Long gone, those nights, my father on the couch after work. He’d dangle
his winter boots over the side—ignoring my mother as she ignored him—
and, as I watched from the hallway, would listen for twenty minutes to songs
in the dark. Not father-son time, not All in the Family time,
not a shot-of-whisky-before-taking-a-walk time, it was simply the soft swing
of jazz, the prairie twang of country. But more than any other, at least once a week,
it was Bing Crosby Sings the Blues: the album cover dark as a Memphis nightclub,
Crosby donning a blue fedora, his lips wrapped tight around a brown pipe.
Twenty-five years later and no record store can find it.
Still the album plays in the living room of my memory like the month
of December which never seemed to end—an unyielding blizzard of white
blowing even in the summer. I’d shovel three inches of snow from the driveway
while my mother sat in the kitchen chilled by drafts cold as the Bering Strait.
Unlike the other albums, it was Crosby’s baritone voice which offered dignity
to the silence of my parents’ marriage. How I have tried to explain
that it was his blues, and his blues only, which could harmonize with the frustration
of their failed love; Crosby’s perfect enunciation, his sad warmth, expressed
the months they went without touching, the years they buried themselves
under separate heaps of blankets. And now it’s gone, not a trace among
my father’s albums as proof that Bing Crosby sang their winter storm.
But it happened. Even without evidence, that album wanders in my past:
I’d sneak a look at my mother in the kitchen, her foot secretly tapping,
never wanting my father to know she was listening to “St. Louis Blues”
(That man’s got a heart like a rock in the sea), finding a bit of company
during the igloo of her days; me, trapped in that giant snow globe, comforted
by the Floridian breeze of Crosby’s voice, the icicles melting, if only briefly,
in our front yard; and my father, tired man, alone in the living room, boots forever
dangling, playing that album week after week—“Five Long Years,” “It’s Raining
in my Heart”—his purple-blue lips, so often silent, singing right along.