CHIPPING AWAY

It’s funny what I assume about people with a mere glance as I pass by, interact or stand somewhere observing them. Silently, I make my pronouncements and move on. It takes less then a second or two. Sometimes those lightning bolt conclusions emanate from faulty prescriptions I’ve registered in my mind.

I like the Publix grocery store Pam and I go to. They have nice check out people who ask you, “Did you find everything you needed” and quickly scan your items. There are also people who bag groceries for you, and they will take your stuff out to the car if you want. It’s really nice, especially after spinal fusion surgery. Usually the people who bag your groceries are either bright-eyed high school students working part time, or older gentle people working part time or even full time to subsidize their retirement income. Possibly some have lost their jobs and this is a temporary financial stopgap for them. However, I’ve come to find out, these were a misguided thoughts on my part.There are other reasons as well.

So I’m walking out with Fred (that’s not his real name), we start talking and he tells me he likes this job simply because he misses working with people, but does not want the pressure that comes with most positions. He explained, “This is no pressure, and I’ve discovered muscles I didn’t know I had.” We laughed. I pressed him further on his background and found out that he was Chief of Operations for a large department store chain. He had been in locations all over the US and just retired two years ago. We talked a little longer, then I thanked him for helping me, shook his hand and we parted ways. Sitting in the parking lot, I googled his name, and sure enough…there was his picture and blurb about his retirement from the company, including a few other earlier articles about him. I’m thinking…this guy is bagging my groceries.

I say this because I was deeply shamed, knowing, that for a split second, I had this self important, “I’m glad I’m not you” moment, as he carefully put my eggs and toilet paper in my environmentally friendly cloth grocery bags. I was ashamed of my quiet arrogance, that briefly assigned him a lesser place in my mind. It doesn’t matter that it was a split second…it matters that it was in my head at all. These are lovely people doing honorable work. That I would even allow that haughty thought residence in my brain, quite sickens me.

These are moments where who I really am, come to the surface. You know… those thoughts I think I get away with…. because I suppose no one will ever know. I’m prone to let people see only what I want them to see. …But God knows my heart. That’s why He has to keep chipping away at me…..often painfully …in order to sculpt me into His image.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40)

BABIES, WEDDINGS AND MARRIAGE

I love this picture, I know it’s been posted before, but it just makes me chuckle every time. …especially the “me neither” baby! It reminds me of when Pam and I talked about how many kids we were going to have when we got married. We were so madly in love then. Oh, it’s not that we’re not madly in love now…. It’s just that it’s a different kind of madly. As I looked at this baby photo, my mind swerved into an oncoming lane of unrelated thought, and my ADHD engine was sent crashing into subjects of matrimony and marriage.

Well, wedding season is in full bloom, and I enter into a time of year that is…well…not my favorite. Don’t get me wrong…I love the people who invite us to weddings, children included. I just don’t want to go to their wedding. I have to get dressed up in clothing I never wear except for funerals and weddings. (There’s gotta be some correlation there.) As I sit and read the program, I talk to myself…”Well now…Pachebel Canon In D….WHAT a surprise…I haven’t heard that played at a wedding …since, oh…maybe since, I don’t know, THE LAST 5,000 WEDDINGS I’VE BEEN TO?!!!!

Pam senses my turbulence and pats me on the leg, turns to me, looks me squarely in my eyes and tells me to smile and pay attention. I really don’t like her telling me what to do at weddings…. so I smile and pay attention. I watch the intended victim…Oh…I mean the groom as he stands at the altar (They should keep that spelling of “alter” with an E…because that’s surely what’s going to happen to them). He’s grinning as he watches his beautiful bride as she walks the aisle…. and I say to myself…”Buddy, you have NO earthly idea!!!! So here’s two tips for dealing with your new wife….Just do what you’re told …and appear interested.”

Even with our biblical guide, which is for those of the Christian faith, the foundation for how we navigate our matrimonial pledge, the difficult goal is to get that scripture …and your lives… all synched up. YOWSA!!!!! Pam and I are still getting synched.

We were in the kitchen yesterday morning, and as she brushed past me, I pulled her back and gave her a kiss. We stood there looking at each other for a moment, and I said, “That’s a little different kiss than those when we first fell in love. As I walked away, I turned around and said, “ I think there is a whole lot more living in that kiss , than the starry-eyed ones when we first met.”

