Monthly Archives: September 2012

Singing a joyful noise

From the time I was about 5 years old I sang in the choir at church.   Mrs. Sharp… yes, her name was Sharp… that taught me piano lessons… mentioned in previous post, was also the person at our church responsible for the children’s choir.  I remember wearing those white smock tops with great big red bows around our necks.  I felt so silly but I always enjoyed singing in that little choir.  We actually were pretty good and did 2 part harmonies even at that age.  I was impressed.  There were 3 songs in particular that I remember us doing.  One was entitled “Brother James Air”.  It was light and well…. airy.  The other songs that I remember were both Christmas songs… one was “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” and the other was “The Friendly Beast”.  The reason I remember this so clearly is I had solos in both of them.  I was scared to death but I got through them both without passing out thank goodness!

When we moved to Elizabeth City my singing career continued in the children’s choir at First United Methodist Church.   The years in that particular choir weren’t all that memorable to me for some reason.  I just seemed to get through them.  I did always enjoy the holiday music the most.  Usually we would do something in conjunction with the adult choir which was always nice.

As I got older and started participating in our youth group, we were lucky enough to have an associate minister that was truly a musician.  He formed a group with those of us that were high school age.  We did more contemporary stuff but we also did a lot of music a cappella.  This was my favorite group with which I sang.   We always had a good time and not to brag too much… we were pretty good.  I particularly remember our version of “Carol of the Bells” and “Break Forth, Oh Beauteous Heavenly Light”.  The harmonies in “Carol” were just so nice.. and the presentation in “Break Forth” was awesome.  We would start out with just candles light in the sanctuary and the have someone bring up the house lights as we were singing.  It was a great effect.

By the time we got to my senior year of high school, the minister behind the choir had moved on and most of the best voices were in the classes ahead of me so it all just seemed to fade away.

I haven’t sung in a choir or group since then but I did do a little gig with some friends in college every now and then which was fun.  Isn’t it strange how things like that just seem to disappear from our lives sometimes?  I sometimes think about doing it again… but then again, it wouldn’t be the same I’m sure… but just maybe…. it really wouldn’t have to be….

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A place to rest… and remember…

The Sentinel at the Gate

At the south end of Road St. where it runs into Pear tree Rd, is a memorial to my family.  Actually, it isn’t a memorial to my family exactly… this is the location of the Old Hollywood Cemetery.  I have to say that as far as cemeteries go, this one is really good.  It isn’t like the cemeteries of today where all of the markers are flat to the ground with just flower urns sticking out of the ground where you have to actually be standing over the grave site to read the marker.   No, this is the old type… where every headstone is different and unique with wonderful epithets.. tributes to great lives lived and lost over the passing centuries.  Some of these stones look brand new and others are so weathered you can’t even make out the names on them.

There is a gate, which is closed at sunset daily, pillared on either side by 2 huge stone columns letting you know that you are entering a wonderfully sacred place.  There are huge oak trees shading parts of the graves while others never even experience the shadow of adjacent stones.

I suppose there are places of prominence here but you really can’t sense it once you are inside and riding up and down the rows.  I have attended more funerals here than I can remember… and shed more tears here than just about anywhere else.  Many of my family members are buried here… and just looking at the last names as you ride or walk around you see all the names that made my home town what it was and is today.

It is strange, but I find a certain comfort here… a connection with my past… with family members I never knew but I heard about… and grandparents that I miss so badly some days that it brings me to tears.  And so I try to visit when I can… to just walk around and look… and stand… and remember.  And once I’m finished there… I head across the Pear Tree Rd… to the New Hollywood Cemetery…. apparently there were a bunch of us that felt a true connection to this place on the narrows of the Pasquotank..

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A Bonus Track…

Life can be funny some times.  Just yesterday I was writing about running track in high school and experiencing “18” again… if only for a split second and then this morning I am on the tread mill getting ready to start running… and I was thinking about how I really didn’t want to do that today.  I knew my knees were going to be sore and I am still fighting with plantar faciitis (very painful ligament issue under your foot) and I almost talked myself out of it.  Who was going to know, right?

But I decided, no…. I had gotten up (getting up may be an issue but waking up hasn’t been for years… but that’s another blog for another day!) and driven the 40 miles to the gym so I might as well do at least some of what I had thought I would do.

So I start out and suddenly I’m feeling it in my thighs… and my knees and my ankles and I start saying to myself.. “See, I told you not to do this, you big idiot!  When are you going to start listening to me?”  But I kept on going… because the reality is I had been listening to that voice in my head for the better part of 35 years… and I’m tired of it.

