Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hickory Wind - From Where Dost Thou Blow

Many of you may wonder (or perhaps not) why I named this blog Hickory Wind. I first became aware of the song "Hickory Wind" by Gram Parsons when I heard it on an album by The Byrds titled "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo" back in the seventies, one of my favorite Byrds albums. Parsons was with The Byrds at that time. The song spoke to me, I think because it was a lament about a hark back to the fond memories of where one grew up and the romantic memories of one's youth. As many who know me are aware, I do tend to "harken back" fairly often. I value the past perhaps more than I should but history and looking back has always fascinated me. 

That said, when we arrived on the hill here in Tennessee there were many tall Shagbark Hickory trees, not pine, although I planted a number of pine. The hickory trees have become a bane. They drop nuts profusely and the hulls litter the ground and driveway. The riding mower scoots and looses traction on them and they also shed small limbs and twigs it seems continuously. They are so big and tall and there are so many it would be a major expense and/or effort to drop them and have them removed or burned. I live with them - as do the squirrels - who seem to enjoy them much more than I do. 

Anyway, when we moved here this song came to mind and the small hunk of hilltop we live on was dubbed Hickory Wind. In turn there was a small hobby enterprise I dubbed Hickory Wind, and a newsletter I issued twice annually by the same name, and finally this blog. 

In the song Gram mentions the tall pine trees, also the oak tree he has fond memories of, but only alludes to hickory trees mentioning the wind I assume that blows through them.

The Hickory Wind in the song is or can be analogous to any place you grew up and considered home, i.e. in my case, Cahokia and the surrounding area. I guess it can also be where your heart is anchored and fond memories of a time past. 

Anyway, that's the story of my attachment to the name Hickory Wind. It's a beautiful, sort of mournful song and when I hear it I'm drawn back to Cahokia and my time growing up there. Cahokia and that area will always be home. 

As a side note, I personally know Phil Kaufman, the "Road Mangler" who was a road manager for Parsons and a number of bands who famously or infamously stole Gram parsons body and attempted to cremate it in Joshua Tree National Park in California. There was a movie made in 2003 that depicts that event entitled Grand Theft Parsons. Kaufman lives here in Nashville (also a Facebook friend). You can go to Wikipedia or do a search for Parsons, etc. to get the full story of Parsons, his short lived life and his impact on music.  

There were many popular versions of the song, Hickory Wind, other than the one by The Byrds, One was by Emmy Lou Harris. Even Kieth Richards of the Rolling Stones recorded it. Richards was a friend of Parsons. Here is a link to Gram and The Byryds version 


And a version I also like by a soulful Bluegrass singer, A J Lee. If you don't know of her you should. Enjoy.


                                                          "Hickory Wind"

In South Carolina
There are many tall pines
I remember the oak tree
That we used to climb
But it makes me feel better
Each time it begins
Callin' me home
Hickory Wind

I started out younger
At most everything
All the riches and pleasures
What else could life bring
But now when I'm lonesome
I always pretend
That I'm gettin' the feel of
Hickory Wind

It's a hard way to find out
That trouble is real
In a far away city
With a far away feel
But it makes me feel better
Each time it begins
Callin' me home
Hickory Wind
Keeps callin' me home
Hickory Wind

Saturday, January 24, 2015

To Those That Came Before and Gave Me Life

Like so many of us who come from the Cahokia, Illinois area the traces of my ancestors range from Europe, via the eastern seaboard, through the great Smokey Mountains into Missouri and Illinois and also from Mobile, New Orleans and Canada following the fertile flood plain of the great Mississippi River to the St Louis area, once truly the gateway to the West. Many, many ancestors have contributed to my genetic makeup and they live on through me and in my heart as do so many of my friends I have made along the way. We are all linked either directly by blood or indirectly by way of the heart.

I often think of my ancestors and wonder if they know I do and how I try to imagine them and the lives they lived. And to thank them, and send them love, for without them I wouldn't be here. In honor of and in awe of the many ancestors that contributed to my physical and spiritual composite and of my friends who have contributed to my life I wrote this poem back in 1998 to try to  express my thanks to those ancestors who have gone before. Especially those I shared my life with and loved with a passion, those friends and family members we hold dearest, even those we feel disappointed with but have forgiven. The last stanza reminds us to not wait for our lives to end before saying those things we want to say to those we love but have held back for whatever reason.

What does it all mean? Or what does it all matter? I don't really know - but in some way I do. Today, I'm not even sure what this poem means - or what inspired it. It just came out.

