Shirley…do you know the song? Yes, there’s a song. She was the girl in “Greetings to the New Brunette”…Billy Bragg, circa 1987 or so. I was on a plane to Toronto with my bike wrapped in my favorite green polyester blanket in a box – which was mysteriously lost on the return flight with all of my tools. I hope it’s keeping someone warm somewhere, the blanket I mean, or maybe lining a dog bed or doing something more meaningful than wrapping a Miyata with first generation elliptical chain rings. I miss that blanket like I miss the song. Wait…I’m going to find it.
OK, CLICK!! Shirley – Billy Bragg
Now I can write again.
But what can I say? What do you say after last week? What do you say after you have said it all and your wife called and read your most meaningful words back to you? What do you say when that familiar smiling face at the Alpine Cafe says, “that was a beautiful tribute“, and lets you leave with a chai tea and a rice krispy square when you realize your wife has your bank card in her pocket? …again.
Shirley was my grandma’s name. How perfectly simple and gracious can memories be to stop the clocks and bring the world back home under our feet? I know I’ve told this story a thousand times so forgive me again for the one thousand and first time.
We all sat in the trailer outside the house the night before my cousin David’s funeral and Peri said, “there’s something I have to tell you“, looking very sincere. “Grandma Shirley always told me I was her favorite”, and in the moment we were all crushed we were all brought back to what a wonderfully loving and compelling woman she was. You see, of course, she had told us all we were her favorite, and asked us all to promise to never tell the other grand-kids.
We smiled, we laughed and we cried and our hearts bent each time our parents had to remind Grandma Shirley, David was gone, gone like the memory she lost to Alzheimer’s long before she passed and longer still before we’ll ever stop remembering and loving her.
Shirley is a love song, and her’s was the only phone number written in my Grandpa Jack’s nearly illegible Naval Diary from the second war. I keep it on a shelf just out of reach of my son Jack who giggles when I read the parts about the boys going to shore for, “a few wets”, between the other unmentionable days. I imagine to my Grandpa Jack at sea, Shirley was a dream…as dreamy as the day I found that cassette tape on Bloor Street at eighteen and looped it over and again on the 300km ride from T.O to Ottawa to meet a red-haired girl I’d never see again after she introduced me to her boyfriend. “Oh love is strange…”, Billy Bragg has a few songs for that girl too, like, “she cut her hair and I stopped lovin’ her.” Love songs and guitar strings are reminders of lost days and broken hearts and childhood afternoons in the wardrobe boxes in the attic of Grandma Shirley’s old house.
Memories and moth balls and old songs are the ways to the words that find us here together a thousand miles from the places we called home…Go ahead, whistle and sing along, “Shirley…Greetings to the new brunette…”