“See You In My Dreams” was one of the first songs I wrote, and I got the idea after the death of my paternal grandfather, Gene. He was one of the coolest guys ever, and had a warmth to him that I only began to realize and understand after I grew older; I can still picture him in the back bedroom where he had his favorite couch, his TV and seemed to be reading the newspaper every time we walked in. My grandmother, LaFraye, was one of the most loving, caring and affectionate people ever, as most grandmothers tend to be. I still remember the feeling of her fingers brushing my hair back over my ears when I was little and sitting next to her whenever they would visit us.
Gene’s death in 1997 was unexpected, and hit my family pretty hard, as it was also very sudden, since he was due to be discharged from the hospital in a few days. Instead, sadly and heartbreakingly enough, he ended up literally dying in my dad’s arms. They were close, and even though we don’t talk about him much, I know my dad still misses him a lot.
The imagery of his memorial service was enough to stay with me and I can still recall, even today driving up to Mission Park on Military Drive in San Antonio, which was only a short drive from my grandparent’s house. I remember it being the first time that I had seen a small roadside florist stand on the way to the gravesite, and would serve as the inspiration for what is still one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written. I crafted it around the last verse with that imagery:
“I came to visit you today
And bought some flowers along the way
I told you how I missed you so,
And how I wish you didn’t go”
I thought of her, especially now that he was gone, with the last two lines:
“And I’ll fall asleep in our old bed
And a tear will touch my face again”
Over the years, she and I would grow closer, and she would often confide in me how much she missed him. Everyone in the family always knew that, for as long as she lived the rest of her years, she missed him every day until she sadly left our family on July 4th, 2013. Her passing was not as sudden and unexpected as Gene’s, but it still hurt. While I helped to write her obituary, that wasn’t nearly as hard as singing Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” at her service, for which I barely made it through without breaking down in tears.
The following week, I was due to perform a gig at The Hangin Tree in Bracken, Texas which is one of the places I’ve played at for many years throughout my music career. I had considered cancelling, because I was still emotionally recovering from the loss. Nevertheless, I was convinced to play it in her memory. Throughout the night, I had my friends playing on stage behind me, most of my family in front of me and the show couldn’t have gone any better. My dear friends at the Tree have become my extended family over the years, all of them knowing how much my she meant to us all and showed my family the same love they’ve always given me over the years of playing there.
For the final song of the night, I decided to dismiss the band and play the song for her as Kathy, the bartender, placed a Miller Lite and a cup of ice, (my grandmother’s favorite drink) on the empty table near the stage. When it came time to get to that last verse, with the imagery and memories still fresh in my mind I began to falter. My voice was breaking, tears were in my eyes and it was getting harder to finish the song. Then, my friends, family and everyone else in the audience began to cheer, clap and encourage me to get through it. It’s been over 7 years since we had that show, and I can still remember it all like it was yesterday.
But you see even that, still, isn’t the end of the story that this song has meant to me and to others. After that night, I was unsure that I’d be able to perform it again without that or the memories reminding me of how hard it was, now that the last of both sets of grandparents were gone.
Almost a full year later, 2 of my close friends from the Tree were getting married and of course I wasn’t going to miss it. Many other friends I knew from the bar were there, and it was a beautiful ceremony. The reception was just getting under way, and I enjoyed talking to many of them again, as we hadn’t seen each other much since the gig that night. We all sat down at our respective tables, and what happened next is another one of those moments I’ll remember forever. When it came time for James and Shelby to take their first dance as man and wife, I heard “See You In My Dreams'' come up and almost immediately began to weep at just how meaningful that was to me. I had never been the recipient of such a heartfelt gesture in that way before, and I was profoundly overtaken by the feeling. Overcome with emotion, I was already on my way to the dancefloor while James was making it a point to introduce me as the artist who sang the song after it had ended with the cheers and applause from the Hangin Tree crowd in attendance the same as it was only a year before.
It was a well-planned surprise that I obviously wasn’t expecting, and changed my perspective of the song on that day, as it took on an entirely different meaning for me in those few short minutes while they were dancing.
“See You In My Dreams” has a long history with me and my family, and for the whole year following the Hangin Tree gig, I didn’t think I’d be able to look at it again and not think of my grandparents. But that night at the reception, the song (while still written by me) had no longer belonged to me. It now belongs to them and they tell me they still dance to it often. I can think of no better way to honor my grandparents than to have that song live on forever, now, in the hearts of my friends. And mine.