Love by Spirit's Grace

This odd genetic potpourri, now living here in Tennessee
A double helix in the rough, and metamorphed from basic stuff
Chromosomes from mother earth supplied the pattern for my birth
The memory of each gene-wrought cell, sings of Heaven, stings of Hell

Many fathers and many mothers, have fueled my passions, shaped my druthers
Forged my body and tint my reason, gave me vice and set my season
A single transgenetic fusion with no forethought or collusion
A mating of the poles of nature that played no favorite, planned no measure

This spirit though it be misshapen, flawed for certain, but not mistaken
Exists as God must have intended, a work in progress to be blended
Melded with the lives of others, all are sisters, all are brothers
Interwoven into one, the blood of mothers, fathers gone

Man's spirit is where power resides, where mountains rest, where oceans tides
Do ebb and flow with every breath, it gives us life and wills us death
Oh Heart! You are the spirits brush, with love you paint the flower's first blush
With love you grace the sparrow's nest, with love you shade our final rest

Whatever time my final turn is, cast me deep into the furnace
Give my spirit back to God, and spread my ashes to be trod
By those who must their time endure, as I did mine and rest assured
The mind can only bare embrace the power of love by spirit's grace

Life's petals falling one by one, the last one bowing to the sun
Our home is where the heart lives on, not in this sack of flesh and bones
In spirit we are not apart, why even now you're in my heart
And I'm in yours and never gone, there in your heart forever on

So, don't wait for what the brush disturbs, give me right now your final words
Your secret thoughts you hold so dear, your finest smile, your smallest tear
Before you sets a pot of gold, so pick it up for it's been told
That once you hold it you will see, love is all life's meant to be.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Are We On The Brink of a Dark Age? 

Jane Jacobs in her 2004 book, Dark Age Ahead, warns that there are many signs that, compared to other historic downturns of  past cultures, can be interpreted that we in the West are about to experience our own dark age. One clue is this:” Greed becomes culturally admired as competence and false or unrealistic promises as cleverness”. Does that remind you of a corporate entity, political party or anyone you may have voted for?

In one chapter she writes this about conservative ideologues: “Virtually all ideologues, of any variety, are fearful and insecure, which is why they are drawn to ideologies that promise prefabricated answers for all circumstances. Every society contains such people. But they can exert considerable power only when they control public purse strings which are not subject to the principles of subsidiarity and fiscal accountability.”

Think of the prefabricated answers Bush, Cheney and the Republicans in control of their party had for Iraq and just about everything else they’ve screwed up in their eight years of control. Don’t make me count the ways the idiot-in-chief and his evil puppet masters caused pain and suffering for this nation.

Jane Jacobs points out that in 2000 when the neoconservative government in Canada paid a $200 tax cut rebate to each Canadian: “That is why librarians can’t be paid, or music teachers and teachers of English as a second language. It is why there are no low-rent rooming houses for (the poor).”  She says most families receiving the rebate ended up paying much more than the $200 in higher public service costs, higher rents, higher transit costs, and new recreation and tuition fees.  She suggests, “The tax cuts chief benefit, as far as I can see, is the emotional benefit they bring to ideologues.”

She explains, “At the core of this intellectual phenomenon shaping much but not all of Western culture is a moralistic belief that each public service or amenity should directly earn enough to pay for its cost. Thus each school is supposed to earn enough to support itself, through fees of some kind or through profit-making arrangements such as sale to a corporation of monopolistic rights to sell soft drinks and snacks. Such arrangements are called public-private partnerships (PPP or P3) and are much encouraged by neoconservatives and most boards of trade. Each artist is expected to earn enough in his or her lifetime to prove the art’s fitness to exist. Hospitals, transit systems, and orchestras are scorned as free-loaders seeking handouts (Ed note: witness public schools, NPR and NPT) if they can’t directly pay their way or, better yet, make a profit either for tax collectors or for a corporate partner. Greed becomes culturally admired as competence and false or unrealistic promises as cleverness.”  

Jacobs goes on to point out that the excuse by neo-cons for giving tax breaks to taxpayers in the form of rebates and tax breaks and cuts to rich tax payers and corporations is that it will create jobs. What the cuts instead do, she says, is “allows the neo-cons to buy elections”.

