Balloons and Smooth Jazz love smooth jazz.

I love it for the saxophone, the way it sings and weaves through the music. I love the piano, for the chords and keys that seem to dance in blues and purples and greens. I love the mood it brings out, that mood of peace and contentment and relaxation.

But I don’t just love jazz for those things. I love jazz because my father loved jazz. And every time I listen to it, I’m brought back to my childhood. The moment those first notes hit my ear, I’m a child again, sitting in the backseat of his car as we head home from another overnight trip at the airport. I am exhausted. My head is nodding. I’ve been up all night in a conference room, perhaps, or in his cubicle, or holding his hand as we watch the radar swirl bright green, or holding binoculars too heavy for my arms to my face to watch the planes take off, or gathering old runway lights from the side of the tarmac. It has been a good night, and my sleepy child eyes watch the world pass outside the window as smooth jazz fills the car. I watch the sunrise, salmon pink and muted orange through the clouds of a summer morning. The overpasses of the city dip up and down, here covering the sunrise, there framing it. And smooth jazz fills the car.

I love classic rock, too, but not for the same reasons. On its own, rock is just music. I don’t hate it, but I’m not addicted to it the way I am other genres. But I love it.

I love it because it brings back those childhood memories. Sometimes, it’s our old beat-up Hyundai hatchback, the smell of diesel from the highway traffic, and the summer sun beating down on us as we head to Furrows. Sometimes, it’s the evening light, the smell of grease and gas, and a car up on jacks. Either way, classic rock reminds me of my father.

And now, it reminds me of my husband. Now, just beneath those first memories are car rides through downtown’s slow traffic, watching my husband jam out with his baseball cap backwards, his sunglasses on, and his hands beating the tempo on the steering wheel. It’s his grin as he quizzes me on songs and bands that I can never remember, and his sweet surprise when I manage to get one right. It’s bittersweet, an aching in the heart, because his love of rock was born of his father, and his father is no longer here to listen with him. It’s the AC/DC CD in the player that brings flickering, hidden emotions across his face. It’s his lopsided grin as he tells me I’m his angel and he’s the devil.

You could give me any genre. Any song. If I haven’t heard it yet, that just means there is a memory waiting to happen. The ones I do have each are tied up somewhere in my mind. They are strings tied to balloons filled with life and color and emotion. Some, I cherish more than others. All of them are special.

So parents out there, especially dads, know this: even the little things you do are written on the hearts of your children. Something little, something you might think is insignificant, might mean the world to them. Something might be their jazz or their classic rock. And maybe, someday, they’ll tell you what it was. From the heart of this child, though, I promise you that so long as you’re there, so will the memories and the balloons. All of the hard work, all of those times you’re away to provide, I don’t remember those. I as a child have blank spots for the times you are not there. There are no memories to be made. Playing by myself or with my siblings or at the park without you are just regular memories, filed away under “Whatever Days.” Those moments you make the effort to see me, to get down to my level, those days are labeled “Special.” And those days are engraved on my heart.


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