Making MemoriesBy Emma Pearson
September 22, 2023
Today, 16 July 2018, is a year since we had Mike’s Celebration of Life – on 16th July 2017.
Yesterday, Sunday 15th, felt more like the anniversary itself, as last year, 16th July was a Sunday. So much of that day remains etched in my brain, memories wired into neural pathways, or something like that. Unreal as it was at the time, and still feels to be. They are not easy memories, but they are memories. Memories of an ending.
I was asked recently to reflect on how I approach “endings”. How we approach endings (of relationships, projects), and how we say goodbye to people, apparently says a lot about how we think about our mortality – in other words, our own ending. Do we avoid endings and goodbyes, slip away to avoid the “work” of an ending?; do we hang on and extend the relationship so the ending doesn’t come so fast? Do we even notice that an ending has come that we might do something with?
As I reflected on this, a few patterns emerged. One is that, starting in my late teens, I would take a mental photograph of the important elderly people in my life, “in case I never saw them again”. I distinctly remember with both my grandmothers, “making a picture” of them as I said goodbye each time (I only saw them two or three times a year), so that I could hold on to it forever. I am not sure that it really made that much difference, as I have lots of memories of them. Though I do also have a clear image of the last time I saw my paternal grandmother and how she looked; and I remember almost verbatim the last conversation, by phone, I had with my maternal grandmother. Mike and I had just climbed Mont Blanc (which she had also done in the 1930s) and had toasted her with a beer back at the refuge hut.
As well as taking mental photos, I have long had the notion of intentionally “making memories”. I actually foist this concept on my kids, poor things, forcing them to face others’ – if not explicitly their own – mortality. One way I have tried to make memories for myself and for the kids is through music with my dad. My dad’s a good amateur pianist. He had us all learning piano as kids, and even when I was a teenager, he and I entered a couple of piano duet exams, mostly to help me “warm up” before my proper solo piano exam.
I have been lucky to keep all of our kids at music – well past the time most kids give up. Dad’s accompanied all three of them in their instrument exams (trumpet, flute, oboe) as well as me for saxophone and cello as I took up those instruments. It’s been a wonderful opportunity, though often tinged with sadness for myself as I know it’s something that will come to an end, and I have always had half an eye on why it was important to me, if not them.
One piano duet that my dad and I would pick up over the past few decades (!) is Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor. It’s difficult, at least for amateurs – (especially amateurs such as us who pick up the piece perhaps once a year, usually after a big meal with copious amounts of red wine).
We’d start it happily enough, then hit a tough bit with lots of chords and accidentals … skip forward to another easier section, hit another tough section, skip ahead a bit, and so on…till we played the absolutely painfully beautiful ending. Always sighing at the end and saying, “one day we must really put in some practice, work this piece out, put some fingering in, and play it all the way through”.
Well – we did that this afternoon. In truth, we actually also did it a few weeks ago in June when my parents had arrived back in Geneva after an overnight flight from Canada. I had been practising my part but my dad hadn’t. We still made it through, without dad having practised it – so it was clear who had needed to skip the tough bits! In the intervening month, dad worked at his part (secondo – the bass clef) but I barely did because I have not been around.
It was wonderful! We stopped a few times when we really fluffed a section or found that we were a bar out from one another (both times my fault). We repeated bits that we thought we could do better, and parts we especially like. It took us 35 mins (a typical recording is under 20 mins).
I am tremendously moved by this piece. It makes me sob. I get goose bumps even when we play it, let alone the professionals. It will always remind me of my dad, and I am so glad that I have been able to give us both this “gift” of practising it enough so that we could play it through. I may have many regrets regarding my dad when he is no longer around, (and I know that that could happen any time), but not having put in the time on this Schubert for him will not be one of them. I even had the foresight to record it. I don’t dare listen to it, but I have the recording in case one day I want to listen to it.
One of my daughters thinks that all this talk of “making memories” is morbid. It might well be, but it’s important to me. I don’t have a bucket list (it’s a principle of mine not to have one), but if I did, playing this with my dad would be one of the items on it.
Here’s a beautiful recording by two young Dutch brothers, Arthur & Lucas Jussen, when they were just 18 and 21 years old. And no – we didn’t play it anything like as exquisitely, and definitely not by heart!
16th July 2018