My friend’s father died last weekend. He was also my father’s friend, from way back. And though he hadn’t been a significant part of my life for a long time, as I wound through the hour-long line up toward the casket tonight, I realized that he was one of the voices of my childhood. Literally, in this case. He and my father were two parts of an old-fashioned gospel quartet. I was little, so I was always sent to bed early as they practiced out in the living room. But I’d crack the door, and they’d sing me to sleep. Songs like The Royal Telephone and Jesus Paid It All are so deeply grooved into my subconscious that I can still sing them nearly word for word, even though I haven’t heard them in years.
The song that kept coming to my mind tonight, though, was We Are Going Down the Valley. We are going down the valley one by one; going toward the setting of the sun. The voices of my childhood are beginning to be stilled. I was sadder than I thought I’d be, tonight. And yet.
If you’ll hang in with me on the metaphor, he was surrounded by a great chorus. His wife. His daughters and sons. Their children, and even their children. His friends, some of whom I’m pretty sure he’d known for all 80 of his years. And a host of minor players like me.
Also last weekend, I went to a very different kind of event. My friend Jen turned 40 this year, and she had a par-TAY.
The four of us there all went to Bowling Green together-ish. Beth* (pink shirt) was in grad school in the same program where Jen and I were undergrads. Rachel (black shirt) was a roommate to me and to Jen, though not at the same time. And Jen, there with the leis, has a strange little man growing out of her head. Pay him no nevermind.
There’s quite a chorus around Jen, too. I think you can learn a lot about a person by listening to their chorus. Jen’s chorus would sing (among other things) that she is kind, and funny, and loyal as a St. Bernard. My dad’s friend? I didn’t know him as well, but I know I’d hear about generosity and humor and love.
I’m glad I get to be a voice in your chorus, Jen. And however small a part, in yours too, Ike.
*Beth might give the best hugs ever. If you’re really down, you should go ask for one. Real hugs. None of this A-frame touching shoulders stuff. And she never lets go first. Better than therapy.