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Keepsake Stories

Copyright 2016 by Jeff Bjorck. All rights reserved.

Each of the compositions on this CD was inspired either by actual or imagined memories. As I prepared this CD, the stories seemed to coalesce into a meaningful sequence. Come with me as I spend an afternoon in this old attic, where the air is thick with voices, sights, smells, and sounds from a simpler time. I hope that many of these compositions can prompt some of your own favorite personal memories, rather than merely conveying the sense that you are sharing mine.

Afternoon Reverie: I composed this piece after I had already developed the concept for this album. When beginning to create this melody, I repeatedly imagined myself in the attic of an old house, with afternoon sun drifting through a small window, casting a warm glow on an old steamer trunk like the ones my great-grandparents used when immigrating from Sweden in the late 1800s. I see myself opening the trunk and gently lifting out many of my family’s heirlooms. As each piece evokes rich memories, I find myself transported to much earlier times and places, prompting my bittersweet reverie as I remember loved ones now gone. These daydreams evoke some sadness, but they are also sweet and lift me above the urgency of current concerns, prompting smiles amidst the wistful sighs.

Returning Home: The nostalgic strains of this melody were inspired by the times I found myself driving from far away back to my hometown and to the house where I grew up. I would look forward to seeing my parents, particularly as these trips became fewer and further between after college. I always had a sense of anticipation that grew as I drew closer to the place I lived from age 2 to 18. The familiar sights and sounds would actually make me more homesick the closer I got, a sickness instantly cured each time I walked through the front door.

Mother’s Hymnal: My mother did not own a favorite hymnal, but she loved the old hymns as I do. With this composition, I envisioned myself gently leafing through the yellowed pages of a timeworn book, turning slowly from one old favorite to the next and warmly remembering the last time each was sung. We always went to church as a family of five, and I would typically sit next to my mother. I can still hear her voice in these memories. This is made easier by the fact that, even now, my mother and I sing old hymns frequently together, an ability that the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease have not yet been able to take away.

Grandad’s Rocker: When I play this melody, I can see the old rocking chair we had when I was a boy. In real life, it had not been my grandad’s, but it was an antique. My favorite tender memory regarding this chair involved how my father used it when I would get severe earaches as a small child. He would bring it to the middle of the living room and sit with his back to the television. Then, he would hold me over his shoulder, rock gently, and pat my back, enabling me to be distracted from my pain with the TV show. As I grew, however, I often wondered who had used that rocker before us, and I imagine that it might have been the favorite seat for someone’s grandfather. As such, that chair for me was both a real and an imaginary relic.

Unrequited: As the initial bars of this melody begin, I envision the person in the attic opening an old paper announcement for some event, such as a formal dance. For the person holding it, this flimsy leaflet is a precious reminder of a relationship that might have been but never was. This is why the music begins and ends with a sorrowful tone. The midsection, however, reflects the happy memory of one hopeful night, where one entrancing waltz was shared with the person who would forever after represent an unrequited love. I did not have this exact experience myself, but I came to know early in life the weight of such heartache, and I believe that similar memories are shared by many.

Hearts Far Apart: This is a love song of separation inspired by how much I deeply miss Sharon, my wife, when there are many miles between us. In particular, I imagine taking an old passport from the steamer trunk of keepsakes with the pages stamped from travels for Lifewater International that have taken me halfway around the world. I confess that my feelings are strongest when I journey to the southern hemisphere, to such places as sub-Saharan Africa, because the night sky there is entirely unrecognizable. Gazing up at the stars and seeing no familiar constellations can quickly place a lump in my throat, magnify the thousands of miles between us, and make me count the days and hours until I can be with her again.

