Good Genes

03 Aug, 2012

by Dasha Kelly

Zoom in close. The young performer engages every facial feature to deliver this song.  Pan out slowly, take in her full frame.  She’s comfortable at the microphone and at home behind her guitar.

Her singing is inspired and sincere. The lilt and texture of her voice is an appealing mix of Toby Lightman, Stevie Nicks and Sara Bareilles. Pan out a bit further to take in the late afternoon sun lighting the furniture of Blu. Most of the chairs are empty. Two small tables chat in the back of the room.  One other person is with me at the bar. We’re both nodding along with the singer.

Her next song tickles a distant thought. “That sounds familiar,” I say, curling my face into a question mark, trying to remember. “I can’t think of–”

“It’s ‘Lights’,” my bar mate tells me. “It’s been playing on the radio a lot lately.”

I admit to him that I wasn’t familiar with the song, but liked how it suited her voice. He turned back to the performer and I smiled at myself, appreciating the life reminder about judging books and covers. Why couldn’t this silver-haired man wearing a t-shirt and shorts and enjoying a lager beer be familiar with the Billboard Top 100? Shame on me.

I learn that his name is Dan. He’s a designer for a fabrications company, creating plastic moldings for car dashboards, cell phones, keyboards and other manufacturing companies.   He’s lives in Madison, but is originally from Fort Atkinson.

“Are you a musician, too?” I ask.

He laughs, “I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. All of my kids are really creative, though.  My wife and I don’t know where they got it from.”

We laugh about the traits that children will assume, both because of and in spite of genetics.

“There are parts of them that are so familiar and parts that are so uniquely them,” Dan says. “Like, when Katie first starting playing–”

Dan’s grin turns sheepish, and he tosses a thumb over his shoulder to the guitar player. “That’s my daughter,” he said. “I’m her roadie today, carrying all the heavy stuff.”

We talked a bit more watching our children bloom. How much he marvels at his two grandsons. That he enjoyed his own childhood. In mid-sentence, Dan’s face brightens with surprise and he smiles broadly at two women entering the lounge.

“These are two of my sisters,” Dan says, between hugs. As they settle at the bar, one sister introduces herself to me. Eileen.  She’s the oldest.  They’ve traveled from Madison to see Katie play, deciding to make an overnight adventure of the trip.  I catch her up on our conversation, sharing Dan’s comment about musical ability skipping a generation.

“It’s true,” she says, her face lighting up. “I knew Dad could play guitar, but I didn’t know how good he was until I was an adult.  It’s not like he had time to play much when we were all growing up.”

“He was a World War II vet,” Dan adds. “When he came home, I guess he was busy making up for lost time.”

Eileen laughed and turned to me to explain: “There were six of us in a span of nine years,” she said, smiling. “Good Irish Catholics.”

Their father passed away more than two decades ago, but the two siblings lobbed memories of his good nature as if they were last-summer fresh:

“If someone showed up to our house, he would get on the phone and start calling people to come over.”

“Remember the slip and slide!?”

“He got a tarp, a water hose and a bunch of dish liquid to make a huge 15-foot by 10-foot slip and slide.”

“He could make anything into a party.”

“Cousin Tommy always knew he could crash at our house.”

“He walked to the house from Elkhorn once.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“My dad always had a soft spot for Cousin Tommy,” Eileen says to me. “He’d been in Vietnam.”

“A paramedic,” Dan says.  “He saw the worst of everything.”

“Yeah, the worst,” Eileen says solemnly. “Dad understood what Tommy was dealing with.”

The lounge has begun to fill with people, many of them here for Katie.  She takes a set break and starts making her rounds with hugs. Dan is to his feet, too, shaking hands, patting backs, hugging family, laughing.

I lean back to admire their tangle of arms, conversations, smiles.  Even if they can’t trace every talent to a sponsoring gene, love of family is clearly a dominant trait that they share.

About the author

Dasha Kelly

Dasha Kelly is founder and director of Still Waters Collective, a Milwaukee-based outreach initiative utilizing the transformative power of the written and spoken word. Dasha has performed and delivered workshops to writers, youth, educators, co-eds, executives, inmates and artists throughout the U.S. She is also an HBO Def Poetry alum. As a poet and novelist, Dasha’s writings have appeared in anthologies, text books, magazines and online. Her latest collection of work, Hershey Eats Peanuts is available through Penmanship Books. She is currently working on her second novel and a new collection of essays.

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