Spanish Guitar

It’s after 10:00 p.m. I let the dog out briefly and noticed how quiet it is outside. The recent frost likely silenced the crickets for good. I heard them slowly winding down only a few nights ago and marveled about how they were able to survive into early November. Climate change, perhaps?

Joni Mitchell wrote a song, “Hissing of Summer Lawns” in 1975. I was fascinated by the imagery of that title. I now know what the sound refers to. Our little parcel of land has a certain sound to it on summer evenings as the accumulated heat seems to make the ground exhale and the night creatures emerge from it: Ssszzsssshhh. Yeah, something like that.

The summer sounds have now disappeared with the falling leaves. Instead, this evening, I hear the baseboard heater switch on, making its own type of hiss, and the dog is snoring softly. I am sitting at my computer and I catch Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Tipico Brasiliera” playing on a YouTube music channel I recently discovered. It’s a digitized version of an old recording by Julian Bream, one of my father’s favorite classical guitar performers.

The hours after dinner in my childhood home were rather ritualized. We kids would settle in with our homework. Our father would write speeches. He often wrote way into the night, banging away at his big, black Royal typewriter, page after page being flung off into a pile, words that would be put into some bureaucrat’s mouth the next day.

His office smelled like used typewriter ribbons, an odor I can recall instantly. He had a rack of cassette recordings and many of them were of classical Spanish guitar. I can picture him typing away, music playing quietly in the background. The tape with the Villa-Lobos piece was a frequent selection. He had probably discovered what we now know to be true: music helps people concentrate better.

In his later years, he had switched to a computer and a collection of DVDs, but the habit of writing after dinner, sometimes late into the night, stayed with him. In the months after my mother died, I’d get to work, open my inbox, and find emails he’d written at 2:00 a.m., when he was too lonely and agitated to sleep, the guitar music his only companion. He once told me that he had imagined my mother standing in his office doorway, telling him it was time to go to bed.

Now, when I write late at night, it’s not speeches or essays. It’s committee correspondence or cold email inquiries or maybe a Facebook posting. When my husband pops into my office doorway and announces he’s going to bed, I turn off the computer and join him and the dog, grateful not to be left alone with only music to drown out the awful silence.