Archive for July, 2011

Almost Famous

The last year of her life, my mother became a Clay Aiken groupie.  Not in the literal sense that she followed him around on tour, but in the virtual sense–she joined several on-line message boards and collected magazine articles about him and other memorabilia, even a small, absurdly cute teddy bear wearing a tee shirt with Clay’s image and signature on it.  She named him Winston Claybear because she found him at the Winston-Salem concert, the concert I think I won front row tickets for her by calling into a radio show and describing what a crazy Clay fan she was.  Or was that the Greenville concert?  After seven years, memory tends to blur around the minute details.  

Winston now sits on the shelf in my office where I’ve gathered various treasured items I associate with my mother–a quite serious-looking portrait of my life-sized Peter Rabbit, posed on one of my grandmother’s chairs (a fine example of my mom’s skill with acrylics, I might add), a photo of me and my half-brother when I was three or so, before things went terribly wrong, a greeting card with two kissing fish that my mother gave to my father on Valentine’s day one year, her ashtray with her last cigarette half-smoked, her Biltmore House coffee cup, another coffee cup with an overly cheerful crab I bought for her in London, her favorite Rosary beads, the last photograph of her (this photo was taken by a nurse at Baptist Hospital and sent to us three weeks after Mom passed away–my dad cried when he saw it, the third and final time I remember seeing him cry in my life.  Touching this photo makes me feel like a ghost just brushed over my shoulders), a gourd Mom turned into a colorful work of art, a whirlygig toy called a Shoot-a-Loop that used to sit on her desk at work and distract all her co-workers, et cetera. 

Amidst all of this, I placed the urn of Mom’s ashes.  Dad and I planned to scatter her ashes near Lake Superior in 2005–she had never said anything about where she wanted to be buried or have her ashes scattered, but she did dream right before she died about looking out over a peaceful lake.  (How I miss the low roar of those waves breaking on the pebbled shore.)  After some discussion, we ended up keeping her ashes instead.  Dad said that it comforted him to touch the top of her urn every night before he went to bed.  For months after she passed, I’d find him wandering the house in the middle of the night, unable to sleep.  Her primary caretaker during her last illness, he kept waking up to listen for her breathing and then couldn’t go back to sleep again.   

Silliness and a light heart can save you when you’re in a dark place.  Clay Aiken distracted my mother from her illness and also reawakened her love of music.  She bought more CDs that last year than in any of the five previous years–I remember the two of us lustily singing along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the way to her treatments at Baptist.  That was also the year she discovered the movie Almost Famous and introduced me to itShe was so taken with the movie that her screen nickname changed to Penny Lane overnight.

If you’ve never seen Almost Famous, please do so.   Preferably several times–you’ll get something different out of it everytime, I guarantee you.  A coming-of-age story, a testament to the power of rock and roll, an achingly sweet love story that never descends into sentimentality, a statement on the dangers of corporate commercialism to art, a family drama/comedy, a story about the power of friendship–this movie has it all.  The flawed, realistic characters possess a poignant depth that always leaves me feeling better about the state of humanity when I finish watching the movie.  And I could always use more hope in my life.  Couldn’t you?

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