Old Man Needed an Angel

20 Sep

Some time ago, I was visiting with my father, Bob Livingston, at his Petaluma home.

As anyone who stays at the Livingston Hacienda can attest, you will find yourself – at some point – up after midnight, watching old cowboy movies. You will also find yourself talking about music, and sailboats, and inevitably… Mom.

I still remember receiving the call that morning. I was at work, sitting at my desk, typing away at an email.

The call came from my sister Angela. She delivered the message with perfect grace. Her words were simple: “It’s Angie. Our Mom died this morning.” As the men were taking the body out of the house, Ange said she had to go.

And that was it.

I’ll be eternally grateful to Mike and Chris, my two office mates who I now consider real friends, in part because of their surrounding me with support at that awkward moment.

I gathered myself together at my desk, and sent off a few emails, passing the work-torches as it were. I informed them that I would be gone for awhile, and that I was going to California.

As I walked to my car that morning, I remember feeling a very strange sensation. I was in shock, to some degree. But the sensation was an odd mixture of sadness and overjoy. I specifically remember looking up and whispering to the clouds, “Thank you.”

I’m not sure if I was thanking God for the absolutely fantastic little Irish spark plug that was my mother. Or maybe I was sensing that she was already up there, out there, on the ether, and I was thanking her directly.

Thank you, for bringing me into this world.

Thank you for wiping my butt (thankfully, this ended well before adulthood). Thank you for walking me to the High’s and buying me gum, and for taking me to the pool on those sultry Maryland afternoons. Thank you for believing in me enough to send me to college, and to Europe, and for sticking up for me against all manner of bully, sour-faced teacher, grumpy guidance counselor and sibling rival.

Thank you, and thank you, and thank you… trailing off into the blue spring sky, as I trundled confusedly down Cathedral Street to my car.

But the beauty of being the child of a mother like Marjorie Ellen is knowing that no thank you could ever suffice. One thank you would be as good as a million. It’s beyond gratitude, this strange confluence of energies, and love, and blood.

Or as the great Billy Collins writes: “She gave me life and milk from her breasts, and I gave her a lanyard.”

Well, enough.

But here’s my point. As much as I loved my mother, and like a good Irish boy, it was a lot… another man lost his fairer half that morning.

I am so delighted that he met her and stole her away from that basketball game, lo those many decades ago. He was quite the tough young bastard in those days. I’m convinced that if he was anything less, he wouldn’t have gotten the cute little cheerleader from Powder River country.

And while he often says he didn’t deserve her, I know better. And she knew better, too (she told me on more than one occasion, during our quiet evening discussions before she passed away).

The point is, these two lovebirds showed us how it was done. You gotta let your ass hang out and really love someone to have anything. You have to fight, and make love, and make up, and raise your kids, and do everything as hard and good as you can. And the whole key to this thing is staying together, if you can manage, till the end.

That’s what Mom and Dad managed to do, and their story is not yet completed. Their legend grows, year after year. We continue adding chapters, Dad and us kids, and we’ll continue to do so until we’re gone, and our kids will add chapters, and this long song will continue forever. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.

I wrote this song in honor of Mom and Dad, in the wake of Mom’s passing. It’s my lanyard, to them both.

11 Responses to “Old Man Needed an Angel”

  1. tlivin9422Tim September 20, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Brother J, This is truly a wonderful tribute to a couple of amazing people! Great song! It stands on its own. Tim

    • The Publisher September 21, 2011 at 3:10 am #

      Thanks, Brother Tim. It was good to play this with you in California – a real honor. Can’t wait to hear yours again, and your other new stuff. Love ya, Jay

  2. Julia September 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Wow what a beautiful way to honor your Mom! and Dad. Loved the spanishy acoustic interlude. You should send it to Nashville or Austin to get recorded. Are you going to start an acoustic band at Agora? Thanks for sharing, Julia

    P.S. I’m impressed that yours is the real deal, while the “We got you, Dad” karoake song my brothers and I just sang to my Dad on his 75th to the tune of Sonny and Cher was appreciated but man, it was so bad! Your talent would make a parent proud!

