I watched as my 33-year-old son Ryan bent way down under the dusty shelves in the back of the storage room. We had finally found a day to be together to start unpacking the basement chaos. It had been three trying months since my husband’s funeral and my two boys and I were continuing the unsettling process of sorting through their dad’s things. At only 59, Bill, my husband of 40 years, had died suddenly of a heart attack. The emotions on some days were taking their toll, and tackling one room at a time kept us guessing at what we would uncover. Bill had accumulated a ton … of … stuff. Or should I say, memories.
Ryan called for me to hand him a flashlight. I searched and found one in the vast pile of camping equipment and handed it to my youngest son, 26-year-old Jeremiah. He crouched down near the shelf ledge next to his brother. I watched them each from behind, and a few sad/ happy tears welled up in me as I marveled at their broad shoulders.
They both so resembled their father, the love of my life since I was a young girl. My 6-foot-7-inch sons unfolded themselves and lifted out the first of many boxes. My husband had been an avid collector of almost everything. Not only was he an Eagle Scout and a detail-oriented rocket scientist, but the other side of Bill’s brain carried a deep passion to beat the heck out of his massive drum collection.
A talented musician from the time he was 12, Bill had developed a love of all kinds of music. It was a common bond we shared from the early years of our relationship, and we had various instruments and amplifiers sharing space with the boxes, all strewn across the basement carpeting in our Littleton, Colo., home. I watched the boys continue the heavy lifting and I let myself stop and remember back to the beginning before our family was born.
Bill and I had met in high school. At 16, I would sit on Bill’s twin-size bed in his disheveled room, listening to old records and watching as he sat behind his drums and prepared to play along with The Four Seasons, Herman’s Hermits, and Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. Bill transformed from his usual quiet, shy demeanor into a different person when he started to drum. He would pull out his albums from the box next to his stereo— it’s a stretch to call it a stereo—find the song he wanted, and place that little needle arm carefully along the record’s edge.
I remember being so impressed with how many songs he knew. From oldies to the Bee Gees to Boston. “More Than a Feeling” and the popular theme song from “Hawaii-Five-O” were his favorites, and he rocked them. I fell in love with him drumming to those two songs.
Bill and I had grown up in everything together, so going through all of this was a cascade of emotions for me. My sons had followed suit with a love of music, and our basement was a percussionist’s dream. Bill would play his drums whenever he needed a release. He was very committed to all his various interests and a sentimental giant to boot. It seemed everywhere we looked there was a crate or a bin with a story attached to it, and an unspoken desire that he would get back to it “someday.”
I pushed those thoughts aside, pulled myself together, and watched the boys peer back underneath the metal brackets to grab another worn box that had been shoved back against the concrete basement wall. There were three incredibly heavy cardboard cartons that had likely been put there the day we moved in ages ago. The boys hoisted them out into the main room, careful not to let the heavy treasures inside bust out the bottom.
I knew what we had found. I smiled to myself as we opened the tops and started to blow the dust off the old vinyl albums. Not only Boston and Hawaii-Five-O, but all the albums from my husband’s youth and the early years of our marriage were in those boxes. There were records from my childhood and classics from my parents’ eclectic country collection.
Bill had said we should never get rid of any of them. Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers would’ve been honored to know the place they held in my basement. We didn’t even own a turntable anymore, but it didn’t matter. Just looking through the albums brought back many more memories of great music and hopeful dreams for a long future together. Record covers, song melodies and liner notes with lyrics of passionate men and women pursuing each other. Love found and then often lost. I ironically pulled out “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
I flipped through the record titles and figured some might be valuable to others. Bill and I had loved going to antique and vintage stores and perusing the albums there. That was one of our many favorite things to do. We’d search through the piles and say, “Do we still have this one?” Well … here they were.
The Beatles, and some Elvis, those might be collectibles? But America? One Rod Stewart, and some of my dad’s classic Hank Williams? Probably not so much. I was a lover of David Gates and Bread, Dan Fogelberg and John Denver. Most were priceless only to me because they brought back 45-year-old feelings of falling in love and anxiously waiting to be able to be together always. “Carry on Wayward Son” by Kansas was the first song I ever awkwardly danced with a boy to … and The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” exactly described our teenage courtship. “Hooked on a Feeling” by BJ Thomas, was “our song” and let’s just be honest, the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” carried Bill and me out into the desert and pursued attentions that certainly could have gotten us into trouble, but mainly made us inseparable.
These records brought it all back to my mind and tugged at my heart. I found my favorite album ever, of which I also embarrassingly owned not only the cassette but the CD too. And these days it’s frequently number one on my Apple playlist. England Dan and John Ford Coley … remember them? “I’d Really Love to See you Tonight” and “Nights are Forever Without You.” We must’ve played that album a thousand times. Bill’s high school garage band had played a pretty good rendition of America’s “Sister Golden Hair” and the gentle side of Bill loved everything Karen Carpenter. I bet he was happy to see her in heaven. We uncovered Seals and Crofts’ “I’ll Play for You,” and my absolute favorite song of all time, “We Will Never Pass This Way Again.” Those two songs alone now embrace my being in a whole new way. The emotions took over and memories of 1979 and sitting on Bill’s bed rose again in me, and my two big sons enveloped me in a loving bear hug. Their dad had certainly taught them to love their mom well.
Now that Bill is gone, I can’t seem to stop listening to all these songs. And even more so now that he’s gone, I’m thankful he made us keep these old albums … even if just to look at them and reminisce.
I remember dancing at Ryan’s wedding to “Amarillo by Morning,” and ironically, Jeremiah has his own band now and can play ALL these songs. He DOES own a vintage turntable and was thrilled to add these records to his vinyl collection … or at least the ones I was able to part with once we finished reorganizing that crowded storage room. Everything old is new again. Chicago, Simon and Garfunkel … the list goes on and on.
The fact that I can now easily pull up any genre and song I want to and listen to it on my phone at a moment’s notice is almost unreal. Is the memory the same? Sometimes … maybe. I don’t have that emotional answer right now. But I will admit I often have Mama Cass singing along with me in my Jeep … you gotta “Make Your Own Kind of Music.”
Yes, it’s a different life for me now than I ever imagined it would be. I wouldn’t trade the memories that came back as we uncovered those boxes. I know my husband and I fulfilled every lyric of every true love song ever written, and I am eternally grateful to him for that. And now, often when one of our songs comes on that Apple playlist … I call my sons … just to tell them how much I love them.
DAYLYN MILLER is a writer living in Denver. She loves road trips in the rain with coffee in hand … listening to music and podcasts while driving through the mountains or absolutely anywhere. Before her husband Bill died in November of 2022, they built their teaching and You Tube ministry, RedeemingDay, which she carries forward, somewhat sentimentally, in his honor.