Monthly Archives: January 2015

Script

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Lost arts, letter scraps and putting pen to paper…

I read somewhere recently that many schools are no longer teaching cursive handwriting to their students, and I was flabbergasted that the world has come to this!  While the advent of computers and word processing has changed the landscape of written language, it seems to me that cursive handwriting is still a valuable skill to have in one’s communications arsenal, if for no other reason than developing a distinctive signature for legal documents.  For me, though, it goes far beyond the need for a signature.  I believe that cursive handwriting, whether it is especially beautiful or not, is needed for civility and a personal touch in communication.

I’ve been on a bit of a pilfering jag lately around the house, and as is usually the case, I haven’t always found the thing I originally went looking for, but I’ve found other things I had no idea were in my possession.  It’s like Christmas finding such wonderful surprises!  For at least a decade, Dad has been asking me if I had the recipe for Mama’s Sherry Cake, and I always told him I didn’t think so, but if I found it I’d let him know.  A couple of weeks ago in my search for something I didn’t find, I came across a treasure trove of old recipes, including Mama’s Sherry Cake.  I gave it a try and took the resulting cake to Dad and Carole’s for them to try and see if it was anything like Dad remembered.  It was a yummy taste of nostalgia, although Dad and I both seemed to remember a thicker coating of glaze on top, and we decided that Mama must have double-glazed the cake and didn’t write that part down.  I’ll try that next time I make it.  And there WILL be a next time.  It was delicious!

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Seeing her handwriting on that slip of ruled paper, the kind she always kept around the house for letters and lists and recipes, brought me back to the days when I was young, she was healthy and life was simple.  Typewritten documents, as neat and easy to read as they are, lack personality and don’t provide that sense of nostalgia.  My fear is that writing things down is becoming a lost art, and that future generations literally won’t know how to write their names, because writing things by hand will have become obsolete.

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I make it a point to write letters to people now and then, because I think it’s important to do so, especially to convey to them that I love them, that they are special and they matter to me.  I have boxes filled with notes, cards and letters from people in my life, past and present, people who took the time to write something down by hand and send it to me.  The recipes are another precious source of insight into the people I have loved, memories of food and caring shared among us.

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Computer-processed documents have their place, of course.  I don’t dispute that.  But I will always believe in the importance of handwritten communication, letters, notes, recipes and the kind of one-on-one exchange that only happens when we put pen to paper.  So, be checking your mailbox.  There might just be a letter from me in there…  an honest-to-God, snail-mail, handwritten letter.  I might even include a recipe!

 

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Sock It To Me

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A Mustang, a honeymoon and a surprise

Saturday, June 21, 1986, Sweet Pea and I got married and started our crazy adventure of life together.  His car at the time was a 1977 (I think) brown Toyota Corolla station wagon which, while it got him from point A to point B, was not a fancy machine and, at the time, I think the air conditioning might not have been working.  For whatever reasons, we took Pop Cutshaw’s newer, more comfortable white Mustang on our honeymoon.

Our wedding ceremony began at 4 pm and it was about 6 pm by the time we left the church, so, as planned, we drove to Asheville that night and then made the rest of the trip to Myrtle Beach the next day.  I don’t really remember all that much about the drive, except how much fun it was to be taking our first trip together and the excitement of being newlyweds.  And I don’t remember whether/how much I slept while we were on the road.  (I’ve had a long history of not being much use on road trips because I have trouble staying awake.  Traveling with the dog helps keep me from sleeping an entire day’s drive away!)

And I don’t remember what sent me scrounging through the glove compartment of Pop Cutshaw’s car that Saturday evening as we headed toward Asheville and the first leg of our honeymoon.  Maybe we needed a map, or I was looking to stash some small object.  I don’t remember why I went in there.

But I remember what I found.

“Reckon why your Daddy has a sock stuck in here?”

“A sock?  I have no idea…”

It was tied at the opening and when I pulled it out, it was heavy and it jingled and jangled like a tambourine band.

“Oh my gosh!  It’s full of coins!”

