We Miss You- Robert Garcia, Copyright 2015
Well, one thing is for damn sure. The longer you live the more times you say goodbye. There must be a list of at least a dozen people who I think about regularly who are no longer with us. Like every, single damned day, I think of them. Though years and years in the past in some cases, their passing seems like just yesterday- and I still can’t believe- I am astounded- that they’re no longer here.
Where are they? Where did they go? Wherever they are, do they think of us? Will we see them again? And if it’s true that you die twice, once physically and then again when the last person dies who had memories of you- then, my goodness, how important is it for us to remember them and miss them and keep them in our hearts?
And that’s the meaning of the song titled, We Miss You.
I wrote it a little over 20 years ago after I lost my father, Alvaro. This scratched up old photo is probably the best shot ever taken of the two of us.
And the photo below is a scan of the two-decades-old, water-stained piece of paper where I first put down the words, about a week after Alvaro had passed, about two years after the shot above.
The lyrics spilled out all at once. I remember the process as an emotionally intense experience. It’s amazing actually, how many of those words are in this final version. But they don’t quite add up to a complete song, so urged on by my Producer, Jeff Severson, I doubled the break in the song and wrote an entirely new final verse. There’s a thread about new life at the very bottom of the water-stained page that I never followed up on. Which is good, because it kinda sucked.
We Miss You
By Robert Garcia
These are the times that shake us all
These are the times in the fading light of the fall
When we recall
The spirits of our mothers and fathers
Sons and daughters and sisters and brothers
Sleds and trains and dolls and horses
Ride off in the night like invisible forces
And we miss you- yeah we miss you
These are the times when we breathe deep
These are the times when we’d really rather be asleep
When we keep
The memories of our mothers and fathers
Sons and daughters and sisters and brothers
Christmas trees and candy canes and laughter
Do you think of us in the great hereafter
Yeah we miss you
Shimmering sparkles they play in the ether
Dancing together the light is their keeper
The stars in the sky point the way for the dreamers
And heaven it seems is not only for believers
These are the times that pull us under
These are the times when we hear God’s roaring thunder
And let no man put asunder
The undying love of our mothers and fathers
Sons and daughters and sisters and brothers
Where you’ve gone we cannot follow
Sometimes our prayers they just seem hollow
Because we miss you
Yeah, we miss you
Robert Garcia Copyright 2015
Musically- this is Jeff’s baby. My unplugged version of this song is slower and sadder and played on one lonely acoustic guitar.
Jeff’s version is crazy good. I can’t even get into the layers and layers of guitar work, key boards, and harmonies that went into this. The guitar lines in this tune are incredibly strong- they make the tune, musically. The build-up to the bridge (Shimmering sparkles)- those electric guitar hammer-ons, I guess you call them, are just perfect. And, yes, those are Beatle-like harmonies in the break. Thank you Ben Mason for your Beatleness! And for your portion of the We Miss You voices.
Easily, the best and most extensively produced song on the album. Jeff once said he wanted the music to do justice to the lyrics. I appreciated the compliment, and, uh, yeah. I’m not used to functioning without “thumbs up” emoticons. Hundreds of ‘em. Thank you, buddy- nice work.
Dylan’s Ghost- Songs of a Lifetime is available for digital download at I-Tunes, CD Baby, and Amazon Music. Purists who would like a hard copy of the CD can contact me directly at email@example.com and we’ll make arrangements to ship it out to you.
I was born in New York City in 1956 and that made me an American. My parents, from Colombia, South America, never actually achieved full citizenship status though they always had the appropriate documentation to work and live in the United States for many decades.
They ended up divorcing and both would return to Colombia but toward the end of my mother’s life, she moved back to the states and lived with me and my family in Atlanta. It was the Pablo Escobar era in Colombia and a huge bomb in downtown Bogota had killed 200 people and taken out a major high-rise office building and broke the windows in the nearby building where my mother worked and I brought her up to the states to get her away from the bloodshed and violence.
It was then that she began the process of seeking American citizenship.
It was a tough go. In her 60’s but not in the best of health, there were hours and hours of bureaucratic engagement and hassles. Stella was a classy, elegant woman; always very well-dressed and proper in every way. From a middle to upper-middle-class background, she stood in stark socio-economic contrast to the hard-working, wonderful, salt-of-the-earth, but much less well-off Mexican and Salvadoran day laborers with whom she shared many hours of waiting time in the Atlanta immigration offices.
After a typical 3 or 4-hour visit to immigration, waiting in long lines, filling out forms, doing interviews and writing out $700 processing checks (money you never get back whether you achieve citizenship or not), she’d end up exhausted by the experience. On a couple of occasions I would take her directly from the chaos and frustration of the immigration offices to the Ritz-Carlton- Buckhead where I could treat her to tea and a nice breakfast and make her feel human again.
Enforcement Beyond the Grave
Stella did not survive the immigration process. She passed away several months after her initial application and before anyone could rule on her status. About two months after her death, I received a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, informing me that a court date had been set for her. I called the appropriate authorities and sent a copy of her death certificate. The court date came and went and now the letters started coming in fast and furious, each one increasingly menacing. Stella Garcia-Pena has missed her court date, the letters said, and the deportation process is now underway.