That is exactly what the Bush-Republican $600 tax rebates were intended but failed to do. I can only pray there are enough intelligent voters who are finally waking up to the lies and subterfuge practiced by the corporate-funded pirates that make up the Republican Party leadership and unfortunately, too many of the elected Democratic Party leaders as well. How many stupid, uninformed voters will vote for those who promise tax cuts and against those who promise true reform - real change that benefits all people, that benefits the nation as a whole, and not just corporations and those with the most money and power? We must change the way DC and the federal government operates; get rid of the cancerous corruption in our system and we can then lower taxes for everyone. The taxes we now pay could be cut in half and by much more if we could eliminate corrupt corporate control of our government and the outright theft of tax dollars by corporate thieves and dishonest elected leaders.

The Republican “Party” is over in more ways than one (as in “the party’s over”) as long as voters don’t cave-in to any new fears generated from strategically fabricated scares, threats or events orchestrated by those who see their power slipping away. Those corrupt corporations and individuals who have lapped up the gravy from the criminal acts of the Bush-Cheney corporate crime syndicate are not going without a fight and it will take a public uprising to get corruption under control and return the government to the people.
Whether the common masses recognize it or not, this is a nation in serious economic, political and cultural turmoil and it won’t do anything but become worse for years to come as the Obama triage team attempts with very limited success to stop the bleeding and repair the damage caused by eight years of Republican rule which has become a dark age in and of itself.

Rock the boat. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It Just Doesn't Matter! ~ Bill Murray from the movie Meatballs

I know that in these uncertain and troubled times there are those who feel that any actions taken to counter the divisiveness, hatred and anger that has permeated our culture are fruitless., that in the end they just won.t matter. They may feel that that the problems we face are insurmountable and that those who have organized groups to fight back against inequality, the the destruction of our environment, the erosion of freedoms, the attacks against our democracy and slide towards an authoritarian government or a dictatorship will, in the end, make little difference.

A few years back, on the Daily Show, one of their reporters interviewed a young Russian woman at the Olympics in Sochi, I believe it was regarding the Russian government's position on homosexuality. At one point, waxing philosophically, the woman said "If what we do doesn't matter - then all that matters is what we do." That struck me as somehow profound but much like a Zen koan in that I couldn't quite understand the meaning. I'm not sure in what context she offed this thought but after a little research I found that the likely source of this quotation is from the TV series Angel, the Epiphany episode (on YouTube) where the Angel actually said,"If there's no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters... , then all that matters is what we do. 'Cause that's all there is. What we do. Now. Today."

This scripted "epiphany" in that episode of Angel appears to have been influenced by John Ruskin who wrote, "What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do." That Ruskin quote is one I've tried to live by since I discovered it many, many years ago. It makes all the sense in the world to me and calls attention to all the insane religious, social and political beliefs we are exposed to and how the proponents of these hate and anger directed beliefs impact me and you and our world, the consequences of what the ignorant and misinformed among us do.

Now it becomes more clear and I can see how that little piece of dialogue from the Angel episode and the statement made by Ruskin might answer the concerns of those who oppose what is happening to our country but believe that nothing we do will change a thing, that it's too far out of control. If  what we think, what we know, or what we believe is of little consequence and if there is no glorious end to this - then what we do, now, today, is all that matters. For those that understand, that see clearly and think rightly, doing nothing, resignation, is not an option.

In any event, in the Angel episode above, the scriptwriter added a very important adjunct by having the Angel conclude, "All I want to do is help. I want to help because, I don't think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there's no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world."

Consequently, the quote by the Olympian being interviewed doesn't stand very well by itself. It needs to be preceded with "If there's no great glorious end to all this" which sets the stage of understanding and then followed by "Because, if there's no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in all the world ", which completes the idea.

It always befuddles Christians or followers of other religions as to how an atheist can be peaceful, honest, kind, loving and compassionate. What's in it for them? There's no reward - no payoff. What about goodness for the sake of goodness? Apparently Christians, Islamists and others have to be bribed to get them to dedicate themselves to doinmg the right thing by the promise of a "glorious end", a paradise of wealth and ecstasy - or the threat of the worst kind of eternal suffering if you don't "believe". An answer to the atheist's decision may be found in Pascal's Wager, an argument in apologetic philosophy which was devised by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). It posits that humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or does not exist.

