Monday, December 05, 2011

Music and memory

In the fall of 1968 I began working as a "traveling secretary" for my college sorority. November found me in Montreal, visiting the chapter at McGill University. I'm not sure I had ever been as far from home and I was outside the United States for the first time in my life. Provincial as I was, it seemed a world away from my family and my roots, and by then I was very tired from a non-stop travel schedule. I arrived in Montreal with a sore throat and an ear infection and a fever, but I was warmly welcomed and soon ensconced in a charming brownstone apartment shared by several of the chapter members. It would be my longest chapter stay to date—2 weeks. The girls in the apartment all had tickets to a Gordon Lightfoot concert a couple days after I arrived. As luck would have it there was an extra ticket, as one of the group had to attend to a family emergency in another town. I went to the concert, not knowing a single thing about Gordon Lightfoot, despite the fact that he seemed to be on magazine covers and posters all over Montreal. I was carried away by the music and his themes of longing spoke to my state of mind. The next day I walked down a snowy street to the big Eaton's department store and bought his album. The next two weeks, as I recall, included lots of tea, a visit to the Hospital Emergency Room when my ears became so painful I could not ignore them, interviews with the lovely girls and alumnae and the Gordon Lightfoot record playing in the background through it all.

Montreal was beautiful, the people I was with were kind and funny, and the early snowstorm had blanketed the city in pure, silent white. I felt like I was in a dream most days and wondered if I could possibly remember every detail. How I wished I could share it all with someone and for the first time it occurred to me that this year of travel was such a solitary experience that I would never have anyone to look back on it with. I would carry these cities and people with me, alone in memory, as indeed I have, with no one to share those memories. And somehow it was the music that was the most tangible thing I took away.

I missed my family. I missed my friends. I had a boyfriend, who I knew was never going to be the right person for me, but I missed him too. It was the deepest homesickness I have ever felt and at the same time the adventure of a lifetime. And when I listen to this music I feel it all again.

I looked for a photo of Montreal in 1968 and found this painting: John Little, R.C.A. (b. 1928) November Snow, Jeanne-Mance Square (corner of Sherbrooke Street), Montreal, 1968. It actually looks like the street where I stayed, and, amazingly is titled November Snow. This is what I remember.


  1. Nothing brings up certain emotions and memories more than music! Thanks for posting the Gordon Lightfoot clips. I've been listening to him for many years.

  2. While following you blog for over five years now, I have come to realize that 1968 was a benchmark year for you on a personal scale. I remember when you took that job and I also remember times that those of us who were still at ISU would engage in moments when we would stop and all say, "We should have Terry here." Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mr C and I were living in upstate NY at this time and often abandoned our children and took off for Montreal for a romantic week-end. I have such fond memories of the city and the great food.

    I also have memories of my first trips away from family on my own. Good memories.

  4. Loved reading about your Montreal experience and memories and GL music. One of your blog posts a couple of years ago (?) introduced me to Joni Mitchell's "Comin' On Christmas" and I marvel at our similar tastes and interests!
    Martha Ginn

  5. Ah, Montreal - it was my 'first time away from home' too - I drove there from Vancouver with a university friend, arriving in October 1968, and the snow certainly sticks in my memory too. The Art Museum was near where I worked and I remember the first time I went up those stairs and through the doors - that started my life in art...
    Gordon Lightfoot - Tom Northcott - Leonard Cohen - sounds of the times.