(How I Destroyed) My Father's Last Solo - The Holy City
I get a little emotional whenever I recall how I destroyed my Father's last great solo. I never wrote the story down, had a hard time putting the words to paper. It was 1997, and Dad had invited me to hear him sing at the San Anselmo Presbyterian Church. Mom had joined him in the choir for a couple years until her Alzheimer's made it so she could no longer remember to even mouth the words.
Dad's solo was unexpected and spectacular. I held Mom's hand down in the pews; Dad was high up behind us in the balcony next to the great Buck organ pipes. His near perfect barbershop tenor blew the sanctuary away. I remembering turning around completely and facing backwards in church to look up and admire the booming vocals and my father. By the end, both my Mom and I were crying. We knew he was singing for Doris, his love for her resonated beyond the high arching beams.
"Make 5 copies of that tape and mail them to your brothers" Hutch barked at me as I dropped the cassette of his song I called Jerusalem into the cassette player in my living room. "I want each of your brothers to have a copy so they too can hear my great solo". I hit copy and 7 minutes later, realized something was terribly wrong. I had copied the blank tape in B onto the original song in A, accidentally deleting forever the last great solo. Dad never let me forget it.
This is how he would tell it; "I sang a great solo for Doris that Sunday. "The Holy City" was the favorite song of our Presbyterian missionary family in China. My father Lyt and mother Agnes would always have us sing it at all family gatherings. We had a foot pump piano/organ put on the houseboat, and my Mom Agnes would play while we all sang our lungs out. I got a tape copy of that song the day I sang it at church and asked my #4 son Steve to make a copy for all members of the family to hear. And you know what he did? He erased it. Bwa ha ha ha ha. "
Hutch would laugh really hard at the end, driving a stake into my soul which spilled forth eternal regret. Sorry Dad.
Nine years later, on Easter morning, March 27, 2005, I go over to Dad's apt at 8:00 AM to care for him, he is very ill. I asked him, "so Dad, you are a missionary kid, your family spent 450 years in the Chinese mission as evangelists and doctors, do you believe in God?" He looked back at me and instead of answering he asked me, "do you?"
That was when I decided I should try and record the conversation; it might be our last, Hutch had little time left. The smartest man I ever knew never had a colon scan. Cancer was taking him out because of it.
I went to Hutch's desk in search of a blank tape to record our conversation about the meaning of life. Reached up to third top shelf above his desk, there invisible to all, I found four tapes. One had an adhesive white label which read, "SA Presbyterian Church, Sept 1997, Hutch's Solo". Really? I popped it into the player and put the headset on, it was Easter Sunday, 9:30 AM, Church was about to start and the organ began to play. The lost second copy had been sitting there for a decade!
In the tape solo, the minister can be heard talking over Hutch's singing, telling another story of song. He remarks that Hutch was in the Marin Barbershop Chorus. He tells the WW II story of Hutch and a new friend singing these same Christian hymns each night from a hole underground, the beaches of Iwo Jima. Hutch's fox hole mate had grabbed a guitar lying abandoned next to a fallen soldier who must have been planning music in battle. Hutch's mate was born near Shanghai of Missionary parents, they knew all the same songs. Against military orders for curfew and silence, the two young men sang each night the old church songs. Others joined in until a chorus of voices filled the night sky as each man huddled in a separate holes carved in the hot sand.
That Easter morning, I played the Holy City over and over again and heard the words "as the shadow of a cross appeared upon a lonely hill." Hutch finally asked me to stop, he was annoyed!
Dad lived for only one more week. we made his solo into a tribute video collage. Back then, it was just too emotional to play. Heck, it still is.
Because of the rediscovery of the Holy City solo, I was unable to tape Hutch's answer to my question if he believed in God and heaven. He just said, "my concerns are here on earth in this life, taking care of people, helping those in need, loving my wife and family, friends, strangers. Spread joy! What happens in an after life, I am not much worried about that."
Here's to you Dad, still singing in the Eternal City, rock on Pops! Rock on!
Father's Day - June 16, 2014