Recently driving down the road, to a destination two hours south and a few decades in the past, I was playing Angel Band full blast. People in other cars could see me singing and think I’m crazy. Well, maybe, but my singing along with Emmylou is not sufficient to have me committed.
This is how I deal with sorrow. I was headed to the funeral for my cousin Wallace. So When They Ring Those Golden Bells, We Shall Rise, and Drifting Too Far are soothing sounds to my soul. Wallace loved these songs, too.
It’s been a long time since I played this collection; so long that I actually had forgotten some of the words. Jim and I both find comfort in music, and this CD and others by Alison Kraus, Ralph Stanley, and selections from O Brother Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain soundtracks have blasted away in the car on too many trips down that same road. For part of this trip we were in separate vehicles, and my solitary time is when I had the music the loudest.
As Precious Memories plays, I can hear my mother’s voice as I sat beside her in church. That song was one of her favorites and she and I thought she sounded like Emmylou does. Another album with soothing voices I sometimes play is Trio. When that plays, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and I join Emmylou to form a quartet.
The songs on those two albums brought me comfort in the drive to and from visits with my mother in the last seven years of her life. Visits when I didn’t know if she would recognize me; later visits when I was certain she would not. But the sounds she loved brought me comfort as they always had her, especially the song Who Will Sing for Me?
Once in the church for Wallace’s service, more music was part of the goodbye. A first-time experience for me was a lonesome harmonica playing. That, and the later solo were nice, but I missed the Bethel Boys, a foursome of local men who have harmonized at several farewells in my hometown. In answer to Emmylou’s question above, the Bethel Boys (and the entire congregation) sang for my mother.
We buried a lot of knowledge today. Wallace knew where everyone was buried, who owned which plots in the cemetery, which family owned what farm and who had owned it before them. In recent years, a visit to Wallace might include a ride around the county. Wallace would narrate a rolling history lesson with detours to check every neighbor’s crops. He knew who lived in this house or that, who built the house and when, whose dog bit someone in the yard, who had been arrested.
I had learned to take a list of questions and a recorder on some visits. But I’m already wondering what questions will come up this week that Wallace could have answered.
One of the preachers said that “Wallace lived 87 years and I don’t know that he ever made anyone mad except Miz Dot.” I’m sure that’s correct. And, I don’t think he ever said no when someone asked for help with anything.
The next generation has asked for some “Wallace stories.” Here are a couple:
When he was a lad, Wallace stayed with my parents for a few days, maybe his mother was sick, I’m not sure why. At breakfast one morning, he remarked, “Aunt Cleo, your biscuits taste alright, but you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.” My Daddy quoted that line over many years, always with a twinkle in his eye.
When I was a child, my bicycle broke. I don’t know how that happened – I don’t remember a crash. Daddy’s suggestion was that I ride a unicycle. But since the pedals were on one portion and the seat on the other, that wasn’t going to work. Wallace had added welding to his list of skills needed on the farm. He reattached the two halves of my bike and I was a happy little girl. Wheels, whee, freedom!
A fine honest man, a community leader, a foster father to many children, one shining example of humility, integrity, compassion, is no longer with us. In the far off great forever, beyond the shining river, they are ringing golden bells for Wallace.
Photo: Wallace as a boy, maybe about the age of the “sopping syrup” remark. Circa 1937.