There are few songs that can conjure up imagery better than those which hold a deep personal connection for us. For instance, every time I hear “By My Side” from the Original Broadway cast album of Godspell, I see myself walking down the aisle to my new life as a married woman. My father also has several songs attached to him which conjure up strong images, as well he should for an almost ninety-five-year-old man. But there is one song in particular that he heard when he was four, maybe five years old that has stayed with him all these years. A song that was sung to him by his nine year old, elder sister Margie, as she laid in a hospital bed dying.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly, all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise…” Paul McCartney sang out of my dad’s computer speakers, last Friday evening. I had stopped by briefly to say hello, after attending a bonfire with friends. “No, no Marsha, find the other one,” Dad insisted. Not understanding him I replied, “But dad you asked me to find you Blackbird by Paul McCartney and this is his tune…” Clarifying he tried again, “Your sister Ann Marie found another,” and after a brief search, he was proved right and moments later we heard Paul’s vocals singing, “Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go, singing low, Bye bye Blackbird. Where somebody waits for me, Sugar’s sweet, so is she Bye bye blackbird”
When the song finished, Dad invited me and my brother Tommy into his kitchen saying, get your sister on the phone for me please…” My bro Tom and I traded glances before I said, “Dad, it’s rather late to be calling Ann, don’t you think?” But my dad is like a dog with a bone sometimes and if he has something on his mind, then you can forget about trying to talk him out of it. Looking pointedly at me he replied, “Dial her number, Marsha” and as an obedient daughter, I placed the call, hit the speakerphone and waited.
A few rings later, our sister Ann Marie answered the phone, “Hello Dad, what do you need?” Our father chuckled at her greeting and then said, “Your sister Marsha and brother Tom are here and I want you to tell them the story of the cemetery. I don’t think they’ll believe me…” Ann Marie began to laugh as well and then said, “Oh my God, it was something…” And then they both began to tell us about an incredible adventure they went on, during a rather routine visit to the cemetery.
“Well, we stopped and said prayers at Grandma and Grampa’s headstones and were coming around the curve to where “Margie”is buried, you know where I mean, Marsha,” Ann Marie explained and then Dad picked up the story, “I had Ann stop the car so I could say a Hail Mary for her as well. But instead, my mind wandered back to the last time I saw my sweet sister. She was in a hospital bed in Ann Arbor, MI. They were preparing to remove a brain tumor from her and after I gave her a kiss goodbye, she began singing the song Bye Bye, Blackbird.”
If you’re a reader of this blog, then you know my dad, once he gets a song stuck in his head, begins to substitute doo doos and bee bops, in lieu of the lyrics. But this time, he remembered all the lyrics. “…just then a black bird landed on the tombstone directly above Margie’s stone,” Ann Marie noted. “I said, Dad, are you seeing what I’m seeing?” My dad, who only has vision in one eye and poor vision at that, turned his head to look and asked, “Is that a blackbird?” But before she could reply, an entire flock of blackbirds landed on the headstones surrounding Margie’s, while my dad continued to sing… “No one here can love and understand me, Oh, what hard luck stories they all hand me, Make my bed and light the light, I’ll arrive late tonight Blackbird, bye bye…”
Tommy and I looked at eachother for a moment before we both broke out in wonder “As God is my witness, I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life!” Dad said, still incredulous of the event. “There is no doubt she was telling you something, Dad…” I offered. “Yeah but what?” He asked. Tom and I laughed as Ann Marie put him in his place, “She’s telling you she loves and misses you, but not to hurry to see her, she’s got the blackbirds keeping an eye on you for her…” My dad shrugged his shoulders and accepted her response, adding, “It was surely something…”