Monday, June 29, 2009

Until I See Her Again

The bar was filled with the chattering energy of at least 50 people. Some were stylish young professionals, some were local servers who had just finished their shift and some were empty nesters who just had to get out of their empty homes, nursing their chardonnay. The karaoke MC sauntered up to the stage and made a few lame jokes as he opened the evening with a cheesy version of some 80's rock song. 
After a few singers took their turn shouting out ballads and their obligatory rendition of Bridge over Troubled Water, an elderly man walked up to the stage. There was a hush of anticipation among the people. Well, as much of a hush as you might hear in any bar after 11 p.m. and several margaritas. No one could ever remember seeing a man this aged (he looked near 90 years old) in a karaoke bar, late on a Saturday night. He smiled and told the audience that he was going to sing a song for his wife.
The name of the song came up on the screen - "Remember When," the Alan Jackson country song. It seemed like an odd song for this little old man who looked for all the world like someone's grandfather. The lyrics didn't come to mind immediately upon seeing the song title, but the sound seemed all wrong. Until he began to sing.
Instead of the crooning country sound the song usually carries, this wizened man was evoking some of the greatest singers of the 20th century, most notably Sinatra and Tony Bennett. He gave the song a lilting sincerity that transformed it from what many of the audience members considered a cheesy country ballad to something magical. In those moments the young pros, the bikers, the nesters and the servers stopped seeing a grandpa and started seeing a youth, a new father, a young man and an old man. In one of the most common places, they were getting one of the rarest perspectives of life, love and grief.
Nearing the end of the song, the man's voice choked up as he uttered the lyrics, "Remember when we said when we turned gray/When the children grow up and move away/We won't be sad, we'll be glad/For all the life we've had/Remember when." He barely made it through the last few lines of the song and when the music finished he walked slowly off the stage. The crowd knew his wife wasn't in the audience that night and for a moment, everyone was silent. When the magic of that realization lifted, a polite applause began. To the man, it was deafening.
Couples young and old were holding hands, thinking of their plans and where they'd come from. A server texted his girlfriend that he was ready for her to move in and that he was sorry it had taken so long. An empty nester kissed his wife on the shoulder and whispered sweet nothings into her ear. The old man just hobbled back to his table, where some of the audience members noticed he had a large cd book of songs. He was a serious karaoke singer, probably in some other bar. They hoped they'd hear him again.

One girl walked over and asked him if he sang often. "I like to sing for my wife," he said. "Until I see her again."

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