The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Cecil Departs October 7, 2014

Saratoga Springs’ beloved banjo man, Cecil Myrie, died this morning. While I haven’t heard directly from his family yet, what I gather is that he was likely asleep when he passed, as for the past few days he’d been heavily medicated to relieve the terrible pain he was experiencing. Earlier this past summer, Cecil was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone cancer, and the pain he felt at times was excruciating, as his very ribs themselves were fracturing from the cancer. He was one tough cookie though, because even while uncomfortable he still wanted to play music – still had it in him to pull out not one but two banjos at our last visit – plus the bass box too. I’m not a string player by any means, but he coached me as I stumbled my way through the three all-important chords. Bless him for giving us that last precious hang. I wish we’d heard him one last time on the street, but I’m grateful we were able to hear him one last time at all.

Over the past week we visited him a handful of times; sometimes he could barely open his eyes, other times his face would light up and he would try to talk to us. But recently, with the morphine, plus the dryness of mouth that the drugs were giving him, it was even more difficult to understand him. And hey – it was hard enough to understand him to begin with on account of that thick Jamaican accent of his! On one visit I had a moment alone with him, and I leaned in and stroked his head. I told him he was loved by so many, and that all of his friends and family were thinking of him. I told him that I was sure he would soon be in a much better place, that soon he would enjoy that perfect freedom… I’m not as scared as I once was about talking about death with the dying, so I pressed on, hoping for some insight into the thoughts of one who is so very close… “Cecil, are you afraid of dying?” I asked him. “No, no, not really” he said, in a thoughtful way. Then he went on to say more, but try as I did, I couldn’t make it out. He was obviously elaborating on his answer, but I would have to be satisfied with what I got. No, he wasn’t afraid. Good. Cuz I can imagine a lot of people are. I wondered what he was lingering for then, were there any family members yet to see again? I heard he was caught up with everyone. Maybe it’s just hard to let go of your loved ones, maybe one lingers so as not to break the hearts of those left behind. Who knows. As wonderful as the next world may be, there are still a lot of wonderful things about this world that might be hard to break away from.

Yesterday I’d had a flash of inspiration. I looked into my music closet and found my grandmother’s ukelele, now almost a hundred years old. I figured out three chords and quickly jotted down the lyrics to a couple songs, played through them through a couple of times, then with Elihu and his djembe, headed to the hospital to play for Cecil. How happy he would be to hear someone sing for him, I thought. When we arrived, he was in a peaceful sleep, with a CD of his from the old days in Jamaica playing softly, and the article from the weekend’s paper had been taped up on the wall for him to see. We lingered a moment, and looked at him. What to do? We both knew it made no sense to wake him. Elihu cautioned me not to kiss him lest I wake him from his rest. So we just stood for a moment, and watched him sleep, the soft calypso music gently filling the room. The song playing was the last on the CD; fittingly, it was Jamaica Farewell.

Today we returned to the hospital, again ready to play for Cecil, but my heart sank to my knees when I saw the cleaning cart in front of his room. I knew what that meant. We entered the room and were surprised to find our own next door neighbor there. She worked in the housekeeping staff, and was just finishing up with his room. She’d known Cecil too; she always knew the patients. A week or so ago we’d told her about having a friend in the hospital – and she now learned who it was we’d meant. Wherever Cecil went, he was known and loved. He possessed an understated congeniality; pleasant, low-key and friendly to all.

I want to thank you Cecil, because you’ve got me excited to learn a stringed instrument now! More than that, you’ve hipped me to a whole new world of songs, and you’ve opened up a new way in which my son and I can play music together. I’d never thought that I could learn anything new at my age, and with my arthritis, no less. But you’ve got Elihu and me looking eagerly to a new musical future. There’s not a soul who can take your place, but we hope it makes you happy to know that a piece of you will continue to live on in us and all the music we’ve yet to play.

My love and wishes for peace and healing go out to all of Cecil’s family and friends in this deeply sad time.

IMG_4951My last picture with Cecil, just day before yesterday. I hope it didn’t hurt when I made him laugh.

IMG_5048A beautiful fall day on which to leave us.

IMG_5437We thought of you as we dusted off our old, almost-forgotten banjo.

IMG_5486Elihu can even make some good sounds on it already.

IMG_5482It’s a sad day, yes, but we think Cecil would want us to enjoy ourselves…

IMG_5530Lying on our backs in the leaf pile, we look up to the heavens and think of our friend.

This is the song Elihu sang for Cecil on one of our visits.

 

Falling Fast

The scenery starts to change in subtle ways at first, a slightly pinkish hue to a leaf here and there, an olive cast to a tree, maybe a highlight or two of yellow in a sea of green… In the beginning, especially when the weather isn’t always cool, and sometimes can be even a mite too warm – it seems a bit of a stretch to think that in relatively short order all the leaves will no longer be above our heads, but under our feet. It’s a rather massive transformation, and once it’s underway, it can be a little surprising to see how quickly the trees become November-bare.

This is the month when my parents chose to be married (on October 10th, in 1959), so that they might take advantage of autumn at its most colorful peak. Happily we’ve had a wonderful fall thus far in 2014, but I’m wondering if the leaves aren’t leaping to the ground more rapidly than in falls past on account of the lovely sunny, warm weather we’ve been having lately (save yesterday, when it rained; a personal gift from Nature to me, I’m fairly sure of it, as I was sick and needed a day to stay inside and sleep, guilt-free). Or does it work the other way ’round? Does a nippy fall encourage the leaves to leave? I dunno, it just seems to be happening quicker this year. Maybe everything just feels faster to me. Perhaps my age is having a greater effect than before on my experience of time. I’m reaching the autumn of my own life now, and I got here a lot sooner than I thought I would.

No matter, can’t be sad, nostalgic or backward-looking for long. I need to be fully present for this gorgeous time of year. I need to fully savor the scents, linger over the ambers and golds and bright blue skies. It’s a heady, sensual time – very much like spring in many ways, I think. One can smell the earth again in a renewed way, one can just sense the moisture clinging to the rocks and trees, and in spite of the sun’s warmth, there’s a sobering, cool edge to it all which has you digging out your light jackets and sweaters again. For me, this time of year is the most dream-like of all the seasons. The countryside has a mystical feel to it. Scents hang heavily in the air; wet, moldering leaves, browning roadside thickets and still-thriving mosses, fields shrouded in mist… I’m enjoying the feeling all I can, because before long, autumn itself will have fallen away like the leaves.

Some images from our beautiful property here on the hill…

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Here’s a past post about October, which includes a poem I highly recommend everyone read this time of year…

…and here’s last year’s post recognizing my parent’s 54th wedding anniversary. This year will be mom’s first without dad.