I didn’t grow up a Glen Campbell fan.
My parents listened to a wide variety of music when I was growing up. Songs of the 70s. The Oak Ridge Boys. Gospel and Southern Gospel music. Some Simon and Garfunkel, a little Linda Rondstat, the Eagles.
But never Glen Campbell. And truth be told, even if you asked me today, I’d probably only be able to tick off his biggest hits, the ones everyone knows, like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “Gentle on My Mind.”
But Campbell’s brutal honesty about his Alzheimer’s and his long farewell to his fans, well, it captured my heart. A songwriter and singer so talented, so beloved, so known who was willing to be that vulnerable and loved his fans so much he was willing to take the risk—I couldn’t get past that.
On a cold, damp fall day about six years ago, sometime around Thanksgiving, I think, my dad and I unlocked the door to my grandmother’s empty house and quietly walked through the “back porch” sitting room, past the kitchen and dining room and into Grandma Ruby’s rarely used living room. The house was empty and beginning to take on the look of a long term yard sale as various members of the family worked to go through her belongings.
Grandma’s long farewell had begun years earlier when dementia began to rob her memories. We lost her in bits and pieces. I became a face she recognized and a name she knew, but the face and the name didn’t match anymore. She once told me when I visited, “I remember Mandy, but I don’t see her much anymore. But I love her.”
By the time her long farewell ended in early June of 2011, it was hard to know where in time Grandma lived in her memories. What I knew when she passed away was that she had made a forever mark on my heart. Grandma Ruby would always live in my memories, in my heart.
So that chilly afternoon, when my dad and I stood in her living room, the one with the picture window that faced the south, where the afternoon light would filter in, gilding the furniture and burnish the walls, we stood at the huge stereo console that now sits in my parents’ basement and flipped through the LPs housed inside. I’d recently gotten a record player and my dad wanted to see if any of his old Letterman LPs were still there (they were and I have a bunch of them). But I happened on several Glen Campbell albums and took them home with me.
My dad said they probably belonged to my grandma, so I took them, too. I wanted to hold in my hands and listen to something she had liked, to have a little piece of her at home with me. So that Glen Campbell Christmas album and By the Time I Get to Phoenix came to Nashville.
I listen to the Christmas album every year while decorating my tree. The first year, it was just to find out what it was like. The second was to remind me of her. With the third, it became a tradition.
Last night, when I heard that Glen Campbell’s own long farewell was over, it only seemed fitting to pull out one of the albums and take a listen.
So I listened, to the A and B-sides, with the blinds wide open and the afternoon sun filtering in, gilding the room.
And I remembered.