I digress. I met her record in a vintage record store. Digging through a sea of old records looking for a gem in an ocean of old vinyl recordings in every genre you could think of, was my hobby. I found her. Lorena Day.
In theory, once sorted into artist and genre, the albums in the bins were a jumble after years of people picking through them. I stumbled over the record where it shouldn’t be. I had heard of Day and that she was good, so when I found the record, and it appeared playable, I grabbed it and added it to the stack I already had.
Once home, I placed her record on my turntable and hoped for the best. Buying a used record is a bit of a crapshoot as sometimes the grooves look good, but it’s not damaged. I’ve purchased records that looked perfect and then turned out scratchy.
Her album played as well as it looked.
Sitting back in my chair, I closed my eyes as Day’s voice filled the room. For the next twenty minutes, I was in her world. Her voice was butter smooth, with the passion of her life. The base and background musicians filled the gaps in the music beautifully. After I played the second side, I played the whole thing again.
Fast forward through a few years, and I learned about her life and collected all of her records I could find. I was even going as far as paying too much for copies online and buying reissues of her seminal records.
I thought I knew everything there was about her. That is until I ran into her granddaughter at a vintage record store. When I pulled an album of Day’s from a bin, she spoke to me.
“You a fan of Lorena Day?”
I glanced down at the record in my hand. “I am, and I was missing this one from my collection.”
The young woman looked embarrassed. “It’s good to see someone enjoying her music. Lorena Day was my grandmother.”
This was my chance to learn more about my favorite jazz singer. I decided to be forward. “I’m Daniel James. I’ve become a huge fan of Day. I—I wonder if you would like to join me for coffee. I’d like to know more about your grandmother.”
To my surprise, she nodded. “I would like that. I’m Melissa Gordon, and I’ve been trying to learn more about her myself.”
That coffee turned into many more afternoons. Melissa, who reminded me of a younger version of her grandmother, told me stories about her career that never made it into the books. We spent hours discussing Day’s records, and I became increasingly intrigued with the singer.
It wasn’t until Melissa’s mother died that we learned more about Lorena Day. At one of our coffee meetings, she asked me if I would like to visit the house where Lorena spent her last days. I enthusiastically said yes.
The tiny house sat on the outskirts of the urban jungle we called home. Melissa’s parents divorced, and she had been somewhat estranged from her mother and grandmother. Now that both were gone, the house became hers.
We entered the house, and Melissa led me to her grandmother’s room. We were shocked to find the bedroom as her grandmother likely left it when she died. Photos of her performing lined the walls, along with a few solid-gold records awards she had received.
Melissa stood in the middle of the room. “My father allowed me to visit occasionally, but I was never allowed in this room. It smells like her even now. There was always the scent of lavender about her.”
I started to open a drawer out of curiosity but held back. Melissa laughed. “Please, you may know my grandmother better than I do. Please look anywhere you want.”
To say that standing in the same room that my idol lived in, surrounded by the things she’d touched and used, was not weird would be a lie. There was an odd sense of awe and fear I couldn’t put my finger on. I hesitantly opened drawers and glanced inside them as Melissa went through a chest. It was her closet that called to me. It was a sliding door affair, with the sliding doors covering one side or the other.
I slid open one door to find clothing cramped together tight on their hangers. One side contained everyday house dresses, coats, and sweaters. On the other side, a collection of evening gowns, many I recognized from her album covers and the films I had found of her performances.
From casual to glittered heels, shoes covered the closet floor, but what caught my eye was a stack of shoeboxes. Some contained shoes, others odd and ends, but buried in the back was a shoebox tied with a string. It seemed unique, somehow like it had resisted the assault of the other boxes piled on it left to gather dust.
I pulled the box out, and Melissa and I sat on the bed. I carefully untied the string and opened the box with a bit of fanfare. Inside were several packets of letters, each neatly tied together with the same string.
For a minute, I didn’t dare touch them. I recognized the scrawl on the envelopes as belonging to her, having collected Day’s autographs.
Melissa sat staring at the box as if she didn’t want to touch it. I was also hesitant even to touch them, but one of us had to do it.
She nodded yes and added, “Let’s go to the kitchen, and I’ll make tea.” I took the box and followed her.
We drank tea for the next few hours and read the long-forgotten letters. We became part of her world and how she struggled with her fame. Her early years as a singer were a struggle, picking up gigs where she could get them. We learned about the people she met, some who helped her, others who took advantage of her with each letter. She had loved a man deeply once, and he betrayed her, and we could feel her pain as she wrote about her lost love.
What Melissa and I treasured the most were the photographs that were also in the box. Candid photos of her as a young singer, some with the big bands she sang with, some with a man who we assumed she loved, some as she got older.
I had heard pain mature in her voice as she got older, and now I knew why. Melissa and I decided to keep her memories private for now but write a book about her life one day.
Now, as I listen to her music, her voice fills my soul with her passion. I understand her now more than I did before I met her.