A Skating Rink's 'Ribbon In The Sky'

Originally published on February 14, 2012 6:16 pm

Valentine's Day is a perfect opportunity to play another song that evokes the winter season, given that so many NPR listeners have written in with songs that accompanied the first blush of love or the painful end of a relationship. Thirty years ago, listener Tracy Flynn was living in New York City — she now lives in Lewiston, Idaho — and on a trip to the Adirondacks, she met a guy named Billy, a friend of a friend.

Flynn wasn't interested, but he was a funny guy — a nice guy — so she said to him, "If you're ever in New York City, come see me."

"So, what do you know, a couple months go by and there's a knock on my door, and there's Billy. Not just Billy, but Billy in a backpack big enough to trek across North America without ever running out of supplies," Flynn says, laughing. "He looked like he had come to stay. I was a little alarmed at first. I kind of hinted around those first days and weeks to find out just what his plans were. Eventually, when he enrolled in a local university and got a job there and was going nowhere, I figured out that he was there to stay. He looked like he belonged there. I realized I no longer wanted him to go. He just fit right in.

"One January evening we went to the ice rink in Central Park. It was freezing cold out and the sky was absolutely clear. It was beautiful. It sparkled. And as Billy led me out onto the ice, [Stevie Wonder's] 'Ribbon in the Sky' began to play."

"Ribbon in the Sky" is the kind of song for which you should be gliding on ice, but Flynn says she was just falling all over. It still felt romantic, though — "so romantic it was almost embarrassing," she says.

"I realized right then that I could really fall for Billy, which, of course, I did."

But it was not meant to be — yet.

"I would love to say that we lived happily ever after, but it just didn't happen that way. After a few years, we hit a crisis that we just couldn't get past," Flynn says. "I moved alone to the West Coast. Billy ultimately met someone else and got married. And, for a long time, we lost track of each other. But eventually, my phone rang, and there was Billy all over again. It was like the years had never passed. His marriage had ended, as had my own, and I began looking forward to our emails and talks."

After all that time, Flynn says, "I was thinking, 'Thank goodness. I want him back in my life.' And now we find ourselves, nearly 30 years after we first met, talking about second chances."

When Flynn hears "Ribbon in the Sky" these days, "It truly means that when Billy came into my life, there truly was a ribbon in the sky made just for us. It's always been there, even though we lost track of each other and were far apart for many years — that ribbon is still there and we're finding it again."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Valentine's Day gives us a perfect opportunity for another winter song story. We asked you to send us musical memories of winter. And many of you have written in with songs that accompanied the first blush of love or the painful end of a relationship.

Well, today, we're going to hear from listener Tracy Flynn of Lewiston, Idaho. Thirty years ago, she was living in New York City. On a trip to the Adirondacks, she met Billy, a friend of a friend. She wasn't interested. But he was a funny guy, a nice guy. So, as Tracy told us, she said to him: If you're ever in New York, come see me.

TRACY FLYNN: A couple of months go by and there's a knock on my door, and there's Billy. Not just Billy, Billy in a backpack big enough to truck across North America without ever running out of supplies.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLYNN: He looked like he had come to stay. I was a little alarmed at first. I kind of hinted around those first days and weeks to find out just what his plans were. Eventually, when he enrolled in a local university and got a job there and was going nowhere, I figured out he was there to stay. And he looked like he belonged there. I realized I no longer wanted him to go. He just fit right in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIBBON IN THE SKY")

FLYNN: One January evening, we went to the ice rink in Central Park. It was freezing cold out and the sky was absolutely clear. It was beautiful. It sparkled. And as Billy led me out onto the ice, "Ribbon in the Sky" began to play.

BLOCK: "Ribbon in the Sky" by Stevie Wonder.

FLYNN: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIBBON IN THE SKY")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Oh, so long for this night I prayed that a star would guide you my way...

BLOCK: And you remember exactly the song that was playing as he stepped out onto the ice.

FLYNN: Oh, absolutely. I think I was smitten already, and I just didn't realize it. It was such a romantic moment. So romantic, it was almost embarrassing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIBBON IN THE SKY")

WONDER: (Singing) If allowed, may I touch your hand?

BLOCK: Well, Tracy, this is a song, if you're skating, you need to be just gliding in perfect twirls around the ice, I think. Right?

FLYNN: Yeah, in my dreams.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLYNN: I mean, instead, I was falling all over the place. I'd never been on ice before, but it still felt romantic to me. I just - I loved every minute of it. And I realized right then that I could really fall for Billy, which, of course, I did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIBBON IN THE SKY")

WONDER: (Singing) Doo-doo-doo-doo...

FLYNN: I would love to say that we lived happily ever after, but it just didn't happen that way. After a few years, we hit a crisis that we just couldn't get past. And I moved alone to the West Coast. Billy ultimately met someone else and got married. And for a long time, we lost track of each other. But eventually, my phone rang and there was Billy all over again. And it was like the years had never passed.

It had been 15 years since we had spoken. And his marriage had ended, as had my own, and I began looking forward to our emails and talks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIBBON IN THE SKY")

WONDER: (Singing) Doo-doo-doo-doo...

BLOCK: When you picked up the phone, Tracy, and heard Billy's voice on the end of the line after 15 years, what were you thinking?

FLYNN: I was thinking, thank goodness. I want him back in my life. And now we find ourselves, nearly 30 years after we first met, talking about second chances.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIBBON IN THE SKY")

WONDER: (Singing) And far more than a lucky chance, but what is that was always meant is our ribbon in the sky for our love, love.

BLOCK: When you listen to "Ribbon in the Sky," Tracy, and you think about the words of that song, what does it mean to you?

FLYNN: To me, it truly means that when Billy came into my life, there truly was a ribbon in the sky made just for us. And it's always been there. Even though we lost track of each other and we're far apart for many years, that ribbon is still there and we're finding it again.

BLOCK: Well, Tracy, Happy Valentine's Day to you and to Billy. And thanks for talking to us.

FLYNN: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: That's listener Tracy Flynn from Lewiston, Idaho. And you can hear all of our Winter Song stories at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIBBON IN THE SKY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.