By Glendon McKinney
“When my father died we put him in the ground. When my father died it was like a whole library had burned down.” — Laurie Anderson
My father loved music. When I was a child, every night after supper, after feeding the cows, he would go to the counter in the kitchen, lean with his elbows askew and tune the radio to “Western Swing”. As I sat at the table doing my homework, my father would smile, chat some with my mother who was doing the dishes or reading the paper, and listen to the radio. It was an old blue Bakelite radio from the 40’s which ran on tubes. It sat halfway along the counter, its dull colour a sharp contrast to the bright red countertop. His fingers, thick from farm work and trapping, tapped the counter to the music.
Sometimes at night, or late on a Sunday afternoon, he would pull out the accordion. Sitting on the edge of the couch in the kitchen, where he took naps after dinner and supper, he would play tunes, mostly old dance tunes. Some were slow and melancholy, but he liked the fast paced ones best, smiling and telling yarns about the people he knew when he first heard the music. His body would sway with the movements of working the squeezebox, his fingers skipping around the small buttons.
As he grew older, “Western Swing” was taken off the radio, and Don Messer from the television, but by then he could play music in his car, first 8-tracks, then cassettes. Invariably, it was fiddle music. We travelled miles as the New Brunswick landscape unreeled outside the car, always a fiddle tune somewhere in the air, as if travelling itself generated the music out of the ether. When we returned home, sometimes he would simply stop the car and drive and sit, one leg in and one out of the car’s open door, engine still on, listening to the last of a tune.
My mother came to dislike travelling with him over long distances, complaining of his nonstop music. It had become my father, in her way of telling it, and there were times they didn’t work together anymore.
My father died three years ago. It was a beautiful autumn that year. He had gone hunting one morning early, after breakfast, but still early. The mists that rose from the back pasture would hang in the air, hovering for the longest time, protected by the surrounding forest until the sun finally dispelled them. This was his favourite time for hunting, when the deer would wander out to graze in the open field. Later in the day, he picked apples for my mother. After supper, he went to a card party. He had become rather a card shark in his later years, the kitchen boasting many lurid gold plastic trophies of hands holding fans of cards.
He couldn’t sleep that night. Sometime after two, he rose and came down to the kitchen, calling shortly after my mother, who came down to see what was the matter. As she stood at the kitchen counter, gazing out at the moonlit pasture, he had a massive heart attack. My mother ran to him where he had fallen from his chair, and he died there in the kitchen on a cold October night.
I still have the radio. I know I can get some new tubes at a speciality shop, but I kind of like it just as it is. When I switch it on, there’s a soft glow from the dial as it begins to warm up and slowly, faintly, the tubes begin to work and I can hear music, as if the radio were trying to remember what do.
King of the Fairies