    • The Publisher October 13, 2011 at 2:37 am #

      Julia, I just saw your comment this evening. You just made my day. I kinda figured you might enjoy the Spanish overtones. My dad has always loved border music, probably from living in California for so long, so I wanted to throw some of that feeling in there.

      Speaking of an Agora band… If we do something at the Christmas party, I’ve spoken with Alex and Leonard, and they’re both onboard, and I know Mike Kapsch would be, and I’m guessing we could get Ward onboard as well. Then of course, you and Bob are an incredible duo. This could get fun.

      By the way, I’m sure that JBC loved the song you all sang to him. I think it sounds damn fine. If Nate sings to me on my 75th, should I make it that far, I will certainly start keening like an old Irish woman. Thanks again for the kind words – it means a ton.

  3. Angie December 12, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    Hey, brother – Played your song for a dear friend tonight, someone I knew would “get” it – and she did. I love you so much and wish you knew how much joy and solace I find in your lyrics and melody and harmony and uncanny divining of all the good stuff we just knew as Mom and Dad. Ang

    • The Publisher December 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      Angie, thanks so much for your kind words. I’m really glad you like the song. Love you so much, too. And by the way… your son Pat is the best. I have to tell you about something he did at Jessica’s wedding that both cracked me up to no end… and exemplified what family is all about. Love you guys.

    • The Publisher December 13, 2011 at 4:38 am #

      Ang, I gotta thank you for the FB mention. It helped my little blog reach 86 unique hits yesterday – a record! Keep those cards and letters coming. And send checks (or better yet, your parents cash) to Jay Livingston, Nashville Travel Fund, Annapolis, Maryland.

  4. Katy eusebio December 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    J…maybe you’ll remember me, maybe not! Ang’s best friend from high school, Katy Mitchell…I followed the link that Angie put on facebook this morning. While reading the blog post about your Mom and Dad, I was just inundated with memories. Usually the memories from that time of my life are so layered over by the new memories made in college, career, marriage, having kids – that they’re all but forgotten. Not so with Angie and your family. And your beautiful mother. Always a warm welcome in her home for me, even though it was the umpteenth time I’d shown up with Ang after school. Being Angie’s friend in those days was a package deal, and I loved it – it was Ang + family always. And your Mom was the crowning jewel. I still remember her just quietly putting up with our stupid humor and epic, teenaged-girl arguments, including on long road trips to Ventura. I still laugh as I hear her say, “oh for sickening sake”. But one of my prized memories of your Mom was just in the recent past, in 2005 when Angie threw me a shower when I was pregnant with my 2nd born, Cruz. I hadn’t seen your mom in years, but she came to the shower, and I was so honored. It felt like the good old days being around her! Not a complaint either, when my 2-year old Mateo repeatedly walked over to drink from her coffee cup.
    I loved your description of when you were walking to your car after hearing of her passing – Just looking up and giving thanks.
    Oh, and the song wasn’t half-bad, either, by the way! Awesome, in fact. I hope to pass by here from time to time to hear/read your art.

    • The Publisher December 13, 2011 at 4:36 am #

      Katy, of course I remember you! And I remember your car, too – the Mustang?

      Hey, this note really just made my day. “Oh, for sickening sakes!” That’s just frigging perfect! I totally forgot that saying of Mom’s – hilarious. She really was a unique person, really just herself, and genuine as hell. And as you know, terribly, quietly, devastatingly funny. I think you’re an honorary Livingston, and that means this song is for you too. I am so glad you enjoyed it, and that it brought back some memories. Hope you and your family are well, and hope that we will cross paths again one day in Petaluma. Are you still there? Warm regards, Jay

  5. Kristy Paine Cruz December 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    This is more than amazing uncle Jay!

    • The Publisher December 16, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

      Kris, thanks so much – that really means a lot coming from you. I know you and Mom had a special connection, and to this day whenever I see a butterfly I can’t help but think about that. Love you tons.

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