You Fill Up My Senses

dawn, sunshineI drove seven hours last weekend with John Denver.

Well, kind of.

At 4 a.m. on Saturday, my daughter, 7-year-old granddaughter,  and I hit the turnpike to drive from Boston to Delaware to visit my ailing mom.

Before we left the driveway, the 7-year-old was back asleep and stayed that way for almost three hours.

As I drove in the blackness of too-early morn, my daughter and I conversed quietly in the front seat. The dark shapes of homes and trees – then the lit-up highway signs and speeding cars and trucks – passed by like shadowy strangers.

We reminisced about her Nanny – my mom – whose strong feisty personality is dimming. We laughed softly as we shared a story or two of Nanny’s powerful presence in our lives, and then my daughter slowly, slowly, drifted off to her own dreams.

I was alone, then, in the quiet swiftly moving car, and I reached out for some music, something to fill the space of memories and sadness.John Denver, John Denver Tribute Album

A friend had recently given me a CD that I would never have chosen myself: John Denver songs sung by other musicians.

I pushed the silver disk in its slot on the dashboard, and the sweet voices of Brett Dennen and Milow began to sing:

You fill up my senses, Like a night in a forest, Like the mountains in springtime, Like a walk in the rain, Like a storm in the desert, Like a sleepy blue ocean, You fill up my senses, Come fill me again

(Songwriters: DENVER, JOHN (DEUTSCHENDORF)/DENVER, JOHN (DEUTSCHENDORF); Annie’s Song lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., WARNER CHAPPELL MUSIC INC, Reservoir One Music)

I was transposed by the lyrics and the melody. Back in the day, I suppose I sang to John Denver, but his music was eventually made fun of by many: too sappy, too romantic, or even too spiritual perhaps.

His music wasn’t “cool” anymore.

But here I was, my mind filling with wonder and pain and happiness as I thought of my mom, of my loved ones, and of my life so far. My senses were filled to the brim.

My daughter stirred and, guiltily, I turned down the music. I could just imagine the reaction I’d get from her if she caught me listening to this stuff.

Her head lolled back.

I was safe!

As the car hummed along, I swayed to Take me Tomorrow (song by Dave Matthews) and listened to Denver’s lyrics ask :

“Hey everybody, tell me how do you feel? Are you satisfied with your life, do you think it’s real?”(Songwriters: DENVER, JOHN (DEUTSCHENDORF)/DENVER, JOHN (DEUTSCHENDORF)

A pinky dusk light began to infuse the car with hope. Daughter and granddaughter gently snored, and I basked in the enclosed safe space of family and dreams, memories and joy.

Train, John Denver. Sunshine on my Shoulders


Then, Train, yes, TRAIN, began to sing, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.”

How I wished I could bring sunshine to my mom. And then the most profound line of that song hit me like a fluffy cloud floating in a brilliant blue sky: “If I had a day that I could give you, I’d give to you the day just like today.” (Writer: John Denver; Copyright: BMG Ruby Songs, BMG Rights Management (Ireland) Ltd; “Sunshine On My Shoulders”)

 John Denver 

A tear trickled down my face. What a gift, to give our loved ones, and most especially, to give a sick loved one — a beautiful blue-skied, glorious day.

My daughter woke up as the song  list changed to Denver’s All of My Memories.” (Somewhere to build me a faith, A farm, a family, somewhere to grow older, And somewhere a reason to try, Somewhere to lay down and die.”)

She looked at me, a bit worried, and asked as only a daughter can ask a mother: “What the heck are you listening to?”I smiled and changed to an FM station of her choice.

Great-grandmother with granddaughter and great-granddaughter.

Great-grandmother with granddaughter and great-granddaughter.

While the sun shone down on our shoulders.

86 thoughts on “You Fill Up My Senses

  1. There’s no way I can stop myself singing along to some of his greats like Annie’s Song. Calypso and Rocky Mountain High. I’ve liked his music since I first heard Annie’s Song and nothing has changed my mind since.I hope your Mom is improving.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Any musician who makes my heart pump faster in joy or in sadness, is a talented musician indeed. His songs were overplayed in the ’80s, but re-hearing them pumped me up again. xoxoxoxsensefilledhugxoxoxox

  2. I still enjoy John Denver. The words to his songs are meaningful and timeless. So great to have all the generations together. I love the picture. Seeing my mom this summer with all 5 of us was very special.

