On Wednesday for her last day of preschool, my daughter Pickle and I discuss what music to play on the drive from West Tisbury to Chilmark. The drive takes about 15 minutes and over the last two years we have enjoyed a long musical journey together. It is just the two of us and so I have had no censors or suggestions of what is appropriate or even good.
Pickle fell in step with my groove early on, leaning heavily toward men of the late 1970s. In our hermetically-sealed musical education chamber, a Honda Fit, one could say she had no choice. But if a three year old isn’t willing to hear Townes Van Zandt sing about lost love and too much drink and would rather be soothed by Raffi or Barney, she knows how to make life miserable for the man at the control switch.
Today Pickle chooses Darkness on the Edge of Town, in particular song number five, Racing in the Streets. Over the last two years we have played this song by Bruce Springsteen more than any other.
To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to Pickle’s last day of preschool but if I did it was with relief. The Island may appear small, but the whole trip, complete with a precise drop-off routine, takes over an hour. Plus, there would be no more tuition to pay each month.
But after just three beats into Bruce’s song I begin crying. I sneak looks at my daughter in the backseat but this only increases my sniveling. Pickle is wearing her older brother Hardy’s baseball cap and her long curls cascade around her shoulders. When she started preschool she didn’t have much hair. A baseball cap would have covered every strand.
Pickle appears unaffected by the moment.
As the drive continues I think back to the early days when we played a lot of Joe Strummer, beginning with his career before he made it big with the Clash to his time with the Mescaleros. During one of our drives I told Pickle how sad I was the day I heard Joe had died of a congenital heart defect at the age of 50.
“Is everyone who sings in the car dead?” she asked.
Punk Rock got us through Mom’s breast cancer, an ordeal that began soon after Pickle started her first year of preschool.
The Sex Pistols, Clash, Velvet Underground, but mostly Patti Smith helped us give voice to our sadness and frustration that year. No matter what we encountered at home with Cathlin on the couch suffering from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, we knew the ride to school would be filled with singing and shouting, and the occasional naughty word. I heard later that during those days Pickle was an exceptionally energetic member of circle time.
This year, after Cathlin had recovered, I tried some Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff but Pickle shook her head to the relaxed Reggae vibe. She wanted more Bruce Springsteen.
We had started with the Seeger Sessions, an album of folk songs Bruce recorded, hard driving some classic tunes so they rocked and found new life. Eventually, we found our way to Darkness on the Edge of Town, or as Pickle likes to say, young Bruce.
Pickle always refers to Racing in the Streets as the sad song. The tone and quiet piano sets the mood, but it is the line, “she sits on the porch of her Daddy’s house but all her pretty dreams are torn,” that seems to strike her the deepest.
“Why is she so sad?” she asked me one morning. I thought for a moment, seeing Bruce’s songs in a new light, from a girl’s perspective. His anthems to young men seeking glory and the open road took a sharp turn for me. The women of these songs always seem to get a raw deal, mostly because they just sit around waiting while the guys chase their dreams.
“Well, Pickle, I think she’s sad because she was hoping for something but it didn’t come true.”
Pickle put her thumb in her mouth and worked away at her security blanket. It is a small square with a satin border and she inches her fingers around the perimeter as if doing a circuit on a set of worry beads.
“But she’s at her Daddy’s house,” Pickle said. “She shouldn’t be sad there.”
I paused and remembered eavesdropping one afternoon on a group of young women, twenty-somethings or nearly so. One of them was telling a story about how she had been living abroad and became sick. She called her father and he said he would be on the next plane if she needed him. The other girls nodded in understanding; their fathers would have done the same thing.
The scene put words and faces to a feeling I was just beginning to understand. At the time my own daughter was young enough to still sleep in a crib and yet I already knew I would do anything and travel anywhere to keep her safe.
And yet it also struck me while listening to the song on that last drive to preschool that Bruce was indeed right. Down the road if Pickle ends up on the porch of her Daddy’s house she will indeed be sad. I still have some time before she looks to a life outside of our house. And yet the first milestone of preschool is behind us. The one thing above all others people say upon encountering a family with young children is that it all goes by too fast.
We turn into the preschool parking lot and Pickle climbs into the front seat with me to listen to the rest of the song. Ordinarily we have time on the drive to listen to a few songs but today we just kept playing Racing in the Streets over and over.
Pickle sits on my lap for one last listen and we turn up the volume. A few moms and dads who have already dropped off their kids and are headed back to their cars wave to us. But we don’t respond. Pickle and I are much too far away. We aren’t sitting on any damn porch being sad, not the two of us. We are still out there racing in the street with no sign of stopping.
Look out kindergarten, here we come.