On the other hand we all may be biologically programmed to respond one way or another to the genetic bi-polarity of the human potential for both good and evil. Perhaps some of us may lean to the evil side by chance of birth and have no real choice in the matter. Could "He's just like his Uncle Charlie" be a real condition governed in a large way by genetics? I think science will soon verify this and, in which event someone by chance is destined to sin against humanity, what benevolent God, who supposedly is solely responsible for creating this being, will condemn this poor soul to suffer for behavior over which they had no or little control? Reference Omar Khayyam/s likening God to the potter and the conversation of the pots in the Rubaiyat, i.e., “Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”

Bill Murray, as a camp counselor in the 1979 movie Meatballs, performed a scene that profoundly influenced me when I first saw this movie. When faced with the apparent impossible challenge of the poor kid's camp to defeat the rival rich kids camp across the lake in the annual camp games, Murray invoked a motivational speech to lift the underdog camp's spirits, a speech that ended with a rousing chant of  "It Just Doesn't Matter!". In this case it was  not whether they won or not - it was just the doing - just playing the games that mattered, because in the end he suggested it made no difference, "-- even if we win, even if God in heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field, even if every man woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just would't matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guy's from Mohawk because they've got all the money!' There is an element of truth in that conclusion but it should never dissuade one from doing the right thing - from acting in the right manner.

And in this movie you would expect that the poor kids would rally to win and hand the rich kids a thumping defeat. And that's just what happened!  They adopted the idea that it was not the end of the world if they didn't win, that it really didn't matter if they won because their lives would go on regardless. So, they relaxed and played with a zest and abandonment that delivered a win for the first time in the camp's history. All that mattered was what they did.

In the end, regardless what you believe or whether you win or lose may not matter. Just the doing, what you stand for, how you do it, how you play the game, is likely the only thing that matters, the only thing of consequence as Ruskin suggests. Being honest, the discipline of doing the right thing and avoiding the temptation to do otherwise is always the best choice. And as the angel states, even the smallest act of kindness may rank with the greatest acts in world history.

So stand up - get out there and RESIST!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Reflections on the Death of a Loved One.

Many friends have remarked to me that maybe I dwell a little too much on my loss of Margaret and they encourage me to get on with my life, “Margaret wouldn't want you to be this way“. I find it difficult to dismiss her that easily. You would have to be me to understand. 

Here follows an excerpt from one of Shree Rajneesh’s (Osho’s) discourses on how we process the death of someone close that may help:

“A death occurs in the neighborhood, but it does not touch people’s hearts. People simply say, ‘The poor man died’. But we are unable to brush it away like this when it occurs in our own homes. Then it affects us, because when a death occurs in our homes, when one of ‘our own’ dies, we also die, a part of our own selves dies. We had an investment in this person who has died; we used to get something from this person’s life. This person was occupying a certain corner of our hearts.

So when a wife dies it is not just the wife who dies. Something in the husband dies too. The truth is that the husband came into being when the wife came into being. Before that there was not a husband or a wife. When a child dies, something in the mother also dies. We are connected with the one we call ours. When he or she dies, we also die.

Where would we be if all our own people die? Our ‘I’ is nothing but a name of a sum total of what we call ‘our own people’. What we call ’I’ is the name for all the accumulations of ‘mine’. If all those who are ‘mine’ are to leave, then I will be no more, then I cannot remain. This ‘I’ of mine is attached partly to my father, partly to my mother, partly to my son, partly to my daughter, partly to my friends ….. to all these people.

What is even more surprising is that this ‘I’ is not only attached to those we call our own, but it is also attached to those we consider outsiders or ‘not-mine’. Although this attachment is outside our circle, nonetheless it is there. Hence, when my enemy dies, I also die a little, since I will not be able to be exactly the same as I was while my enemy was alive. Even my enemy has been contributing something to my life. He may have been an enemy but he was ‘my’ enemy.  My ‘I’ was related to him too: without him I will be incomplete.

What would be the point of continuing to live when all ‘my very own’ are dead? Even if I were to gain everything, it would be worthless if none of ‘mine’ were alive. This is worth considering more deeply. Whatsoever we accumulate is less for ourselves than it is for those we call “our very own’. The house we build is less for ourselves than it is for those ‘very own’ who will live in it, for those ‘very own’ who will admire and praise it – and also for our ‘very own’ and ‘others’ who will become full of envy and will burn with jealousy. Even if the most beautiful mansion on earth is mine but none of my ‘very own people’ are around to see it – either as friends or as enemies - I will suddenly find the mansion is worth no more than a hut.

Everything becomes meaningless when you are alone.” *

* And I would add, not just alone, but when the most cherished people in your life have died, those you turn to for emotional and physical sustenance, one experiences the ultimate loss, hence my feelings that my life has no purpose without Margaret. The “I” that I once perceived as myself is now only a memory, an illusion just like Margaret who no longer physically exists. That “I’ that once was ‘me’ died with Margaret and her death has left me a mostly empty shell because she occupied such a large part of my heart. That’s why I have told my children that I feel I am speaking to them from beyond the grave.