  3. Oh Pam….my heart feels for you right now, but I am so glad you can also appreciate poignant details. The picture of your Mom, daughter and granddaughter is a treasure!
    As for John Denver, anyone who sings “take me home down country roads” is all right by me! He did become “elevator music” but there is also a certain innocence and honesty to his songs that I find refreshing now. I even may go searching for the cover cd of his songs that you listened to….

  4. What a beautiful and inspiring gift, this piece, filled with love, emotion and beloved music that shaped my soul as a teen. Thank you for all of this, you’ve made my morning shine☀️😊💜

  5. I would not be ashamed to listen to John Denver. I think he was one of he best song writers and singers of all times. Sure it might be sappy to some folks but the words he sang were so beautiful. I do hope your mother is improving.

  6. We are kindred spirits, Pam. The playlist for my recent book was John Denver. No kidding. The book takes place in a mountain community and John’s music seems to transport me to those mountains. My thoughts and prayers are with your mother.

  7. A keepsake picture Pam. John Denver’s Christmas album is one of my favorite Christmas albums…there’s something angelic about his passionate voice to me…I’m glad you were open to listening to the cd, sounds like a moving experience. Enjoy every waning moment with your Mom!

  8. Life is not easy. It’s really sad to see things winding down in our parents and remembering them as their more vivid selves. Poignant trip..great having your girls there with you..Mothers & Daughters. Sending heartfelt prayers your way.

    • Sad, yet a part of life. I think that those of us who live in New England, for instance, are more aware of the ‘seasons’ of nature, of life, through the spring, summer, fall and then bleakness and death of winter. But through family and children and friends, spring returns in some form.

  9. great reflection, Pam. Also a delightful integration of the four generations. John Denver’s songs are evocative and in this youthful, fast-paced tech world I think we could well use some smooth, feelings-based, romantic, generously and widely spiritual songs like his to take the edge off the powerlessness so many feel in the face of the world’s horrors, our inability to do much about any of that, and in the face of aging parents, not to mention aging Selves.
    So, “I’m on a jet plane, don’t know where….” Cheers!

    • Your comments reflect what so many of us feel. Powerlessness against aging and death, and the chaos of the world. But then we hear songs of hope and joy and beauty, and we realize, there IS light in every corner.

  10. Pamela – I am sorry to hear about your mom’s failing health. My thoughts are with you.

    As for the CD, well… “What the heck were you listening to?”

    We can forget about the over commercialization and sappiness that struck at the end of his career. It sounds to me like it was a pretty good choice to get you down the road a few miles. You won’t hear too much of his music over here, but I will say that every now and again, I find something of his that works pretty well at a particular moment. Just like you, Emmylou, Lucinda, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and others did on that early morning ride. Excellent choice for your quiet moment. And anyway, as I read somewhere recently, the music is you.

    • Thank you for creating a huge grin on my face. I was kinda hoping you’d not get to this post, knowing as a ‘dead head,’ there’s no way you’d appreciate John Denver’s tunes. You are very kind to me (and Denver) here. 🙂 But yes, the music choice was right in my melancholic early-morning ride. But then, the hard rock we listened to later in the ride was just right too!

  11. This touched me so, Pam. We just lost a loved one in our family last week and have gathered together to support and love each other. I’ll admit there wasn’t any John Denver playing but anything Dave Matthews covers is okay with me. 🙂 The photo is a treasure. Sending prayers to you and mom.

    • I was surprised, and pleased, to see that Dave Matthews joined other musicians in their appreciation of John Denver. But to me, no one reached the ‘feeling’ that Denver put into his voice as he sang his songs. Hope you’re having a terrific trip.

  12. Well, you and John Denver have just made my day, even if I am reaching for my Kleenex in communion with you over your mother’s failing health. Yet even in this state, she is bringing you good memories and is bringing you and your daughter and granddaughter together.

    Sounds like you were listening to exactly the right songs — and I’m going to send your post to my younger sister, who adored John Denver from a very early age and still sings his songs.

