This past weekend at one of my hotel gigs, I had an interesting interaction with a kid named Alexander, a boy of about 6 or 7 years of age, with thick curly red hair, dazzling green eyes, and an insatiable urge to ham it up. He was seated at the table next to the piano with his parents and what I guessed to be his maternal grandparents. His back was to me, and upon my arrival, his father, seated across from him, remarked, “Oh look, we are going to have some nice relaxing piano music” to which the boy replied, after a quick glance in my direction, “I don’t want relaxing piano music.” He quickly changed his tune, so to speak, and as my first set progressed, I noticed him moving his arms and fingers as if he were the one playing the songs, in hyperbolic gestures that young kids can pull off in such a comedic and endearing way.
Towards the end of that set, he stepped up beside me, put a tip from his father in my jar, and we struck up a conversation. We introduced ourselves and, after complimenting him on his very fashionable train conductor’s hat and the snazzy toy train he had at his place at the table, I asked him if he had been on the Conway Scenic Railroad that day. He said he had not, but then told me that he had been to the top of what he called “George Washington” and that he could “see this hotel and your piano from up there”. His mother turned around to tell me that they had taken the auto road up to the top of Mount Washington and what a picture perfect day it had been. I joked to Alexander that he must’ve had some pretty powerful binoculars to have been able to see the piano! He blushed with excitement and slight embarrassment that I had seen through his fib.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two friends entering the tavern. They waved and I waved back.
“Is that your mom and dad?” Alexander asked.
I smiled and said, “No. Those are my friends Steve and Roberta.”
“Well, where is your mom and dad?”
I paused, not knowing how most people talk to their kids about death, and chose my words of reply carefully: “They’re not around anymore.”
Alexander took this in for a moment and then said, “They died.” It was a statement of fact and not a question. He understood. “Yes,” I said softly.
“Oh,” he mumbled, shifting his weight and looking at his feet. Then he pointed towards his grandparents behind him and said, “They’re probably going to be dead. Soon.”
I brought my hand up to my mouth to suppress what would have been a howl of laughter and then said, “That could very well be.”
On a hike that Shawn and I took on Monday afternoon, we found on the ledges a large beetle that was on its back, its many legs flailing in frantic motion. At once I grabbed a nearby twig, held it gently against the beetle’s legs, and it latched on. I placed the twig back on the ground and away we all went. A few paces later, Shawn wondered aloud if the bug felt any gratitude to “the giant who saved him.” I chuckled and said, “Maybe a bird has already swooped down and eaten it.”
Maybe Alexander’s grandparents will die soon. Or maybe I will. Maybe my parents died too soon. Maybe that beetle is hiding under a rock on top of that mountain, or maybe it’s already in the belly of some bird that would’ve died otherwise.
Like Joni Mitchell once sang:
We can’t return
We can only look behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in the circle game
And, as George Carlin once put it: “Oh, by the way, you’re all going to die. I didn’t mean to remind you of it but it is on your schedule.”
So, with all of that in mind, I intend to keep on, for as long as I’m able, playing music and writing songs and hiking mountains and having interesting conversations and waiting for the hummingbirds to visit my petunias.