Friday, January 18, 2019

More Music Memories




I have several favorite memories tied to one specific hymn: “How Great Thou Art.”
~~~
In 1958, I went to summer camp for the first—and only—time at Forest Home in the San Bernardino Mountains. I went with my three best friends: Peggy Boone, Joyce Thomas, and Cassie Parker. My mother was told I had “won” a scholarship, but I always secretly suspected one or more of my friends’ parents had paid my way.

Each night, the campers gathered around the campfire in the outdoor amphitheater to sing Christian camp songs. Usually the last one sung was “How Great Thou Art.” When I was there, we sat on logs arranged around the fire pit. Today, the area boasts concrete walkways and seats.
I will never forget the sound of the song echoing off the other side of the valley. It had become the theme song of the camp in 1954 when Dr. J. Edwin Orr, from Fuller Theological Seminary, introduced it at the start of a conference, and it was sung each day. It soon became the most popular hymn in the country. And it remained a part of the camp for many years.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made.
I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Chorus:
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze,
Chorus

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on a Cross, my burdens gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Chorus

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"
Chorus

The second verse always conjures up images of camp, the mountains, the music, and my friends.

I lost track of all of them for quite a few years. Then, in 2012 after we retired, we planned a month-long cross-country road trip. A week before we left, I was able to connect with Peggy’s brother and sister-in-law on Facebook. They gave me her contact information. I called her immediately and made arrangements to visit. We took a detour though Deming, New Mexico in order to spend a day with her. It felt as though we picked up right where we’d left off. She was the same and so was our friendship.

We continued to exchange email and track each other on Facebook. I had hoped to see her the following summer when she was to come to California for her nephew’s wedding. Unfortunately, she wasn’t well enough to make the trip. She passed away several months later, but I felt enormous gratitude to have been able to spend one last day with her.

I couldn’t locate Cassie, either. I finally contacted her sister, Cindy, who was just a year older and often joined us for activities. Cindy told me that Cassie was being treated for cancer, but she would give her sister my contact information. I never heard from Cass. She died about a year later, but I took some comfort in the knowledge she knew I was thinking about her.

Joyce and I are friends on Facebook. Her mother spent a couple of years in a retirement home near me and close to Joyce’s brother, Jerry. I visited Mrs. Thomas there a couple of times. I tried to get together with Joyce whenever she came to California, but we were never able to connect. Joyce’s mom died a couple of years ago, but fortunately, the two of us have remained in touch.
~~~
About twenty years ago, a fine gentleman named Don Miller, who was at the time a tenor in our church choir, told a story about flying alone in his jet plane high enough to see the curvature of the earth.
Don Miller
As a young man, Don had been a professional singer, at one time substituting for an ailing Perry Como. Right after high school, he sang with Pinky Tomiln’s swing band at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

Because of Don’s experience as a pilot and willingness to step into the unknown, he flew the acceptance tests for the first pressure suits to be worn by fighter pilots. The suit had been tested in the laboratory but never under real-life conditions. So, Don wore the suit to see if a pilot could successfully work in it. Don’s flew an F-104, which he took to the 70,000 ft. level. At that altitude, he could see the curvature of the bright earth, the dark sky, and the vast universe of stars and planets. As a singer, his only response was to sing:

“O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made...”

