Jan DeGaetani and Pia Gilbert

I’m back, Friends!


My trip to Belize pushed me in so many ways; I was sick with the flu when I left the US, and once there, I had two falls, one bad enough to leave me with bruised ribs and pulled muscles…and it was beautiful, haunting, moving, scary, and sad, too—the poverty, the education system, the gang warfare and crime in Belize City. This was my first trip to Central America. I was humbled.

Highlights: Cave tubing with my son and rock jumping into the river at the end of our trek. Walking the mountain town of San Ignacio, day and night; the Mayan ruins, driving through the jungle to a spectacular swimming hole at water falls (where I fell). The rain forest our first night in the country and hearing every nocturnal animal’s presence, the low gravelly growl of the howler monkeys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REPoVfN-Ij4. Seeing our friends’ home and life now on Ambergris Caye; our yellow cabana on Caye Caulker where we swam a bit and rode old bikes and sat for hours staring at the Caribbean.

And honestly, the very best, spending every day with my 20-year old son who is a lovely, remarkable, self-aware and assured young man. I love traveling with him.

Needless to say, I required some serious R&R upon my arrival home, which included a marathon birthday celebration pour moi: I turned 55 years old on March 22nd and I still can’t believe it. The age, that is. I lay awake that morning trying to imagine 60. I could not compute this: my name, my face, my SELF aligned with these numbers. Just five away.

I’m with my father again, in the Delta of Mississippi and three weeks ago, he turned 86. He looks in the mirror and does not compute just who that old guy is in there, looking back. I get it.  There is peace to be made with being a growing, progressing, alive organism.

Age is looming large. Because my father is ill. (This requires some big changes coming up.)

Because I am one year from Jan’s age when she died.

Because when my beautiful mother was 55 she couldn’t have imagined she had less than 20 years left.

I spoke with Pia Gilbert this week. A second phone conversation. Pia may be 95 now; she told me the first time we spoke several months ago she was nearly 95.  Jan would be 84. They were friends. The best and closest kind: Selbstverstaendlich Pia calls what it was. Taken for granted.  The German translates into something like this: the friendship was so close, that it was taken for granted. I hope to speak with her again. I like imagining Jan with Pia, talking about everything: husbands, children, mothers, fathers, and music. Always the music. I’m beginning to learn about the remarkable musical life Pia Gilbert created, her contributions and legacies. I feel to know her better, her story, I will understand Jan’s. I think this friendship is itself a remarkable story. I’ve started writing a new piece about them.

I don’t really understand the German word. Taken for granted. Right now, I feel as if we can’t take anything for granted. Ever. Even the best of friends whom you love and know inside and out and can’t imagine living without. I think she means it was just known, understood, accepted that they were close, what I call having each other completely, that the two of them simply knew that absolutely anything was open terrain to explore and understand and process together. Somehow, the idea of taking something for granted has a negative connotation for me. But theirs—it seems to me—was not a friendship of expectations, disappointments, failures. I think Pia means the two-decade friendship she experienced with Jan was just a fact, a way of life, of the same inexplicable stuff that made Jan who Jan was. The raison d’etre.  Jan’s life was music music music and should have been, Pia tells me.  Meant to be


About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
This entry was posted in Dawn's Journey, Fun Research Tidbit, Reflecting on Jan, Reflection and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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