When the Music Stops Abruptly, I'll Remember the Melodious Refrains

I grew up with a musical Dad. Whenever he really liked a song, he'd put a goofy smile on, raise his hands in front of his face, pinch his fingers together, and start to move his arms to the music as if he was standing in front of a vast orchestra. It always brought a smile to my face. In fact, he still does this to this day and it still brightens my life. I remember the first time he taught me how to conduct in 4/4 time and the first time he used the piano to teach me chord structures.

Don't ask him because he'll tell you something totally different, but he's a brilliant musician.

His musical knowledge has always impressed me, but his passion toward it was always contagious. I'll never forget the day I was sitting at the dining room table directly to his right and out of the blue, he asked, "Would you ever be interested in playing an instrument, Courtney?"

I spent exactly zero seconds thinking about my answer before I fired back a definitive "yes". I distinctly remember it escaping my mouth. It felt as decisive as a heavy boulder dropping into dense desert sand. Once it landed, it was immoveable.

A little surprised, but clearly delighted, my Dad followed up his first question with another, "Well, do you know what instrument you'd like to play?"

Again, zero hesitation.

"Yep. Flute."

I could see on my dad's face that he wasn't prepared for this level of certainty in a conversation with a twelve year old. Though my decision came at record speed, it certainly was not random.

My family spent many summers traveling to see extended family when I was younger. The tail end of our road trip each year was always the most beautiful—winding roads lined with towering green trees in the secluded Tennessee countryside. It was just the serenity needed to push through the last part of what must have been a grueling road trip for my parents with four young kids. The serene part of this trip always seemed to last longer than you really wanted it to, though, because you could taste how close Grandma and Grandad were. It was kind of like those classical pieces of music that just keep reeling with intensity at the end. You know the resolving chord is imminent, but your anticipation is turning into a suspense that is borderline intolerable.

But what a beautiful resolve it was when it finally graced our sights. 1151 Judy Branch Road was the satisfying Picardy Third at the end of a minor fugue.

The car would slow, and you could hear the crackling of the tires as you'd turn into the densely shaded entrance. You were greeted first by a small red barn as you made your way over the bridge and across the creek (the creek I would later be baptized in by my Grandad). As you were leaving the bridge, the thick tree cover would end all at once and the vast 52 acres would open up into a magnificent sight to behold. The high afternoon sun beamed across the flat landscape, turning it into a shining sea of lush green. Set way back in the distance was a sizable and exquisite white farmhouse—a structural testament to the brilliant work of my Grandad. What started out as just a tiny red bungalow had been transformed into a majestic homestead. It was the work of his own hands that made this place so special.

It was around this point down the Judy Branch Driveway that you would actually cross from one county to the next. Yes, you read that right. My grandparents grabbed their mail in one county but lived in another, all without leaving their property!

Every year, without fail, my Grandad would be standing on the porch waving with the biggest smile on his face as we made our way down that long driveway. And when I say long, I mean, it was like the extended edition of driveways, but my Grandad was a trooper. The waving would continue until we curved all the way around to the back of the house and came to a full stop.

Exhaustion had converted to excitement by now. My dad barely had time to shift into park before we'd leap from the old van and into the arms of so many loved ones—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and of course, cousins.

Cousins. You're either long-lost relatives or thicker than thieves. There really is no in between. And as long as the years were young and the gang was gathered, we were the latter. We'd set off fireworks together, catch crawdads in the creek, go berry picking in the hills, play rounds and rounds of horseshoes, host volleyball tournaments, consume gallons of Grandma's homemade lemon sweet tea, and make chalk art masterpieces on that ridiculously long driveway.

And it seemed like no matter what we were doing, I found a way to be doing it with my older cousin Laura. Summer after summer, I was glued to her. It's one of those memories you look back on and think, "man, I must have been nothing but an annoying little tag-along", but even if I was, Laura never showed it. She was always gentle, always inclusive, and always smiling. She never turned me away.

Laura was also multi-talented and always seemed to be honing several different crafts in her life at once. At the time, she was a brilliant gymnast, a gifted pianist, and an amazing flute player.

So, the day my dad asked my impressionable twelve-year-old self what instrument I'd like to play, it wasn't just Laura playing the flute that came to mind. It was her beautiful heart, her dedication, and her kindness. All of what inspired me came rushing back to my mind in a flash, culminating in one, ultra-decisive response.

"Yep. Flute."

It was far from random, and now it was official. I would play the flute. And I did for the next twelve years.

It breaks my heart to tell you that this beautiful childhood inspiration of mine passed away several weeks ago. I don't know if everyone knew Laura the way I did, but I’ll never forget the gentle confidence and passion that left an impression on me all those years ago. In part, I believe Laura helped shape the health of my younger years and inspire a devotion to my own crafts. I don't know what I would have become as an awkward, confused, and insecure teenager without the safe haven of my band community in school. It kept me busy; it gave me purpose and stability. It taught me focus, attention to detail, and respect for authority. I know for certain this all-consuming, twelve-year discipline shielded me from a lot of the typical adolescent troubles that mostly certainly would have been plaguing otherwise.

I'm glad for the day my dad asked me about music, and I'm grateful for those that live an inspiring life for others, even if they may not have fully known their impact, and even when their life turns out to be shorter than is truly fathomable.

Laura, if I know you, you're probably finding ways to be angelically masterful at a million different things right now. Save me a music stand next to you, and maybe someday, we can duet forever.

Courtney Jemison