Saturday, July 24, 2010

Still Grateful After All These Years

In our last episode, I posited the following: How many things in this life conspire to support us in our work, and encourage (or push) us along the way? It seems there's been a fair amount of both encouragement and shoving to get me here. 

Today's trio of support, encouragement, and pushing begins with our musician (Hey, that's me!) living in a big red barn in Lansing, NY, owned by Cora Kay Breary. Cora was at least 80 and still sang soprano in the choir led by George Damp at St. John's, Ithaca, NY. I also sang in the choir, was about 20 years old, and had no idea what to do with my life. I needed a place to stay, and Cora needed some help on the farm, so I moved into her partially renovated barn in late summer and helped out through the following spring. 

The barn had a wood stove, a great room, a sleeping loft with a seasonal view of the Cayuga river, and no running water. There were red, white, and black raspberries, elderberries, English and Black Walnut trees, a bunch of fruit trees, chickens, and two cranky old goats (there was another one besides Cora). I learned more about myself, farm living, and hard work than I had ever known. One lesson was how to work the stove so I didn't freeze. Another was how to kill a chicken, but I didn't have the stomach for that.

It was a long, cold winter, and I remember Easter's being early that following spring because there was still a fair amount of snow on the ground after church on Good Friday. I came up the driveway and spotted a large box leaning between the doors of the barn. I received few packages, so I figured it was a mistake, but when I got closer, I saw that it was addressed to me. It was from a music store in Virginia, but besides my aunt Carmen, I didn't know anyone in Virginia. Aunt Carmen had never sent me anything, so I was stumped. I picked up the box, which was triangular (what could that mean?), and took it inside. I don't remember the sequence of events, whether I fired up the stove, or even took off my boots, but I do recall spending every free minute for months afterward playing the cool, black, acoustic Epiphone guitar that popped out of that box.

Turns out I'd been to a retreat with Walter Wink some months earlier at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in eastern PA, and had met some people from Richmond, VA. I didn't really pay much attention to where they were from at the time, but on the Saturday night of the retreat, a bunch of us had parked ourselves in front of the fire and played and sang folk songs all night. I didn't own a guitar, so I was just singing along with everyone else, when someone asked the guitar player if he knew some song or other, which he didn't, but I did. So he handed over the guitar and we sang for three more hours. I hadn't played guitar in quite a while, and wasn't old enough to be very good, but I played a lot that night and we had a great time. I didn't think anything more about it until Cornelia Keller of Richmond, VA - my very first patron - conspired to send me a guitar. 

You never know what those gods are conspiring to do, but I'm pretty sure you can think of something.  
This fall I'll be returning to Kirkridge to lead a Sound as Prayer Retreat on October 29-31. Click on the title to visit the Kirkridge website, or look up the Sound as Prayer Retreat on Facebook . I'd love to sing with you. 

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