A Song in My Heart

Missing the voice that I grew up with.

We made a decision when compiling our list of the Best Bars in Pittsburgh to exclude places that allowed smoking. Hal B. Klein and Celine Roberts eloquently explain the rationale, which has won the day in cities and states across the country where smoking is banned in bars. You may not agree, and Pennsylvania law is on your side.

I’ve never smoked, but both of my parents were heavy smokers who started before the risks were fully known and continued the habit after warnings were being given. When I was a kid they went through packs of unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes each day. They continued smoking well into my 20s when Laurie, my wife at the time, spoke up at a family gathering and said we were all ignoring the fact that my father’s voice was becoming increasingly hoarse.

Her decision to be a voice of reason upset others in my family who weren’t accustomed to any uncomfortable conversations. But it got through to my Dad, who later scheduled a doctor’s appointment.

He was diagnosed with advanced cancer and given a total laryngectomy, which cost him his voice and left him with a hole in his neck. But it saved his life. And I’ll forever be grateful to Laurie for telling him what he needed to hear.

My Dad loved to sing, and I remember how it seemed there was always music in our house. As a kid, I learned so much from listening to my Dad’s renditions of songs that were popular when he was courting my Mom by taking her to dances. Ironically, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” written by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Otto Harbach, was one of his favorites.

After the operation, my Dad would never sing again.

I remember when we spoke, for the last time, the night before his surgery. We talked about lots of things, which wasn’t common since my Dad wasn’t much for phone conversations. “I’ll let you talk to your Mom now,” he would say as he handed off the phone. But not that night. That night we talked, knowing it was special.

After the surgery, my Dad learned to communicate again using an artificial electrolarynx, but I never heard his real voice again. I missed the way he talked. But mostly I missed his singing. There is nothing I wouldn’t have given to hear Dad crooning “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” one more time: “When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes.”

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