This past week I had the opportunity to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra with my Grandpa, his brother Eugene, and my aunt. I used to love to listen to swing and big band music but it had been a while since I had stopped to appreciate the music of that era. So I dressed up a little, wore a little lipstick, and went out for a night of good music.
The show was in the new ballroom at the Civic center. The room was huge! There were about twenty round tables for seating. We were alone at our table until two dapper old gentlemen joined us. We chatted a bit and it turned out that one of them was the former owner of a beloved Peoria Heights general store that closed for good a few years back.
Soon the music started and the conversations trailed off. For the next two hours, I was rapt, completely engrossed in the sounds and sights. As much as I enjoyed the music, I think I was even more captured by the couples dancing. There were some younger couples that had obviously taken lessons to learn the dances of the forties and the way they twirled and catapulted each other around without bumping into one another was truly mesmerizing! My grandpa enjoyed the show, but he had to confess that it just was not the same as hearing the original players. Throughout the show, he leaned over and added little bits of music trivia, while my great-uncle could barely keep his feet still. A few times, Uncle Eugene stood up and danced by himself by our table.
When the orchestra played a slow waltz, only the most dedicated dancers remained on the floor, including several older couples. As the white-haired couples held each other close and moved gracefully to the music, I felt a huge lump in my throat rise as I tried very hard not to cry. I was successful until Uncle Eugene turned around in his seat and said plainly, “I wish my wife were here.” Now, Uncle Eugene, or “Brother” as my grandpa calls him, is suffering the beginning symptoms of Alzheimer’s but he is still “with us” as I have heard it put. Sometimes he wanders off, sometimes he acts somewhat younger in spirit, as if he is turning into a teenager somehow, but mostly he is still himself. One thing has not changed: it does not matter where he is or what he is doing, he always misses his wife, Eileen.
I think the music -more than anything- brought back the memories for the listeners in that enormous and dimly lit ballroom. Music is powerful like that; it can transport you to any time or place in your past. Like a magic carpet, it can whisk you away to another world, a world where you are fifteen again and dancing in your bedroom to the radio. A world where you are a young soldier, so far away from home and surrounded by unfamiliar places and people, but you have your records that remind you of home, of your fiancé, of your young wife and kids. There is certain joy in hearing your favorite old tunes as well as a certain kind of sadness. As nice as it is to feel nostalgic and aglow with all of these wonderful memories, there is always the startling realization that the times you are remembering are long gone, that the person you were so long ago is like a ghost in the hallways of time. Music can bring you back, but only for a moment; when the music stops, and the lights come on, you have left the past in the past and you are back again in the world of the present.