A Cold Winter’s Night
I remember, as I sit here this night, just a few days before Christmas, a cold December night of 2008.
I was in Avon, Minnesota at Joe and Joni’s place, where I always stopped on my way to an annual December lunch in Minneapolis. For those of you who might not know, Joni was my sister, the youngest of the five of us. Their place was always a welcome place, comfortable and warm. Morgan, the black Lab their kids had got for them when they moved out there from St. Cloud was a part of their family that also welcomed me, always showing me her latest treasures and resting her chin on my lap as I sat at the table in the living room.
Joanie had died earlier that year, and this trip was even more poignant for me because I wouldn’t be doing some of the things I would have done in the past.
It was a Thursday night when I got to their place, and it was a cold and stormy evening. Joe told us there was something going on at Bailey Ray’s, over in Santiago, not far from St. Cloud. Joni had no interest in going out in the snow and cold, and so we stayed behind while Joe took off for Ray’s place.
I had brought them a copy of Chris Botti’s CD and DVD of a concert he had done in Boston, so Joni and I sat there in the dim light of the evening and watched and listened to the wonderful sounds that came from that concert. Morgan seemed to enjoy it as well, as the music washed over her and she found a place on a couch to welcome the sound.
Music was always a part of our family, I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t, and that night, as the video played, and Joni and I sat there listening to Botti’s trumpet and the likes of Sting, John Mayer, Josh Groban, Yo Yo Ma and others, all seemed right with the world, that cold December evening.
The mixture of Jazz and the classics that night warmed us, and I’ll have to admit, we did have a hit or two from an herbal cigarette that made the time even more mellow. When Lucia Micarelli, a young violinist came on stage to play Emmanuel with Botti, we both melted, and it was not due to the smoke, it was the absolute beauty of the music, the time and the place. When they were done, we looked at one another, and our eyes were not dry.
My sister Joni would die the following summer, a loss, like Joanie’s, that still leaves a hole in my heart. She was the youngest, but our relationship transcended the age difference, and besides, while I was divorced, I spent several Christmases at their house in St. Cloud. Even after I moved to Bismarck in 1980, I would be back, spend Christmas Eve there, and the next day would leave to pick up my son, Ryan, in Fargo.
What was once five is now three. My sister Judy, two years my junior, had died in 1984, and so it is now my sister Jane, in Fargo and my brother Jerry in Graham, NC who remain, and while we are separated by distance, we are as close as ever. I even get to see Jane whenever she is through Bismarck on her way to another show where she is selling her jewelry.
So, tonight, as I do every year about this time, I put the DVD back on, and since I don’t have a smoke, I just sit back, listen and remember another cold December night when Morgan was on the couch, Joni sat on her chair at their table in the living room, we had a little smoke, Joe had the wood stove warming us, music filled the air, and allow myself a fit of melancholy. But that’s okay. I think both Joni and Joanie would approve.