So I pushed on… and suddenly all the pain was gone… I felt fine.  My breathing settled into a nice rhythm.  I closed my eyes and drifted off into the tunes on my ipod.  I could feel the sweat streaming down my face, burning my eyes as it ran into them.  But it didn’t seem to matter.  When all of a sudden, I heard the words below…  I am sure you have heard them… this is a song by Bob Seger.

And so today… I felt “18” for a little longer than a split second.  Thanks, Bob.. it was a great run.. 5 miles in 53:40…  and you know what…. I STILL believe in my dreams! 

Stood there boldly
Sweatin’ in the sun
Felt like a million
Felt like number one
The height of summer
I’d never felt that strong
Like a rock

I was eighteen
Didn’t have a care
Working for peanuts
Not a dime to spare
But I was lean and
Solid everywhere
Like a rock

My hands were steady
My eyes were clear and bright
My walk had purpose
My steps were quick and light
And I held firmly
To what I felt was right
Like a rock

Like a rock, I was strong as I could be
Like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me
Like a rock, I was something to see
Like a rock

And I stood arrow straight
Unencumbered by the weight
Of all these hustlers and their schemes
I stood proud, I stood tall
High above it all
I still believed in my dreams

Twenty years now
Where’d they go?
Twenty years
I don’t know
Sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they’ve gone

And sometimes late at night
When I’m bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin’ a ghostly white
And I recall
I Recall

Like a rock. standin’ arrow straight
Like a rock, chargin’ from the gate
Like a rock, carryin’ the weight
Like a rock

Lihe a rock, the sun upon my skin
Like a rock, hard against the wind
Like a rock, I see myself again
Like a rock

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For just a split second…..

I ran track my sophomore year in high school.  I was a half miler.  I had never competed in a sport like that before… well I did play some basketball at the boys club back in the 6th grade but this was the only thing I ever did that involved other schools.

It was strange to run track back then.  Mainly because we didn’t have one… that is we didn’t have a track.  I guess the school system just didn’t have the money for a football field and a track at the time the school was built so all of our track meets were on the road.  To practice we did conditioning work in the gym and when it was warm enough and not raining we would run around the big field out behind the gym.  I think there are tennis courts there now.

I can remember they had marked off what they thought was about what a quarter mile would be and we ran it until we ran a path down into the grass.  It was tough training but I did love traveling to the meets.  It was difficult for me, not being one that had learned much about how teams worked… about being confident in yourself… about working your hardest during practice so that the meets themselves weren’t so difficult.

It’s unfortunate that when I was young… and in possession of that 18 year old body… that I didn’t understand what it was I had… but you know something…. I am glad that I have at least developed the knowledge to understand it…. although it’s almost 40 years later…

So I’ll get up in the morning and once again… continue to work at whipping this 53 year old body into the best shape it can be… and while I’m on that tread mill in the middle of that 5 miles I will close my eyes and for a brief moment… I’ll reach back and feel 18 again… if only for that split second….

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My First Last…

Okay, before you read any further, you may want to go back and read my May 26th post.  Just kinda sets the stage for this one.

It was the fall of 1974 and we were in our first year at the high school.  Things were a little awkward as you can imagine but we were all trying to fit in.  And on top of that, I had recently had my first kiss and was on cloud nine.  So life was exciting, and stressful and anxious and happy and terrifying all at the same time.

Lucky for me, the love of my life was in several of my classes so we got to spend lots of time together.  And every weekend I would ride my bike over to her house so that we had even more time together.  Life was perfect…  well, not quite.

As the school year moved along it became obvious to me that my commitment to academics wasn’t where it should have been.  Granted we weren’t that far into the school year yet but hey… somethings are just real obvious… even to someone like me.

Life had gotten pretty crazy.  Back in June of this year, my dad and I had taken my grandfather to the hospital, I had moved in with my grandmother to look after her, I had fallen in love, and had gone off to high school… it was all a bit much.  But having a girlfriend make a lot of difference.

That was until we got into November.  I could tell that something wasn’t quite right but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  I couldn’t put my finger on it but for sure, things were changing.  It was all very subtle.  There wasn’t anything specifically I could point at but I could just sense something.  But I wanted to ignore it… to pretend that nothing was changing… that things were still just as wonderful.

We were coming up on the Christmas break.  It was Monday, December 16th.  Everyone seemed excited about the coming holidays and yet I kinda felt blue.  That happens from time to time at the holidays I guess.  But in any case, we were sitting in algebra class right after lunch.  She sat right behind me and sometimes we would pass notes during class.  As class was going along, she tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a note.  I didn’t read it right away but eventually I did open it… my heart fell into my stomach.  The only thing that was written on the note was a lone word…. it just said “bye”… nothing else.  I looked back at her and she just shrugged her shoulders.  And that was the end of it.