That Sunday morning, he told the story and sang the song again, a cappella, just as he had in his long-ago cockpit. No one who heard him could have remained unmoved.
~~~
My mother spent the last six years of her life in a nursing home, fading away from us as senile dementia stole her memory. In the last year or so, she had stopped talking. We went to see her in the hospital every Sunday after church. We fed her lunch as she was no longer able to do so for herself.

Me, Mom, and my cousin, Margaret, about two months before Mom died
After lunch, we wheeled her into the large living space/reception area, where a baby grand piano stood in one corner. I sat down and began to play her favorite old hymns. Although she had lost the ability to speak, I’d watch her mouth the words to each song as I played it. They were buried deep in her memory banks, and she brought them out whenever she heard the familiar melodies. Others—patients and staff—often arrived to listen to the impromptu “concerts.” Many sang along.

Usually, the last song I played was “How Great Thou Art.” As Mom mouthed the words, she often began to cry. One day, a caregiver asked if she was all right. I explained that the song was one of Mom’s favorites and had been my grandmother’s favorite, as well. Something in that particular song reached a deep place in Mom and connected, even if for only a short time.

Today whenever I hear it, all of these images and more return.

Do you have a song with multiple memory connections?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Attending the Funeral




Many years ago Larry heard an opinion piece on NPR entitled, “Always Go to the Funeral.” (https://www.npr.org/2005/08/08/4785079/always-go-to-the-funeral) I have always believed in doing this, and yesterday, we did so once again.

GABRIEL RODRIGUEZ

We worked with Gabriel Rodriguez in Japan on the Universal Studios Japan project in Osaka, where Gabe was a Facilities Design Manager.
His background was as an architect. The photo below was taken by Dave “Bowtie” Frolich. During the project, he photographed all of the project team—American and Japanese—and “wallpapered” his office with them.
After USJ, Gabe went on to other projects in the entertainment industry—often in interesting foreign locations. Gabe loved to travel, enjoyed the challenges, and did a great job.
He was a favorite on the team. Men are rarely described as “sweet,” but Gabe was. He had a wonderful sense of humor and made lots of friends. He passed away suddenly at his sister’s home. Several of us from the USJ team attended his funeral yesterday—a fitting tribute to the special man he was.

ROY FORSYTH

We heard about another recent death. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we worked at CF Baun & Co, an engineering firm in Alhambra, California. I was in the Power division, working on six nuclear power plants in Tennessee. Larry was on loan to the Power Division in Electrical Engineering, where he worked for Bill Forsyth. Bill’s son. Roy, worked in my area.
His best friend, John Osborne, was in the Electrical Section. The two of them were so much fun. The photos above were from Roy’s birthday party in 1979 at a local park.
A few years later, John moved to Tennessee to work at the jobsite. However, the job was halted, and he returned to California, where he went to work for Larry on his project. Shortly thereafter, this project was also cancelled. Not long thereafter, John didn’t arrive at work. Roy went to check on him and discovered he had passed away. John was thirty-five years old.
Not long afterward, Roy Married Terrie, who worked for me. (This is a fairly recent photo.)  Larry and I attended their wedding.
A few weeks ago, Roy died suddenly. He and Terrie lived in Las Vegas, and we haven’t heard about a funeral, but it would probably be too far to attend. If they were closer and scheduled a service, we’d be sure to go. Again, we were stunned at this sudden loss.

TRACY LENERT

I worked with Tracy at Downey Savings. She was in Lending, so we didn’t work together directly. However, we ran into each other from time to time. Over the seven years I spent at Downey, I got to know her a bit.
Around the same time as we heard about Roy, we also heard about Tracy’s death. She was much younger, and word of her death came as a shock. She requested no service, so we won’t attend, but we would have if we could have.
Do you always make it a point to attend funerals? Why or why not?




Friday, January 4, 2019

Music and Memories

Studies have shown that music is the last memory those with dementia retain. I know for sure that I have many memories associated with specific pieces of music.

Last Sunday, we sang the carol “Born in the Night.” We were introduced to it by our pastor at the Kobe Union Church in Japan, Gerard Marks. He was from New Zealand where it was popular. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGFdWeEq2Wg
Born in the night, Mary's Child, A long way from your home;
Coming in need, Mary's Child, Born in a borrowed room.

Clear shining light, Mary's Child, Your face lights up our way;
Light of the world, Mary's Child, Dawn on our darkened day.

Truth of our life, Mary's Child, You tell us God is good;
Prove it is true, Mary's Child, Go to your cross of wood.

Hope of the world, Mary's Child, You're coming soon to reign;
King of the earth,
Mary's Child, Walk in our streets again.

Geoffrey Ainger (1925-)

During our three holiday seasons in Japan, we became very fond of this carol. When we heard it again on Sunday, many images from our stay played in my mind: friends from around the world, sights and sounds, the long drive over Rokko Mountain to go to church, leading contemporary music, the Kobe Luminarie, other decorations, and holiday parties.

Another song Pastor Marks loved was “Our God is an Awesome God.” When it was on the schedule, we assumed he’d ask us to repeat it—often many, many times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wx3st6YjQBs
Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love.
Our God is an awesome God

Rich Mullins

One very special memory triggered by this song is the weekend we spent at Camp Sengari with the church family. The first weekend in September every year, the congregation decamped to this facility to spend time in Bible study, camping, enjoying the hot springs and the outdoors, eating together, and playing together. This was our first experience of the Japanese bath. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sengari_Camp

What we discovered was the Japanese bath was not so much about getting clean, it was more about socializing and spending time together. We had a Japanese-style bath in our “mansion” (mahn-shone)—our penthouse apartment—in Takarazuka. We only used it once or twice during our time there because the master bath in our room had a shower/tub combo, and we are shower people.

At the end of our Sunday service at Sengari, we sang “Our God is an Awesome God”—several times. It seemed an appropriate finale to a very special time for all of us.

The contemporary group at our current church occasionally chooses a song we sang during the years we led music at our church in California, or when we assisted in leading music in Japan, or even harkens back to the traditional hymns I learned as a child. And all the associated memories come flowing back.

Do you ever have memories associated with specific songs? What are they?