Dear Bob Dylan,
Your music conjures up memories from each decade of my 60-year-old life. Some songs bring memories of sheer joy, and others stir up the ghosts of grief and loss. Other songs bring memories of parental love and first loves.
One of your songs even brought my Mom back from the dead. Joan Baez is right about memories: “They bring diamonds and rust.”
Mom wanted me to know poetry. She let me play the fancy Magnavox hi-fi so I could sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” with you. Hundreds of times my sisters and I listened to the 8 tracks of “New Morning” and “Self Portrait” with my dad in his Lincoln. My dad would chair dance and fist bump while driving, and we’d marvel at what open-throttled joy looks like. Hanging out with my first boyfriend with a real job, we’d belt out “You’re gonna have to serve somebody“ while not understanding the cold, hard truth of that.
In my family, you are a three-generation affair, Bob. My now-20-year-old niece who, when 3, was asked, “Who is Bob Dylan?” squeakily exclaimed, “Bob Dylan is a genius.”
Like many Minnesotans, I can tell a secondhand Bob Dylan story. As Mom told it to me, she’d drop your childhood friend Harri off to meet you in front of the old Guthrie. Mom said you’d be waiting for her in an old Caddy there. Does that sound right?
Before Mom fell ill, she had been obsessed with “Love Sick” for a long time. She’d imitate you — “I’m in the thick of it, this kind of love, I’m so sick of it” — singing it over and over. Mom spent her final weeks at a hospice house. My family and Mom’s friends held vigil there. Near the end, Mom was in a morphine-soaked sleep. One night, breaking house rules, some of us brought wine to the upstairs rooms reserved for families. The nurse came to the door. We thought we were busted, but instead she came to say it wouldn’t be long. She explained the telltale signs were there. Mom’s limbs had mottled because her heart was reserving blood and oxygen for her core. Soon she’d take her final breath. We ditched the wine and quietly went into Mom’s room. We lit candles and began to sing.
Mom had a great wit and a love of the ironic and irreverent, so we decided to melodramatically sing, “I’m in the thick of it, this kind of love, I’m so sick of it.” Mom’s lip slowly curled up in a half grin. Or did it? We weren’t sure, so we giggled and sang it again. This time, with lips closed, she gave us a full grin on her beautiful Irish face. Then we could see her eyes move behind her lids, and her head began lilting. Pretty soon the mottling reversed and the seasoned hospice nurse said she’d never seen anything like it: “I’m sorry for the false alarm, but your mom’s not going to die tonight.”
Within a week, Mom mottled again. We decided to just light candles this time. There’d be no singing, especially not any of your songs. We had to let her go. The last words spoken at her graveside were your lyrics: “I’ll look for you in old Honolulu, San Francisco, or Ashtabula. You're gonna have to leave me now, I know. But I’ll see you in the sky above In the tall grass, in the ones I love. You're gonna make me lonesome when you go.”
Bob, thanks for the memories,
Ellen McInnis lives in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.