    • Thanks for reblogging and thanks for the love and emotional hugs you send, Elizabeth. Yes, love brings sorrow and pain, but oh my, without the love of family (and some good heartfelt music), it would be so hard to handle the downs of life, or to appreciate the ups.

  13. Call me a sap but I’ve always loved his music and used to sing along on my drives up to New Hampshire to my parent’s cabin. I’ve been thinking of you, my friend..

    • Thank you so much for still reading my posts, David. I love your web site, but no blog any more? The illustrations/videos are fabulous. I’m so glad you listen to John Denver also! And yes, although his songs are melancholic in many ways, they are filled, still, with joy. Just like life.

  14. Great story. Jim played John Denver incessantly in the 70s until I thought I would scream. Now it comes on the radio and I sing along.

    Hope Marcia is alright. Les

    Sent from my iPhone


  15. John Denver’s music and lyrics are timeless. I’ve always been a fan. What a wonderful way to travel and remember. I hope you enjoyed your visit. I had ailing parents at the same time, so I know how challenging it can be. I spent a lot of time on the road.

    • And after all this time on the road, I find a huge necessity for yoga poses to ‘stretch out.’ I just ordered the children’s yoga book you recommended – it looks great for kids…and under-stretched (over driven) adults like us!

  16. Well, here’s something I don’t tell many people: for years and years, when I walk, I listen to JD on my iPod. He has great pacing music and I love his sweet voice and mellow lyrics. FYI, Meatloaf nod Dean Martin also make the cut, so I’m a truly eclectic listener. 🎧 👣

  17. This gorgeous post filled up my senses and brought a trickle of a tear, but that’s not difficult these days. My MS has unleashed so much more emotion in me than I ever imagined possible, albeit sometimes a little exaggerated which can be a symptom of MS, strange as it may sound; its called ‘pseudobulbar affect’ (or PBA). And yes John Denver could be a little sentimental or squishy but if we listen closely some of his words were quite beautiful.

    my husband is ALWAYS singing and the synchronicity here is that this morning’s song which came floating from the bathroom was ‘Annie’s Song! 😊. My heart and thoughts go out to your mum.

    • Synchronicity is one of my favorite words, and one of my favorite ‘things’ that happen in life. How neat that your husband was singing John Denver the day you read my post. I did not know about PBA. I don’t have PBA, but I do find myself tearing up easily, lately. Emotions, worry, caring about a loved one, all good reasons. And after all, we shouldn’t need to apologize for being emotional – it shows our humanness.

  18. A very American artist isn’t he? I know he is loved by many. Even I like ‘Calypso’. I once spent a long road trip alternating between Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison, which was pretty awesome.

    • Being eclectic in our music appreciation is one of the blessings of life in the modern world, where Leonard Cohen, and Van Morrison…and John Denver, are all quickly available with the touch of a button.

    • Those WERE magical moments, when you joined us on that car ride. As difficult as that trip was, re seeing my mom ailing, it was a highlight of the summer, bonding with the womanly generations in my family.

  19. I never stopped listening to Denver. I’m not cool, but I’m real. Beautiful writing because I felt like I was driving along listening to Denver’s music. My mom isn’t well either, so I’m feeling those feelings too. Take care, Pam.

  20. Pamela, one word comes to mind – transcendent. There is something cathartic to me about music and traveling in a car. It’s as if the small space confines the musical notes and emotions that accompany them so that you can feel them, and experience them more deeply and fully. I have favorite musical selections that may be shunned by those traveling with me, which is why I enjoy the solitude of a ride in the car, by myself. It’s like my personal refuge that gives me an opportunity to wander and discover, both physically and emotionally. Thanks for the beautiful imagery and words, Pamela. Best wishes for an inspired day!

    • Well, you just began a story that you must bring to life – a character, in a car, alone, singing (what?), on his way to a new adventure (which is?). You’re inspiring me to place the main character in my next book alone in the car, and then see what happens. Thank you for your beautiful reflections!
      (And sing away, in your car, at your heart’s content!) 🙂

  21. This post was so beautiful and heartfelt. I grew up hearing a lot of John Denver and I believe the world lost a lovely troubadour when he passed. Your drive, filled with memories and worthy life moments was wonderfully worded. To have your girls with you, cocooned within the car and this tribute soundtrack somehow makes it quite magical.
    I wish your mom better health and many more moments with the lovely family she’d created.

