Several years ago, my nephew Carlton lived with me for a few months and we had a pretty great time. He moved in with me in August, right before school started. We quickly got into a routine of going to school during the day, coming home to eat dinner, work on lesson planning/ homework, and then we would watch several episodes of He-man. We were always confused why nobody recognized that He-Man was a slightly less dressed Prince Adam.
We spent a lot of time just hanging out in the living room either practicing our guitars or watching TV. We usually settled on older shows, but often we found ourselves watching a local cooking show. It was a truly awful show and we enjoyed doing our own commentary as we watched. We did learn to make homemade pizza rolls, so that was a bonus.
At the time, I had been taking weekly guitar lessons. Carlton also signed on with my instructor, so every Thursday we loaded up the car with our instruments and would drive across town. I would read or do lesson plans while Carlton took his bass lessons and he would do the same while I took my guitar lessons. We would then go out to eat, usually to our favorite pizza place in town.
Music was something that we shared in common. That spring, we had gone to music festival in Atlanta and saw one of his favorite musicians, Jeff Mangum. I had never seen Carlton so excited and it was really fun to watch him truly enjoy himself. He spent most of that fall learning the songs of Neutral Milk Hotel, the band Jeff Mangum sang with. We attended the local music festival, spent hours in the record shop, and would argue over our opinions on rap music.
One day we got out of guitar lessons and discovered that Prince had died. Carlton wasn’t a fan, but listened as I talked about how Prince’s music was always in the background of my growing up years. We pulled into the pizza parlor’s parking lot and walked up the steps. When we entered, I ordered while Carlton went to their record selection. The pizza place had a large record collection and encouraged patrons to try out new tunes. I grabbed our drinks and found a table when I heard “Purple Rain” come over the speakers. I got a little teary-eyed, not because Prince had died, but because Carlton had listened and thought it would mean something to me.
One of my most vivid memories of him living with me, was just an ordinary fall day. It was a sunny Saturday and I had opened all of the windows in the house. The air was fresh and swirling through the house as I worked in the kitchen. Carlton was in the living room sitting on the coffee table playing his favorite song, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I suddenly stopped what I was doing and realized that the days were numbered. One day, Carlton would be older and he wouldn’t be hanging out with me on a Saturday afternoon, content to work on a song. I stood in the kitchen and listened and felt so thankful that I got to share that moment. I still struggle to listen to that song and not get carried away to that day. I remember the sound, the smell, and the feel of the air in the room.
Tonight, I visited with Carlton in his apartment. It blows my mind that he’s old enough to work a job and pay rent and have a light bill in his name. We had been talking about him still playing music, and I was telling him that I had picked up my guitar this week and worked on learning to play Be Thou My Vision. He told me that he was working on Jesus Loves Me and he played it for me. We messed around with his guitar for awhile before he settled on the couch and shared a new song he had written which was funny and creative and so good. As we sat there, I requested In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and when he struck the familiar chords, I was taken back to that fall day in my house and my heart was full.