Ongoing Coverage:
Winter Songs
3:42 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

Winter Songs: A Family In Limbo Looks To Brandi Carlile

Originally published on Thu March 8, 2012 5:11 pm

This year's Winter Song playlist concludes with music that carried one woman though a difficult season that would change her life.

The song is "Dying Day" by Brandi Carlile, and the story comes from Joanna Woodbury of Wauwatosa, Wis. It begins in an Ethiopian orphanage, as she and her husband meet the baby they hope will become their daughter.

"It was awesome, and probably the most difficult thing I've ever done, all in one," Woodbury says. At the time, the little girl the couple was applying to adopt was just 5 1/2 months old. "We got to be with her for about 45 minutes. I held her for 20, and then she fell asleep. We had to put her down and leave the room, and then take a 4 1/2-hour bus ride back to Addis Ababa, go into Ethiopian court and say, 'Yes, we want to parent this child.' "

A few days later, they were back in Wisconsin, where there was nothing to do but wait to hear that the adoption had been finalized. It would be a trying 11 weeks before word came through — and during that time, Woodbury says, she found a new appreciation for "Dying Day."

"I was in the car listening to this song, which has always been a favorite of mine, and all of a sudden the lyrics just meant something different," she says. "The lyrics are, 'I just want to kiss you, and I'm going to love you till my dying day,' and that I should be there to take of you and I can't be. ... It's all about longing and a little bit of hurt, and just waiting until you get back to that person. And that's how I felt."

In early 2011, the couple received the news they'd been waiting for.

"We got the call that we were to be in Ethiopia in a week, so we did some serious, hard-core, whirlwind nursery building, got on a plane and went and brought our little girl home," Woodbury says.

Now 17 1/2 months old, the baby goes by Nettie — short for Netsanet, an Amharic word for freedom. Joanna Woodbury says the family is happy, and that "Dying Day" no longer evokes uncertainty, but joy.

"It's such a celebration — it's her song," Woodbury says. "We sing it and we dance and we celebrate that we're together. I smile every time I hear this song now."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now, the finale of our Winter Song series. For the past few months, we've been asking you to pick a song that evokes a memory of winter, and tell us about it. And we've heard all sorts of tunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMING")

THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS: (Singing) All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIXTEEN TONS")

TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD: (Singing) People say a man is made out of mud...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENTER SANDMAN")

METALLICA: (Singing) Exit light...

(SOUNDBITE OF SCHUMANN'S PIANO CONCERTO)

(SOUNDBITE OF R.E.M. SONG, "SWEETNESS")

BLOCK: You've sent us all sorts of stories - hilarious ones, tragic ones, romantic ones. So thanks to everyone who wrote in. We're going to complete our Winter Song playlist today with music that carried one woman through the difficult season that would change her life.

The song is "Dying Day," by Brandi Carlile. The story comes from Joanna Woodbury of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It begins in an Ethiopian orphanage, when she and her husband briefly meet the baby they hope will become their daughter.

JOANNA WOODBURY: It was awesome, and probably the most difficult thing I've ever done - all in one. We got to be with her for about 45 minutes. I held her for 20 minutes and she fell asleep, and we had to put her down and leave the room; and take a four and a half-hour bus ride back to Addis Ababa, and go into Ethiopian court and say yes, we want to parent this child.

Three days after meeting her, we got on a plane and came home. We did everything we could, but we just had to wait and see.

BLOCK: How old was she when you were there, met her and held her for the first time?

WOODBURY: Five and a half months.

BLOCK: Tiny?

WOODBURY: Just a little peanut. She was a little peanut with a ton of personality already.

BLOCK: So what's the connection between this little girl - this baby, and the song that you picked?

WOODBURY: So we came home and it rapidly became probably the darkest winter ever. We didn't know when or if we were heading back to get her. And I'm not quite sure how it happened. I know I was in the car and I was listening to this song, which has always been a favorite of mine. And all of a sudden, the lyrics just meant something different. I felt like it was the song that was for her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYING DAY")

BRANDI CARLILE: (Singing) I left home a long, long time ago in a tin can for the road with a suitcase and some songs; chasing miles through the nighttime, making tracks with no time for looking back to the place where I belong. How these days grow long, but I'm on my way back home. It's been hard to be away. How I miss you, and I just want to kiss you. And I'm going to love you 'til my dying day.

WOODBURY: The lyrics are, you know - I just want to kiss you and I'm going to love you 'til my dying day and - but I should be there to take care of you, and I can't be. And so many of the lyrics were speaking to her. And it just became a song that I sang to her probably a dozen times a day, if not more.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYING DAY")

CARLILE: (Singing) When you're sad, you know I wish I could be there to make your sorrows disappear and set your troubles free. It's not fair for me to be this far from you, but I promise to stay true wherever I might be.

BLOCK: So you'd be singing that song there in Wisconsin, sending it across the ocean to this little girl you were waiting for.

WOODBURY: Constantly, constantly. Lots of tears while singing it. At that time, it was such a difficult song, you know, and it's - I don't know. I feel like it's all about longing, and it's all about a little bit of hurt and just waiting until you can get back to that person. And that's how I felt, like I just needed someone to call me and say, get on the plane and go get her. Just go get her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYING DAY")

CARLILE: (Singing) Time keeps burning on. How these days grow long.

WOODBURY: It was 11 weeks before we got to go back and get her.

BLOCK: What happened?

WOODBURY: We got the awesomeness call that we were to be in Ethiopia in a week. So we did some serious, hardcore, whirlwind nursery building; and got on a plane, and went and brought our little girl home.

BLOCK: What's her name?

WOODBURY: Her name is Netsanet. It means freedom.

BLOCK: Freedom. And you call her...

WOODBURY: Netsanet - or Nettie is the most common nickname in our house for her.

BLOCK: Nettie. And how old is she now?

WOODBURY: She is 17 and a half months now.

BLOCK: And how's she doing?

WOODBURY: Awesome. She's awesome. Just so verbal, so happy, loves to dance, loves music. She's amazing - best thing in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYING DAY")

CARLILE: (Singing) I left home a long, long time ago in a tin can for the road with a suitcase and some songs...

BLOCK: Joanna, what's it like for you to listen to this song now?

WOODBURY: It's a really happy song for us now. I mean, this winter has been an awesome winter because we're home and we're a family. And my daughter and I dance to this song all the time. My husband has video of us when we first took custody of her, and I have her in this little sling, and I'm dancing with her to this song. It's such a - now, it's such a celebration. I love it. I smile every time I hear the song now.

BLOCK: Well, Joanna Woodbury, it's great to talk to you and thanks for telling us about you and Nettie and your song, your Winter Song.

WOODBURY: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYING DAY")

CARLILE: (Singing) Time keeps burning. The wheels keep on turning. Sometimes, I feel I'm wasting my day.

BLOCK: The song is "Dying Day," performed by Brandi Carlile. And you can find all our Winter Song stories at NPRMusic.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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