Groom’s First Waltz: Next, a yellowed wedding program is lifted from the trunk of memories, reminding the holder of stories shared by a grandfather years ago. This song is intended to reflect the grandfather’s memory of his first waltz, which he performed at his own wedding reception. I imagine a young man who had not danced a day in his life before beginning to practice for this daunting event. As such, the melody starts somewhat rigidly and tentatively, but then it becomes more fluid and joyous as the new groom gains in confidence and finds himself enjoying the dance with his bride. Gone are the fears of missteps, replaced by the delight of looking in her eyes and celebrating the loving promise of a lifetime together.

Midnight in Moscow: This is another composition inspired by imaginary recollections. Here, I picture old plane tickets being lifted from the steamer trunk, wrapped in brittle tissue paper inscribed with the words, “Father’s Russian adventure.” This keepsake awakens memories of the family gatherings where Father would thrill the youngsters with the story of what he called his “secret mission.” The older family members would also smile but note that the story’s details would tend to change a bit with each telling, particularly regarding the nature of Father’s escape “in the nick of time, just as the clock struck 12.”

Hope in the Heartache: As this melody gradually came to me, I soon realized that its chord structures and certain phrasings rendered it a sequel to one of my earlier compositions, “Waiting For Farewell” (1991). That work was inspired by my sorrowful anticipation during my father’s final weeks on earth. This new piece starts emotionally where the former one ended, beginning in the darkness of deep grief that pervades much of the composition. It ends differently, however, with lighter, higher, more hopeful notes. These notes remind me that with every passing year since my father’s death, the reunion with him and so many other loved ones in Heaven draws closer. Therein lies real hope. I have just recently lost one of my closest friends, Phil Pannell, and I dedicate this song to his memory and to my hope of seeing him again one day.

Tryggare Kan Ingen Vara (Children of The Heavenly Father): This traditional Swedish folk tune and accompanying words in English remind me of my childhood, as do so many of the old hymns. This one, in particular, is a true keepsake because it reminds me of all those gone before, including my dear Swedish friend, Elmer Frederikson, who passed a few years ago. He lived to be 90 and chose this hymn for his own funeral. When I heard it that day, I resolved to compose my own arrangement. The lyrics of this song remind me, “Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord his children sever.” This is another song of real hope.

Playing Catch with Dad: This was one of my favorite boyhood pastimes. Even now, I can see us throwing the ball back and forth, and I can hear it smacking the glove leather while we conversed about the events of the day. My father’s introduction to outdoor activities, such as camping and hiking, had tragically occurred within the context of his WWII service in Europe, where he was seriously wounded at the age of only 19. (His purple heart graces the cover of this CD.) The trauma left him with little interest in such things, but playing catch was one outdoor pleasure that the War did not steal, and I loved doing so with him on our neighborhood street into my late teens. Occasionally we would even grab a bat, drive to the local ball field together with my older brother, and Dad would hit us pop flies to catch. This piece reflects the fun and joy of those sunny summer days that I always wished would never end.

Justine of County Clare: One of the bittersweet blessings of Alzheimer’s Disease is the fact that a bit of good news can be enjoyed again and again. To this end, my mother brightly smiles with delight and surprise every time I tell her of this piece named after her mother, whose Bible is featured on the cover of this CD. Justine Avita Mitchell, grew up in County Clare, Ireland, where she became a nurse. After moving to America, she met and married A.H. Cubberley. Sadly, she died two years before I was born, so I never met her, but my mother told me stories about Justine’s early life in Ireland. I grew up wishing I had known her. This piece was inspired by another keepsake, an old post card from County Clare that prompted me to dream about what Justine’s life must have been like in those days gone by.

Nana’s Music Box: This piece completes the list of keepsakes. I visualize an antique music box that a loving grandmother would allow her small grandchildren to play when they visited her. She would supervise them to prevent the fragile mechanism from breaking, but she loved to see the delight in their eyes as the magical little tune tinkled out. Now, with the passing of many years, I imagine one of those grandchildren lifting the lid of this box, extending the afternoon reverie for several moments more, with the knowledge that closing the lid will bring it all to an abrupt end. For this reason, I chose to end this melody by figuratively leaving the lid open so the echoes and memories can continue on in the listener’s heart.