    • Thank you for your heartfelt words. Yes, there’s something about being encased, in a way, in a car, landscape rolling along, loved ones breathing your same air, hearing the same song, that brings some kind of magic to the setting. Magic helps us heal. As does music like that of John Denver’s…

  22. You don’t know how corny I am or you would know I sing several of his songs, Pam! Now, really want to hear all the other interpretations by current singing artists. Thanks for adding links to this post, too. Sunshine, Country Roads, Annie’s Song and Rocky Mt High are my faves. A funny one, Grandma’s Feather Bed was a topic with my son and DIL just Friday evening.
    I have my Mom who broke her hip (shattered) last month facing her moving to assisted living. Her mind has been fading but her strength of spirit is still high. Hoping the comfort of every moment you shared with her continues to “pull you through some tough days ahead,” Pam. I am right there with you, filled with a little bit of trepidation but mostly joy for a life well lived. Hugs, Robin

    • I never heard of Grandma’s Feather Bed – had to look it up. What fun lyrics!: “It could hold eight kids and four hound dogs
      And a piggy we stole from the shed
      We didn’t get much sleep but we had a lot of fun
      On grandma’s feather bed”
      Thanks for the smile. I send your spirited mom hugs and good thoughts as she heals in a new place. And blessings to you – it’s soooo difficult to see our parent slow down.

  23. Oh Pam, I love that song so much, I can’t tell you how often I’ve sung it when I’m alone walking thorugh landscape that indeed fills up my senses and need to share the gratitude. I’m so sorry to hear you’re Mum’s not feeling well, but how wonderful to share such a day with four generations blessed my mutual love (if not the same musical tastes!!) Love and hugs to you and yours, Harula xxx

    • Your poetry fills OUR senses, Harula, those of us who are lucky enough to breathe in your lines of deep contemplation and love. And you know what? I can feel that loving kindness, right through the internet. Thank you.

  24. I love JD. I actually saw him in concert once, in Philly. He’s always been one of my favorite artists. I was devastated when I opened the paper the morning the news broke about him being killed in an EZ (the plane) accident. Weird thing, I later dated and married a guy who built and piloted the same type of airplane. I still love John, all these years later. And if he’s on the radio, and other people are around, I crank it up and don’t care what they think! He makes me feel happy. Have you ever seen the special he did with Cousteau? Amazing. Grandma’s Feather Bed. You gotta look it up on YouTube and watch it. Fun.

    • Another reader just wrote about Grandma’s Feather Bed. What fun!!! Yes, Denver’s music keeps him alive, don’t you think? And cranking his voice up is a great way to feel fabulously alive.
      However, let’s both of us avoid flying in an EZ…. xo

  25. That is a very lovely song! Very touching and comforting and perfect for a road trip. Some songs are really great to listen to when you’re traveling somewhere far. They keep you stimulated and somehow also philosophize on life. I am sorry about your mother. Much strength to you and to your family!

  26. I confess to being a John Denver fan – past and present – and although I was never a big concert-goer, I did see him once in concert.

    Coincidentally, 2 weekends ago, I too was on a long distance drive. I was alone and started playing songs randomly on my iPod. The sweet sounds of John Denver filled my car and I felt as light as air. No question, Annie’s Song is one of my favourites. In fact it was one of the songs sung in the church when I married so many years ago. Thanks for the memory 🙂

  27. I’ve been a John Denver fan my entire life, and I never cared who knew about it. He’s cool to me. “You fill up my senses,” are lyrics I know well. I used to sing it to my kids when they were younger to get them to sleep. Before they learned what cool was, they listened to John’s music too. They’re favourite song was “Homegrown Tomatoes”. They’d sing and dance all over the kitchen.

    When I need a pick-me-up, I slip in a Denver CD. He unravels life for me, makes me realise how simple it is when we look at it like he did in his songs.

    A few weeks ago, I found myself driving at 3:00 am, my daughter asleep in the shot-gun seat. The soft voice with the simple songs who sang me on my way was Dean Brody. His songs might not be as focussed on nature as Denver’s, but he puts life into perspective for me.

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