prayer went up to heaven
Through a circle of held hands
While a family waited patiently
On news of things that were not planned.
He had always been their solid rock
But now his strength could not be found.
This family bound by God and love
Knew a miracle was needed from above.

(Chorus)
They never gave up
Though they couldn't see the light.
They stayed together
And held each other tight.
They didn’t know what they would face each brand new day.
They never gave up
And through love they found a way.

(Verse Two)
A year ago in springtime
Through a circle of held hands
In a churchyard filled with flowers
They gave her body to the land.
How would they ever live without her?
Who would they take their problems to?
They put the pieces back together
‘Cause her love would live inside of them forever.

(Chorus)
They never gave up
Though they couldn’t see the light.
They stayed together
And held each other tight.
They didn’t know what they would face each brand new day.
They never gave up
And through love they found a way.

(Bridge)
With her gone
And him barely hangin’ on
They know miracles happen
And prayers go unanswered.
They don’t know about tomorrow.
They’re waiting for time to tell.
But they’ve got faith, they’ve got hope, they’ve got love,
And they never gave up

(Chorus)
They never gave up
Though they couldn’t see the light.
They stayed together
And held each other tight
They didn’t know what they would face each brand new day.
The never gave up
And through love they found a way.


Families don’t always get along and they don’t always support one another’s lives, but it’s nice to know that in times of sorrow and real need, belonging to one that will give a shoulder to lean on, an ear for listening, and something to wipe away the tears is a blessing. 

No matter our differences I’ve always known I was blessed to be a member of my dad’s family and to have had William “Dub” and Ella Rohrer and my papaw and mamaw. 

The song writing may have dried up, but the ability to write just went on hiatus for a while. These days it comes in a very different form: funny/sad/dramatic/interesting/boring stories about my life, social rants, and fiction. I no longer carry a notebook in lieu of my iPhone “Notes” app, but I still have that notebook, and the humble beginnings of my storytelling past, albeit stories told through song. Hey, that’s what country music is, right? Stories told through song?


“They Never Gave Up” ©AJ & Mike 1999