I forgot who I called, but it was not a friendly conversation on my part. “If it makes you feel better to deport a dead woman, by all means, go right ahead. But understand that, really, this is not a living individual you are talking about here.” But if you’d like, I threatened, next court hearing you schedule for my dead mother’s deportation, I can call one of our local Atlanta TV stations, or perhaps CNN (where I worked) and maybe we can have a camera crew document this tough federal action you’re taking against someone who no longer walks the earth.
I think the camera crew thing saved the day. I did receive one more clueless bureaucratic letter threatening more deportation and, as I recall, possible imprisonment. But one final letter of explanation from me and a follow-up phone call did the trick. The Immigration and Naturalization Service had deemed it would, finally, let my dear mother rest in peace.
I am certain she is now a citizen-in-good-standing in Heaven and I understand the entrance process to get past the pearly gates is considerably easier and more efficient than what she had to go through here on earth. Basically, she just had to prove she was a good person.
And that, she was.
I am so psyched and happy to say that I’ve signed up to participate in a 5K Walk, June 15th, benefiting Purple Stride, an organization dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer, which claimed a much beloved colleague and friend earlier this year.
Brenda Box was the afternoon editor with NPR’s Newscast unit. A kinder, warmer, funnier, sharper, smarter journalist-human will never be found. Here is a tribute to Brenda from a few months back. Accomplishing this 5K for her and in her memory is going to be very special to me. As Brenda’s health deteriorated last year, I developed a few complications of my own. It bonded us a bit more than most, I think. The very day I had an endoscopy this year that would find the cancer in my tummy that I’ve had to deal with, was also the day of Brenda’s memorial service which I proudly, if woozily, attended (they put you out for an endoscopy).
I walk about a mile a day now. Basically, to complete a 5K you take about 4,800 to 5,000 steps. I can easily handle about 2,400 currently. But I’ve got two weeks to build up to it. I can do this. It’s one hour of walking, for Christ’s sake.
One of the reasons for 5K walks like this, of course, is to raise money for the cause. Here’s a link if you would like to sponsor my walk. The group I’m with at Purple Stride is called the Boxtops. I would be very proud to raise money for any organization dedicated to the fight against any cancer.
I’m doing this for Brenda because I will always love her. And I’m doing it for me so I can prove to myself that I can take 5,000 steps six weeks after major cancer surgery. In some silly way, I feel like I’m taking the torch from Brenda, and having been given the gift of a curable cancer, that I am literally finishing the race for her. That will be her gentle push at my back. And her prankster foot I dodge in her ill-fated attempt to trip me. I’m on to you, Brenda.
A truly loved and appreciated colleague passed away this morning. Brenda was an editor with NPR’s Newscast unit. There wasn’t a word spoken by an anchor or an NPR correspondent that didn’t get her keen eye, and eventually her approval. I was her boss. This is the note I sent to NPR staff around the world today. The outpouring of affection has been enormous. She will live in our hearts forever.
We are deeply saddened to announce that our beloved and respected colleague, Newscast Editor, Brenda Box, has passed away after a courageous four years dealing with pancreatic cancer. She was 58. Anyone who ever dealt with Brenda knows what a special and unique person she was; equal parts cynical and sensitive, outspoken and hilarious, brilliant and fun and warm and self-deprecating.
Correspondent, Carrie Kahn, who largely dealt with Brenda on the phone, but grew close to her anyway, put it this way in a recent note to Newscast staff: “Every time I called newscast and she answered the phone, no matter how stressed or busy she was she always had a few moments for a quick chat, great banter and that memorable laugh. Not that filing spots is not fun enough, but Brenda made it something special, personal and among friends.”
Newscast’s Korva Coleman has a further explanation of Brenda’s role in the unit: “Although you never heard her name on an NPR broadcast, she shaped what you heard. While you never heard her speak to you on the radio, she guided your understanding of events. Brenda Box was the editor every journalist dreams of, one who elicits the best from reporters and quietly removes the errors…Brenda often concluded her conversations with her trademark, “Cool beans.” That was the indication that her exacting eye had reviewed the reporter’s work and approved.”
There is no justice served remembering Brenda only in the context of her health issues in recent years. But it must be said that in this particular respect, she taught us all the true meaning of gentle grace under great adversity.
Brenda graduated with a journalism degree from Colorado State University, worked as Capitol Hill correspondent for USA Today Broadcasting/Gannett News Service, as an anchor for the UPI and NBC/Mutual radio networks, and as a reporter for West Virginia Public Radio and WTOP Radio before coming to NPR ten years ago. Outside of broadcasting she worked for the Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation and served as Press Secretary for the District of Columbia’s City Administrator.
She was a long-time member of the National Association of Black Journalists, winning an NABJ Excellence award for a series on Black Pioneers. The Gannett News Service honored her work for radio coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington.
Brenda is survived by her husband, Steve Johnson, her daughters, Chantel and Chanel and her son, Anthony.
By way of remembrance, the family asks that donations in Brenda’s name, be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Pancan.org.