And in Matthew Alpert’s book,”The God Part of the Brain”, Alpert states:

The threat of death lurks around every corner, in every breath, shadow, meal and stranger. And though we don’t know from where it will come, we are condemned to recognize that it inevitably will.

In addition to this, almost as potent as our fear of personal death (My note: I’d say more potent if you truly love someone) is the fear of losing those we love. As a social organism, we are dependent on others for our physical as well as emotional survival. Again and again studies show the debilitating effect of isolation in humans. Without love we are generally pained beings. For this reason, we place nearly the same - if not more – value on the lives of those to whom we are emotionally attached as we do on our own. Consequently, we live in constant fear of not just losing our own lives but of losing the lives of those we cherish and love.

To this I add – Amen.

I lived that fear and I would occasionally mention it to Margaret. I would say, “Margaret, if you were to die I don’t know how I could go on without you”, to which she would always reply, “Gary, you would do fine”. Margaret was so wise that most of the time you could trust everything she said to be right. But in this case she was wrong - and I think she knew it.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Last Surge of Life

When my father-in-law, Ernie Skaggs, died a number of years ago we were with him at the hospital. As fate would have it my father was in the same hospital at the same time one floor above. My father, Lynn, had suffered a stroke and heart attack and wasn't expected to live. Ernie was suffering from liver disease and was in for treatment. 

My father had been in the hospital for some time and I had been visiting him for two successive weekends driving the six hours from Tennessee to Illinois on Friday evenings and the six hours back on Sunday evenings. My brother called early Friday morning and said that dad wasn’t expected to last the night so we had better come quickly. Margaret and I loaded our car, chose clothing to wear to my father’s funeral, and with our kids in the back we headed for Illinois with dread in our hearts.

When I arrived early that afternoon the doctors gathered us together and told us my father's blood pressure and oxygen levels were dangerously low and he was worsening. They strongly pressured us to agree to put him back on the respirator telling us he would die shortly without it. Seeing our reluctance they told us if we refused that his death would be on our heads because he would surely die without life support. We refused to acquiesce. Just the weekend before, after coming off the respirator, my dad had made me promise at his bedside that we not allow him to be put back on the respirator for any reason. He was adamant. We honored my dad’s request and waited at his bedside for him to pass.

On the other hand, my father-in-law, who was suffering from liver disease, had improved dramatically over the previous two days and was to be released the next morning. He was laughing and cheerful that evening; cheered by a surge in energy and spirit and anxious to be released. My wife Margaret and the kids went home with her mother that night and my mother and I spent the night in the critical care unit with my father, my mother in a recliner and me on the floor.

The next morning I left my father’s bedside to visit Margaret's father Ernie and was shocked to see him lying in bed, pale and ashen-faced, hooked up to a bag of fluid and medicines. “What happened”, I asked, not believing what I was seeing. “I don’t know”, he weakly moaned back to me with a look of despair on his face.

Ironically, Ernie died early that afternoon with us at his side. The funeral clothes we brought to attend my father's funeral were worn for Margaret's father's funeral instead. My father on the other hand miraculously improved and left the hospital the following week. He regained his health and lived almost four more years. He eventually died of a heart attack while on his feet following my mother across a parking lot. He died instantly the way most of us would like our lives to end and not on a respirator in a hospital as he might surely had if we had agreed to put him back on life support.

Medical history fully acknowledges that more often than not there is a notable surge of energy and spirit that precedes death, sometimes by minutes, or by hours or perhaps by a few days. Astronomers know the same is true of stars. Right before a star dies it expands and blazes with a surge of energy. Also, volcanoes, storms, and perhaps almost all life-forms release a surge of energy just before they die, perhaps as a sense of that impending death and a last great effort to fight it off – or perhaps just to go out with a bang. Just as we witness a candle’s burning, if allowed to pass naturally, the flame of life glows brightly one last time before it flickers and dies. 

Margaret left me the same way. Lying there in the IC unit she grew restless as she was just waking from surgery to repair a ruptured aneurysm. She was bending her legs moving them up and down and she suddenly awoke. I was standing next to her and her eyes opened and darted to find mine. She tried to raise her hand which was tied down. A respirator kept her from speaking. With one last effort she stared into my eyes as I spoke to her and then she closed her eyes and slipped into a coma, never to open her eyes again. One last flicker of life and she was gone. Our eyes holding each other for one last moment is a bitter-sweet memory that breaks my heart each time it finds its way into my thoughts. It hurts worse than anything I've ever experienced but at the same time it's one of the most treasured moments of my life. She was able to muster enough energy to say goodbye. I would give my life a hundred times over just to look into those eyes once more and feel her touch.  

