The Prince of Wales Library isn't on Prince of Wales Drive, it's on 14th Ave. There is a library on Prince of Wales, but they've named it Sunrise. It's as though someone got the signs mixed up and then didn't want to admit they'd made a mistake. I used to go to the Prince of Wales branch a lot, in the winters, to find a quiet corner and write. It's in my neighborhood, sort of. It's not too busy, but busy enough that I'd always bring my headphones and something to listen to.
I'm thinking of one Monday morning in particular, a couple of years ago, sitting in a quiet corner at that library, working on my book and listening to the radio, turned way down so I wouldn't be distracted by it—I like to listen to unfamiliar music when I'm working so my brain doesn't snag on lyrics I know. That's why it was so strange when, in the middle of a song I'd never heard before, a lyric jumped out at me as though the music had been temporarily cranked up. Even stranger: the words weren't in English, but I knew what they meant—knew intrinsically, the way you know the phone number of your best friend from elementary school. You know it almost without knowing you know it, without trying to know it, and you'll probably always know it even if you forget other, actually important information.
At first, I wouldn't have been able to give you a literal translation, I just knew that it was a phrase that meant something affectionate, something you'd say to someone very, very important to you.
Jeg elsker deg.
I love you?
I checked the name of the song—Norway.
A memory came to me like my eyes were adjusting to a dark room. Sitting in my grandparents' living room on my Grandpa Glen's lap, him teaching me to count in Norwegian, teaching me an old Norwegian prayer, saying to me, "Jeg elsker deg," all in his deep, rumbling voice that I could feel reverberating in my spine.
I loved his voice. It was familiar and comforting, one of those distinct, constant, grounding things from my childhood. He talked and laughed just like he sang, and I heard him sing often. He sang bass in a band with his brothers. They did hymns and old country music, and there was even yodeling sometimes. They often did this old Jim Reeves song called Suppertime; the chorus goes, "Come home, come home it's suppertime, the shadows lengthen fast. Come home, come home it's suppertime, we're going home at last."
He passed away yesterday, and ever since I got the phone call I've had that song in my head, on repeat, like a sweet gift, sung in my grandpa's familiar, comforting voice.
I've been thinking about how beautiful it is that the words you say to a little kid can mean so much to them thirty years later, that they can remember what you meant even if they don't consciously remember exactly what you said, and that if you sing to someone enough when you're with them, they'll still be able to hear you long after you go away.