I think I fell in love with her before she did with me, and I think her prenuptial reticence was because she actually had some inkling of what she might be getting herself into in dealing with me…I always had the potential to self explode, much like a malfunctioning Roman candle that could blast off every which way!!!” Thankfully I have survived myself, and I’m so glad she saw the light…however dimly lit.

Well our children came along and life took another turn. We managed the best we could and then had that most grievous and erroneous thought. We’ve all had this pipe dream at one time or another… You know….thinking that when they leave for college, your problems would be pretty much over, and you wouldn’t have to worry as much. Well let me let you in on a little secret…. Your problems and worries are NEVER over when it comes to your children. Your problems and worries are NEVER over when it comes to your grandchildren. YOU’RE JUST GETTING STARTED!!! It’s only over when you get to the twilight of your lives, and your children suddenly realize that YOU are the problem now. 😮

Well, that’s all I have on babies, weddings and marriage for now. I hope you didn’t mind me venting for a little therapeutic relief. Thank you all for your patience and understanding. Cheers!!!

WHAT MERCY BRINGS

We were about to receive our final grades in geometry. It was the end of my sophomore year in high school, and my teacher, Irv Huss was passing out the report cards in our class. It was a festive atmosphere and the classroom was filled with gaiety and laughter. As Mr. Huss handed out our grades, he finally reached my desk. I will never forget him leaning down and whispering in my ear…”Greg, this is a gift …stay in music.” Thankful for his benevolence, I opened my report card and saw what mercy brings…It was a D.

I’m glad I stayed in music.

Failure and discouragement are part of life…. but God’s purposes are sure.

ITS THE LITTLE THINGS

As my daughter, Sarah and I wandered in from the parking garage at St. Thomas Midtown Hospital, we weren’t quite sure where we were. I walked up to a man with a hospital badge, very well dressed and had the biggest smile on his face. I inquired, “I was wondering if you could help us. We are looking for the admissions desk for surgical patients. He didn’t blink his eyes. immediately he said, “I’d be glad to show you where that desk is“.

Off we went down a very long hallway and it didn’t seem like our destination was anywhere close. I told him that if he would point us in the right direction, we could take it from there. But he was adamant in making sure we arrived at the right place. He was quite friendly and I ask him his name. He said “My name is Geoff Smallwood,” … I told him my name and introduced him to Sarah.

It took us a couple minutes to get to the admissions desk and we chatted along the way. When we got there, we thanked him, shook hands and he said, “if there’s any other way I could help you I would be most happy to.“ we nodded, and he walked away. As we were sitting in the waiting room, I wondered who he was. So I googled him and discovered that he was Dr. Geoffrey Smallwood, the Chief Medical Officer At St. Thomas.

This man did not know us from Adam, but if anyone understands anything about leadership, it is this. The greatest leaders are a servants first. So it is no puzzle why this man was in a position of leadership. He displayed and defined this term to Sarah and me .

I read his bio…This is an amazing man, and my encounter with him, a powerfully humbling reminder. Thank you Dr. Geoffrey Smallwood, for reinforcing the phrase, “It’s the little things.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. (John C. Maxwell)

GOODBYE SONNA ANDERSON

SONNA SAUDE

She once played the violin….I was her teacher in the 5th grade. I knew her as Sonna Anderson.

Her father, Harold, and my father, Corliss, sang in “The Plainsmen” together. They were a musical group of men who sang cowboy and some country gospel songs. A lot of their repertoire was from “The Sons Of The Pioneers.”

Her heritage was tethered to Scandinavia. So is mine. She was a champion for Sons of Norway. My dad cooked the lutefisk, and I played in musical groups for many of their dinners.

Some years back, after raising families and establishing our careers in states far apart, we reconnected on Facebook and communicated from time to time. I followed her posts.

Sonna was of Lutheran notion; a servant, hard working, caring, curious and benevolent. I know this because my writing partner faced a health crisis that became a financial burden. Sonna found out about a benefit concert we were having from one of my posts, , and generously donated to his medical fund in Nashville. She never met him.