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Miss Catherine

A good friend of mine, a successful song writer and former Nashville resident, Herb McCullough, wrote and posted this story regarding his experience as a Hospice volunteer. This story speaks to my heart and makes me feel inadequate in many ways.

Miss Catherine

Tired and retired after 30 years in the Nashville song-writing business, I moved back to Florida with Joann in the fall of 2004. In the next year and a half we were confronted with the aging, the illness and the eventual death of Jo’s parents and my Uncle Herb (yep, I was named after him). We were blessed to have that time with them and immensely grateful for the amazing support of hospice.

So, it seemed appropriate for me to sign on as a hospice volunteer, and I’d been giving my time as a substitute courier, with limited patient interaction, for nearly a year when I received a call from the volunteer coordinator, telling me a patient had requested someone to play piano in her home. When I mentioned I didn’t play piano, the coordinator responded, “So can I tell her you’ll sing her some songs next week?” I still don’t know why I did it, since I’d previously resisted bringing music into my volunteer efforts, but I reluctantly agreed to give it a try. Just before our call ended, the coordinator added, “Uh … this patient has a reputation as being a bit of a curmudgeon, but I’m sure you’ll win her over.” 

Thus began my new roll in life … sharing my songs with hospice patients and their families.
As I drove to her house, I reviewed the information I’d received from the office on Patient # ____: Female, 86 years old, diagnosed with esophageal cancer, severe osteoporosis, arthritis, possible Parkinson’s causing continued shaking in right hand. She was in constant pain, was unable to swallow solid food, unable to walk without assistance, was house bound, lived alone and had no family. And, of course, her prognosis was “terminal”.

I tried to smile as I arrived, guitar-in-hand, on-time for our scheduled appointment and was met at the door by a home care nursing assistant who led me into the living room. At one end of that room, perched in a large chair, was a severely bent woman I would come to know as Miss Catherine. She was wearing heavy makeup, large, gaudy jewelry, a wild, primary-colored floral print top, and shiny, bright yellow slacks. To complete her eccentric ensemble, she wore seashell-decorated gold slippers on feet which didn’t quite touch the floor. 

Just as I was thinking, I like this woman, and before I could introduce myself, she demanded in a deep, gruff, cancer-ravaged voice, “Where’s your piano? I requested piano.” 
After telling her my name, I explained that I was a songwriter, and had brought my guitar to share some songs if she’d like, or, I suggested, we could just visit for a bit.

Again in that rough voice, she commanded, “Get your guitar, then!”

As I knelt down and opened my guitar case she commented, “I don’t much like men with beards.” 

Frustrated and running out of patience, I turned to face her, and, as politely as possible, asked if she’d like me to leave? She looked straight into my eyes and, with a twinkle in hers, said, “Sing one and we’ll see.”
As I sat on the floor and shared that first song, a slow, smooth one, I could see her tired body relaxing, and I noticed her hand gradually stopped shaking. When I finished, she flashed a lovely smile and said, “I hope you wrote more than one.”

For nearly two hours that day and nearly every Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 or so for the next eleven months, I shared about every song I’d written with this wounded, perfectly flawed human being. She loved music! I learned that until arthritis and osteoporosis ravaged her body, she had played piano, banjo and guitar from an early age. We shared stories of life, love, loss, hopes and dreams. On more than one occasion, she confided that she didn’t fear death, but was haunted by the thought that no one would remember her when she was gone.

The last time I showed up to visit, Miss Catherine was sitting in her chair, wearing a house coat and plain bedroom slippers … no makeup, no jewelry and no smile. I was aware of her declining strength and vitality over the past weeks, and realized she was obviously too weak now to dress for our visit. After apologizing over and over for not getting “all dolled up”, she said, “Sing one”.

I sang my heart out that day, and before leaving, I gave her a big hug and told her I loved her. She told me she loved me. We thanked each other. l was not ready to say goodbye and didn’t want to hear her say it, but she did just that as she told me she knew she’d be gone before our next Friday visit. 

Miss Catherine passed away a few days later, and the next few Fridays found me at 4:30, on my porch, with my guitar, singing and longing to hear her say, “Sing one.”