Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Sandbox

I want to get a sandbox for my yard. My twin grandchildren will be visiting me more and more and I think they will enjoy playing in sand at Grandmama's house. This afternoon, I roamed the internet looking at sandbox choices, and I found them in abundance. I could spend quite a bit of money on a sandbox! More than likely I will go for either a red plastic crab or a green plastic turtle (each with supposedly sturdy lid). I don't need Virginia Beach's oceanfront in my backyard.

Memories of our childhood sandbox rolled over me as I pictured the fun my grandchildren will have. In a shady, open spot at one edge of our backyard, my father constructed our sandbox. I remember his building it, so this must have occurred before I started school. He had scavenged some boards from our church during a renovation/construction phase, and he attached them in a large rectangle. He put the rectangle directly on the ground and made sure it was solidly sited. There it waited, no sand in view.

In a few days, a large dump truck stopped beside our gate. What on earth did that portend? The driver came to our door and spoke to Mother. They agreed on something, and he went back to the truck. He moved the truck so that the tailgate opened exactly at our by-then-opened gate. To our astonishment, he then dumped a load of sand right into our side yard. I can still see all that sand cascading out of the truck and piling up at the foot of our porch steps. After closing the tailgate, he drove away.

Now what? We had to wait until my father came home from work. He seemed delighted with this huge obstacle in our yard. Apparently, this pile of sand would move to our sandbox over the next few days as Daddy filled the wheelbarrow and pushed each load of sand to the box. The sand had even originated with one of our dear friends at church. Daddy had paid Mr. Robbins (who worked at the local hardware store) to send out a truckload for us.

Only a few days elapsed before Daddy completed the transfer of sand to the sandbox. We could barely contain ourselves. He had made a solid wooden cover for the sandbox and had put it on each night, so we couldn't even give the sand a trial run while he was at work. Once his work was done, we jumped in and began a stretch of years of happy play in that sandbox. Every night we helped him close it up,  and every day we helped Mother take off the lid. Our cousins would often visit and play with us there. It was so much fun, and even on the hottest Virginia summer days we stayed cool under that shady tree.

Each year, Daddy ordered a fresh truckload of sand and replenished the sandbox. We never knew when that would arrive. Yet seeing that pile of pristine sand in our yard came to mean that spring had come at last and summer would follow quickly.

Writing this has brought a smile to my face, remembering that sandbox. I can hardly wait to get out tomorrow and buy that red crab and set it up for my grandchildren! I hope there's room in it for all three of us.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Sweet Harmony

I have been travelling for more than a month, here and there, so the blog has suffered. Not that I haven't had access to the internet, but rather because I've only had my mobile phone with me and I do not like typing long posts on the phone. Now it seems as if I will be in one place for awhile.

Here's what's on my mind today.

Last October I spent a long weekend in England, in the very north of Cumbria, not far from Carlisle and very near Hadrian's Wall. I attended a singing workshop at Stones Barn, offered by Maddy Prior, a marvelous singer whom I've admired since I first "discovered" her and her band, Steeleye Span. The weekend brought many opportunities to sing and have fun with her and with her co-teacher, Abbie. I enjoyed myself immensely.

To put this in context for those of you who don't know Steeleye Span or Maddy Prior, it was rather like one of Taylor Swift's devoted fans getting to hang out at Taylor's house for a weekend and sing with her till you dropped. Really. I didn't know whether to levitate with delight or keep singing.

One of the most memorable times came on the Saturday. All the participants had gathered to share a delectable meal at Stones Barn, and after we cleared away the pudding, some rather ad hoc singing occurred. This proved great fun. Up to that point, Maddy had sung only one of her signature songs for us, earlier in our rehearsals. Now that changed. Maddy and Abbie came forward to sing, and were joined by Maddy's former husband Rick Kemp, a formidable musician himself and long-time member of Steeleye Span. My delight knew no bounds. (I didn't even know he was going to be present.)

What they sang doesn't matter here, although the songs were gems. What struck me was the absolute comfort and harmony and ease that permeated their singing together. This is a special kind of harmony, born from years of working through music together, performing together, and living in close proximity. I could see it as they tuned the rest of us out completely and simply became part of the songs. I could see it in their glances, in the inflections of their voices, in the phrasing of the songs. I watched them pass the music back and forth among themselves. They showed us what the effortless beauty of years of singing together looks like. They gave us such a gift and they sparkled. I will long treasure that performance.

Recently my friend Alice visited our dear friend and former choir director, Les. He hasn't been well, lives far away now, and has suffered many serious physical problems. We mourn the diminution of his vigor, his mobility, and his overall health. He and Alice and I and our dear friend Dan enjoyed years of sweet harmony together. Les was our director and composer and creative challenger. Dan was our solid foundation (natural for a bass) and lent his erudition, wit, and charm to the quartet. Alice covered us all with her lovely, lovely soprano voice, fed us, and bound us together with deep friendship. I held down the alto role and generally helped out with everything, as well as being Les's substitute organist at various parishes.

We fit together well for years. We used to say that Les directed us with his eyebrows or his eyes. It's also true that whenever I played the organ and Dan or Alice cantored, we had a similar harmony in that we could read each other very well. We had shared so many things, not just music, over the years that our harmony was sweet indeed.

All of this changed more than 10 years ago. Les moved to Wisconsin and then to South Dakota, Dan moved to the Loyola area in Chicago, I moved to Indiana, and Alice remained in Skokie. We have never sung together since then. In fact, Dan died last year and has left us completely. Never did we imagine that we would reach our 60's and find everything so different.

Watching Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp singing together, then, in October felt bittersweet to me. I recognized and treasured the sweet harmony they showed us, because I remembered the sweet harmony that my friends and I had shared as well. Alice, Les, and Dan, we were so blessed.