In 1988, I lost my sight for a period of time, and I spoke about it on a visit to Bismarck at my home church. Sonna waited in line to speak to me. It was one of those special moments. Memories of the orchestra flooded my heart as I received her warm hug..and we talked briefly.

This lovely woman was brilliant, a distinguished District Judge, and revered. But most of all, she was my friend….and I’m very very sad just now. I mourn her passing, but I’m so happy for her in her new home.

I’m going to Norway for 19 days in May. I’ll be remembering her there….and that sweet smile. ❤️

BEGINNINGS

It’s a contemplative feeling I have as I look at the trees outside. From my chair in the family room, I see the towering magnolia in our courtyard softly sway as the wind gently brushes through her branches….and I’m listening to the music of one very dear to me.

In my earliest days of the music business, I began working in a small recording studio with Bill Townsend in Bismarck, North Dakota. It was called Tri-Art Recording. We recorded jingles, custom albums and did remote recordings in the local area. At the same time, I had the high school orchestra as well as teaching music appreciation and theory.

One day my partner was contacted by a fellow from Aberdeen, South Dakota. He was a Catholic farm boy of Irish persuasion, who was an aspiring singer songwriter. His name was Phill McHugh. I worked on his first album, and in those days I had to wear a lot of hats. I played piano and bass, bringing high school students in to play drums as well as for string and brass sessions. It was crude but workable, and we managed.

Then on his second album, we recorded strings at Pinebrook studios in Alexandria, Indiana. It was my first professional orchestration. and as I conducted these real studio musicians, I was scared silly. That album, “Canvas For The Sun” was picked up for distribution on Lamb and Lion Records by Billy Ray Hearn in Canoga Park, California.

Phil is a phenomenal lyricist and songwriter. He moved to Nashville, and we worked for a time together. Over the years, we have not been in touch but for a few ever so brief meetings. I remember that season with him. I spend little time living in the past, but I do miss that maiden voyage, our primitive ways, the unspoiled excitement and unbridled passion we felt as we created together in those early dreaming years.

One of my favorite songs that Phill wrote was “I Am Stone”. I so enjoyed him singing that song back in the day. That day is gone now….but not from my heart. Those were the days of my beginnings.

I AM STONE

You’ll be water you’ll be fire

You will meet my souls desire

As with all creatures on your earth

Your love sustains my birth

Lord of Jacob, Lord of Paul,

Lord to me and of us all

I am stone please use your tool

To make my life a jewel

I find life and love and more

As I follow you my lord

Holy one of Israel

No human tongue could ever tell

The glories of your majesty

And yet you walk with me

A BEAUTIFUL RIDE

I had a pre-op appointment at St. Thomas Midtown today and was scheduled for early morning, so I decided to Uber downtown. My driver picked me up in front of my house, and we were on our way.

He was very quiet, I asked him a few questions, but he just nodded and smiled. As we continued, I asked him, What country?” He told me he was from Venezuela, had been in the country for just one year with his wife and his name was Jorge (George).

He turned to me and said, “I speak not so English.” He asked me if I liked music, and I told him I did. He turned his music up…it was “Radio Ga Ga” and he got this big smile. We talked of living in Franklin and how much nicer it was then as he said, crazy cities”like Miami and Orlando, where he lived briefly. He told me he was starting a new Mexican restaurant and I told him about an instrument called a

charango I bought up in the mountains of Argentina.

I told him that I spent three weeks in South America, in Quito, Ecuador, Salta, Argentina, Bogotá, Columbia and Caracas, Venezuela. I also informed him that the only phrase in Spanish I really knew well from that trip. was, “Donde esta el bano?”(Where is the bathroom?) He laughed out loud! I learned that phrase in Mrs. Francis Spanish class. I think she would’ve been proud of how much I remembered.

We talked of music, I spoke of my love for Antonio Carlos Jobim, He told me he liked Hawaiian ukulele music and proceeded to play me “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” by an Hawaiian artist.

As we were listening, he looked at me and said, “Good music, good people, good conversation, good trip” We smiled at each other. It was truly a beautiful moment.

When we got to the hospital, I thanked him. and shook his hand….as I gave him my hand…he pulled me over and gave me a big hug. I bid him “Vaya con dios” and he nodded, “Amén.”

It was church on a beautiful ride.