Songs in the Wind
She always loved Sentimental Education, a novel from the 1800’s by Gustave Flaubert. It was because of this book that she had always wanted to visit Nogent-sur-Seine, the French village where the protagonist was born. It was because of her cancer that I was visiting it for her on my own, three years after she passed.
On the afternoon of the third day was when I first heard it. That familiar note that began À Cheval sur Mon Bidet, the nursery rhyme my mother always sang to me while tucking me in. It made me jump that day, but I looked around and saw no one. It made sense for me to mishear something like that while on a trip to commemorate her, so I thought nothing of it.
The next day I felt drawn to the same location. As I sat on a bench and enjoyed my lunch, I watched a red leaf flutter away from its branch and drift to the earth. As it landed, I heard the note again. Several more leaves began separating from this same tree, and soon the song was playing in its entirety. As more leaves fell, the song repeated, and I could hear my mother’s voice singing along each time. “Au galop! Au galop! Au galop!”
I believe it took me until the fifth day because I hadn’t fully processed the miracle that was at work before. I returned to the tree first thing that morning. I could hear her singing as I approached. That was when it hit me: I wasn’t just hearing her voice singing along in my head, her voice was actually springing from the leaves themselves. I cried, and she kept singing to me. Then I sang along as she continued. Then I laughed for an hour.
That evening, I decided that I would leave everything and move to this place, that I would hear her voice again every day. The next day, however, the leaves fell silently. I extended my stay by two weeks, and visited that tree every day, until the last leaf had fallen from it. It appeared that she had left me again.
I returned to my home in Ohio. I never heard her singing again, but I never forgot those few days. I was married three years later to a wonderful woman named Sarah.
Just a few moths ago, after recounting this story to my wife, she asked, “Have you ever truly listened for her the same way now as you did in that village?”
I spent all summer thinking about my mother, and Sarah always made sure I was listening. While I didn’t hear her, I felt like I heard so many others, long gone, in various sounds. Sarah said she heard some of her lost loved ones as well. I assumed she was trying to make me feel more sane.
The reason I am telling you this story now, is because of yesterday. I watched the first leaf fall in my neighborhood this year. Sarah and I were walking, hand in hand. When the leaf fell, I squeezed her hand in anticipation. She looked into my eyes, and she smiled. She did not hear it, but she knew that I had.