A new take on an old memory

It’s been 36 years today since I picked up the telephone as a 12 year old to be told the news that my older brothers best friend had died in a car accident on his way home from college for winter break.  It has stayed with me all the years for so many reasons, but mostly because Keith was one of the first people in my life to die, an at 19 he was certainly the youngest.  I’m always brought back to the memory of that day when I see the date on the calendar.  The day before, December 18th, my brother Tom had left for Air Force basic training in Texas.  It was an adjustment for our family to have one less person in the house.  So I picked up the phone that morning to be told that Keith had died and was instructed to please let my parents know.  I remember someone else calling the house shortly after that, and when I answered the phone, still crying from hearing the news, all I remember the girl saying was “oh my god, it’s true”.  Those memories get ingrained in you for life, and I am sure I will never forget it.  But my thoughts each year don’t dwell much on that day of his death.

I have fond memories of Keith — I was a little girl, and he was my older brothers best friend, they were both 6 years older than me.  Both Tom and Keith were (mostly) good to me, partly because it didn’t take much interaction to make a young kid happy and then send her on her way, and partly because they knew I could rat them out on any number of things that I knew about them and what they were up to.  It generally worked to my advantage, and I seized on the opportunity to tag along with them whenever I could.  Most of all, I liked going to Keith’s house because, in addition to having 4 siblings he lived on a dairy farm so there was always lots going on.  The farm was a little too far away for me to get there on my own, so I was always at the their mercy to take me along.  Oh, and they had a horse.  I never rode him, but I really enjoyed watching him and all the cows while I was there.

Not only was my brother friends with Keith, he also worked on the dairy farm every day doing chores.  Keith’s family was quite religious, and his dad always had the radio in the barn set to a radio station that played gospel music.  Like most teenage boys, Tom and Keith weren’t so much into gospel music.  It was around 1979-81, and their music of choice revolved more around the likes of Black Sabbath and AC/DC.  When Keith’s dad had a commitment that took him away from the farm, the “boys” were in charge of milking and all the chores, and were always explicitly told to not change the radio station.  Being the teenage boys they were, I doubt they ever listened.  They would change the station on the radio and blast the rock music.  From what I remember, they were always careful to change the station back and turn the volume back down.  And yet, Keith’s dad would know.  He knew because the cows had told him.

Keith’s dad would declare that he knew they had changed the station because the cows wouldn’t produce as much milk on the days that the boys were left to do the milking by themselves.  His theory was that it was upsetting to the cows to have to listen to rock music, and because they were upset their production of milk decreased.  I remember thinking it was fascinating, and at the time the reasoning made as much sense as anything else.  Now I wonder though, did the cows really dislike the rock music?  I’m thinking that they were just communicating with their people in a way that could get a message across.   Maybe the message *was* that they didn’t like the music.  I’d like to think though that they were trying to communicate something bigger.  A message not only for his dad, but for Keith as well.  Letting them know that whether we are with each other physically or not, our energy remains connected and lets us communicate, albeit sometimes in unconventional ways.

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