jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

4 Thunder Road, Cape Cod, New Jersey (for my Dad)

This is us, creating a sense of time and place for our children.

Last night at bedtime, after the teeth were flossed and brushed, the pajamas put on, the stories read, the lights turned out, the starlight night light set to cover the ceiling with stars in their cozy bunk room, I lay down with first Jasper, then Mica, then Reid, then Cabot.

“What song do you choose?”

Old Cape Cod (Patti Page) for Jasper, then Only You (Yaz) for Mica and lastly Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen) for Reid. And while my mother will insist I have a lovely tenor (?!) voice just like my grandmother’s, and I was in an a cappella chamber choir in high school, my husband will shoot straight with you. My voice is not the thing that lullabies are made of.

But there’s a selection of songs that I sing, and these are the lullabies for my children. By the time I hit Thunder Road everyone was drowsing. After I finished, Reid asked me what the song was about, then why Mary was on the porch, then why I liked Bruce Springsteen.

Somehow we ended up with me telling them about New Jersey, about hard-working people, people who maybe didn’t go to college, who live in or near their hometown, sometimes marry their high school sweetheart, then raise a family.

I told them about the house I grew up in, how my childhood best friend’s mother just now moved out of the house across the street from where I grew up, how the baby boy next door I babysat growing up still lives in the same house I watched him in and owns the bar that I drew the menu cover for in high school, the menu cover that was still in use two years ago when I went home for my brother’s funeral. Our murmuring voices continued in the dark. “The screen door slams…” indeed.

Somewhere in suburban New Jersey 1968

Somewhere in suburban New Jersey

Then Jas asked why Mom-Mom sold the house I grew up in, and I talked about when my father died. I told them about how alone she must have felt without him to need her, only Uncle Butchie left, and his requiring so much care.

I told them how after my father died my mother moved down the Jersey shore to the house they had bought there together and planned to retire to, but it was too lonely, so she moved back to my hometown. Then the stairs in the condo were too much for Uncle Butchie in the condo across the street from the bar that my neighbor owns, so she moved into another house nearby but in the boonies, and then moved back.

When Jasper asked why she’d moved so much I told him she was looking for something I guessed. All this conversation in the darkness, with only the stars on the ceiling and the sound of Cabot’s snoring.

Today is the 17 year anniversary of my father’s death. Seventeen years ago he died bit-by-bit and all of a sudden, on St. Patrick’s day, allowing us the opportunity to toast him in our neighbor’s bar (with my drawing on the cover of the menu), in the Irish-style wake he’d always wanted.

Sister, brother, my father, Jennie On the dunes, Cape Cod 1978

Sister, brother, my father, Jennie
On the dunes, Cape Cod

The night before last, midway through my concert of lullabies, as I lay with Mica after singing One Tin Soldier (Coven- it’s an anti-war song from 1970), Mica asked, “Where do we go when we die?”

I asked if he remembered what he was doing before he was born.

After a pause, he answered, “Yes.” Which knowing him, might be true.

“Because I think wherever we were before we were born, that’s where we go, I’d guess. Some people call it heaven, some don’t.” I held his little face and listened as the other three mulled it over. It sounded sad. Their collective silence sounded sad to me.

“And if that makes you sad, remember that the stories we tell about those who have left us early, and the things we write, the art we make, the people we befriend, or heal, or teach, even our own children, they all carry us. Pieces of us still live on in all these things.”

By the time I finished singing to Reid, Cabot had again fallen asleep without choosing a song.

I thought about how my father had never met my children, how I later found out how sad he was knowing that he probably wouldn’t be at my wedding to give me away. I thought about how he never met my husband. My father would have loved my four scraggly, wild, thoughtful, affectionate, silly children, and he would have loved my husband for loving me so well.

My father Chatham, Cape Cod 1985

My father
Chatham, Cape Cod

I stopped by Cabot, asleep in her crib, and I sang Old Cape Cod, because Cape Cod is where I picture my father, sitting on a beach next to my brother Butchie, smoking Marlboros and watching the boats and the pretty women walk by.

I blew them all a kiss goodnight, and I said, “I love you.”

When I finally headed downstairs, my husband looked up from his computer, “What? Did they ask you to sing Thunder Road and then ask what the song meant?”

Yes. Yes, they did.

15 comments on “4 Thunder Road, Cape Cod, New Jersey (for my Dad)

  1. Burns the Fire
    March 18, 2014

    Sadness but oh joy.

    • jgroeber
      March 18, 2014

      Yes, it’s exactly like that.
      (You are like the mini-haiku writer of comments. You always hit at it in the most concise and beautiful way.)

      • Burns the Fire
        March 20, 2014

        Thanks! I wonder if I’m getting too concise but so be it. Jen, did you ever see my mention of your blog? Not sure that it pinged back to you and want you to know that I’m a big fan.

        • jgroeber
          March 24, 2014

          Thank you so much. It’s an honor and a sweet treat to make my day. True confession: I have no idea what to do when I get nominated for an award. I’ve such a narrow vision for the blog, it gave me angina just to be a guest blogger for someone! Ack. I may create a separate page to accept and post such lovely kindnesses as awards from bloggers who I admire like you. But I’m really grateful, and I know at least a few people clicked over from your page to mine. How cool was that? (And your comments are perfectly precise and concise… really the haiku of comments!)

          • Burns the Fire
            April 4, 2014

            Just saw this ;-).

            You don’t have to do anything or you can do anything you like.

            So enjoying your blog!

  2. Anna Spanos
    March 19, 2014

    This was really beautiful, thanks for transporting me to another place and time (during an otherwise uneventful lunch break).

    • jgroeber
      March 24, 2014

      Thank you. I wanted to capture this moment when I was actually transported from being my usual nagging, haranguing self into someone who was present with her kids. Those moments are like pearls. (And who ever finds a pearl at the beach?!)

  3. Margie S
    March 19, 2014

    The stars were aligned for that touching moment in time. A beautiful tribute to your dad, family and childhood memories.

    • jgroeber
      March 24, 2014

      Oh, thank you for reading and for getting it. Here’s hoping I’m creating childhood memories for my kids in those moments, too. (At the very least, now that I’ve written it down, I can tell them the story later!)

  4. Jacqueline McDonald
    March 25, 2014

    Oh, Jen, I love this one. Eyes glistening with tears. (And which bar? I want to check out the menu- message me.)

    • jgroeber
      March 25, 2014

      How much do I love finding your message here? Heart bursting with gratitude. 😉 Messaging you right now. Their wings are so very awesome. They make me sick for days and I still eat them. Nothing says going home for a funeral like hot wings.

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