When I was a child, the conclusion of every family gathering closed with my grandfather, my father and his younger brother serenading us in three-part harmony with “You are My Sunshine.” It was the first adult song I learned. I knew the lyrics by heart by the time I was seven. Their harmony was wobbly, at times, but it was touching to see them stretch their arms around each other and sing, smiles plastered wide across their faces. It was devastating when my uncle died of cancer before he was 40. With his death, the close relationship that held the three of them in their harmonic accord was, tragically, broken. I only remember my father and grandfather singing “You are My Sunshine” one more time; it was when my grandfather turned 80. I was in my twenties. In a pathetic kind of optimism, I practiced and practiced that song just in case they did sing it -- just in case they asked for a volunteer to lend a voice to their duet.
It is only now, at the other end of the telescope of time that two things occur to me. First, I realize that, by preserving their parts in a duet, leaving my uncle’s part untouched, they were leaving room for his memory. Second, I wonder why on earth, with all that prep time I put into it, why didn’t I simply ASK them if I could sing along?
All of this reflection was prompted by a television commercial I heard today; the music accompanying the hawking of some product or another was the sacred, “You are My Sunshine.” The lyrics and sweet melody often have the effect of moving me to tears. However, I was so startled to hear it in that venue that tears were not on the horizon. Instead, I was left wondering if my father might like to sing the song with me.