After class we went our separate ways.  I was just numb… at a total loss as to what had happened.  This was new territory for me… just like the kiss.  The walk home that afternoon was exceptionally long.  As I rounded the corner coming up the street to mom and dad’s house, I noticed dad’s car was home.  That never happened on a Monday so I thought this was strange.  Dad met me at the door and said…  “Papa died.”

Yeah, there are those days in everyone’s life… and this one was definitely one for me….  Surely there couldn’t be more days like this, could there?

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Sure glad I wasn’t like that….

You all know them.  Many of you have them yourselves.  And you know what a pain they can be.  I’m talking about those people that are relatively close to you in age… shared your last name when you were younger…. and made your life just a living hell.

If they are older they could cast one heck of a shadow that was hard to get your light to shine outside of it.  And you are constantly reminded by the world that they are ahead of you… in EVERYTHING!   How many times did we all hear “Oh, you’re so and so’s little brother / sister”.  Crap, you knew right then that things weren’t  going to go well.  They were always the better athlete, setting world records and such… or a better student, scoring a gazillion on the SATs, president of the student body and most popular teenager ever… or they were first chair playing every instrument in the band simultaneously…  or God forbid, they were all of these things combined.  Well, maybe they weren’t all of that but it sure seemed that way.

And if they are younger they are just irritating little brats that are all in your business without ever being invited to be a part of things.  You could be talking with your friends, trying to exude the coolness that was totally you… and there they would be… saying something lame or doing something stupid.. or picking their nose or something equally grotesque.

And so the battles would rage, yelling, screaming, everything just short of physical violence… either that or there would be nothing at all…. a total void of contact and communication… as if the two of you lived on different planets…. in different solar systems… in different universes.

And then it would happen… the change would start to occur.  Or maybe it would be more abrupt.  But it always seem to coincide with the elder one moving out.  It is amazing how age and distance can actually improve one’s perspective on things.

So, as my sister got older.. and I guess that means I did too, it is amazing how we could actually have conversations that were  civilized and had some substance to them.  I began to develop an appreciation and respect that didn’t exist when I was younger.

I have just come to the realization that while she was all of those things I listed above that an older sibling can be… I guess that made me the younger one to her… Thank goodness we survived it all…

And now we are at a time in life when we have spent the last 10 years or so parenting our parents…. And it is amazing how, with each passing year, we seem to get closer and closer.  I am so grateful for this relationship now… and can’t think of anyone  that I would rather share this part of my life with… Sis… you are the best!

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A bike, a trike and a call for help.. really, I wasn’t being a baby… honest….

When last we saw the tricycle it was being cleaned up with a little kerosene on a rag… trying to get the tar off of it.  Also, the owner of this small steed of freedom was also attempting to become de-tarred… as he was simultaneously receiving a lecture for failure to listen to his mother… for the four millionth time.

Once the tricycle and its owner have recovered from the tar… and the lecture / “other” communications his mother felt was necessary, they were once again out on the road.  Yes, out on the newly paved road so now the frontier had expanded.  It was now much easier to get up and down the road without having to fight the stones that could stop a tricycle dead in its tracks.

At the same time the happy wanderer was once again on the road… so was his sister… and her best friend… on their two wheeled stallions.. which were much much faster and sleeker… and the envy of a tri-cyclist… but it didn’t stop him from trying to go and do the things that they did.

So one day, they were at the top of the hill just up from the house.  Well, it really wasn’t a hill but just a slight rise but when you are 4 or 5 everything seems like a hill if it isn’t flat.  the sister and her friend had turned around and were coming back down the rise so little brother (that would be me, if you hadn’t figured it out yet) turned around and started pedaling hard.  Since I was so far behind them going up the incline, I was now out in front and wanted to beat the two of them back to the house.  No matter how hard I pedaled though, they were closing on me faster and faster.

My sister yelled for me to get out of her way but I couldn’t do it.  I’m not exactly sure what happened next…. all I know is I ended up on the street on my stomach… the trike on top of me…. the bike on top of it… and my sister on top of it all.

I would love to tell you that I was super tough… and macho… but… I wasn’t.  I screamed like my arm had been torn from my body.  My sister would have to fill in a lot of the details from here but I do know that she was unconscious…. and that my parents and a neighbor had to rush her to the hospital where  she spent the next several days or a week recovering from the accident.  I… on the other hand…. was perfectly fine.  Not a scratch on me or my trike.   Guess we were both pretty tough… good thing I was calling for someone to come help my sister huh?

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