I untied it to discover that it was filled with mostly quarters, LOTS of them.  And there was a scrap of paper.

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“I thought you might need some change.  Have a happy holiday.  Love, Dad.”

I don’t know that most people would have described Pop Cutshaw as a particularly sentimental person…and his gesture might have been  motivated more by common sense than the “warm-fuzzies”.  He was probably thinking we’d need money to do laundry at the end of the week, drinks out of a vending machine or that Jeff might want to play some arcade games once we came up for air!  Dads tend to be practical people, after all.

All I know is that his thoughtfulness touched both of us to our cores.  Such a fun, sweet surprise!  Finding that coin-filled sock in those early hours of our marriage was the moment I fell in love with my new father-in-law.

Pie Jesu…Blessed Jesus

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Faure’, John Rutter, Mama, Doc and me…

I can hardly believe that it’s been almost 30 years since British composer John Rutter was on campus at Carson-Newman for a choral workshop to introduce his English-language edition of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.  I was a junior, my junior voice recital was that same week, and I had the distinct honor of singing the soprano solo for the performance of the Requiem, under Rutter’s baton.

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I was in such a twitch in the weeks prior to the workshop and my recital, I don’t think I fully grasped the magnitude of the event at the time.  One of my professors told me later that she couldn’t believe I got through that week still standing.  Looking back, I realize it was by the grace of God and lots of caffeine!

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(Me singing the soprano solo in the Requiem, John Rutter conducting, February, 1985.)

That week was not my first experience with the Faure’ Requiem.  I had performed it in high school with Knoxville’s All-City High School Chorus.  The soloists were adults Dr. Gerald Ballard, the director, had brought in for the concert.  Dr. Ballard had been my Mama’s high school chorus teacher at the old South High School some 25 years earlier, so I knew him at first only through Mama’s recollections of him.  I later borrowed his Requiem score so I could have the Pie Jesu for scholarship auditions.  I misplaced it and then forgot about it until it surfaced some years later. I value it as a prized possession now, and pray that my inadvertent theft can be forgiven.

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The workshop/performance at Carson-Newman was a highlight of my musical life.  Singing a solo with John Rutter conducting was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always remember.  “Doc” Eric Thorson had just the year before taken the reins of A Cappella Choir at school, and it was his responsibility to prepare us for Rutter’s arrival.  He told us that Rutter, being an Englishman, might be a more reserved conductor than we were used to, and to pay close attention to what could be very subtle cues from him.  As it turned out, John Rutter was a whirling dervish of a conductor, with flailing arms and an outgoing manner.

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(Rehearsal with John Rutter–I am the shortest one on the front row.  Some things never change.)

Flash forward to February, 1998, when once again I had the privilege of singing the soprano solo in the Faure’ Requiem, this time under Doc’s direction with Knoxville Choral Society.  My sweet-and-spicy Mama had died just a couple of months before, and looking back, I don’t remember what I was thinking auditioning for the solo that time except that I might not be in any shape to sing it.  Little did I know the gift God was about to give me.

Almost 13 years exactly from the time I sang it at school, I sang it once more.  The music itself was the same…but my understanding and experience of it were completely different.  Still very much in grief throes from Mama’s death, the text of the whole mass spoke to me afresh, particularly the words of the soprano solo movement, Pie Jesu.

“Pie Jesu, Domine,

dona eis requiem,

dona Domine, dona eis requiem,

sempiternam requiem.”

Blessed Jesus, Lord God,

grant them rest.

Grant them, Lord God, rest,

eternal rest.

At the end of Mama’s illness, she had suffered so much and was so tired. I told her that if she was ready and needed to go on, it was OK.  In my family experience and work with hospice, I’ve learned that it is important to give the patient permission to go; it can give them peace at the end of life.  My spiritual life during the end of Mama’s sickness was a bleak period when prayers didn’t happen so much as just anguished groans of my heart.  Had I been able to actually pray, it would have been for her suffering to end, for peace…for rest.

She died, and her rest finally came.  Standing on that stage at The Tennessee Theatre singing Pie Jesu once again, Faure’s music spoke peace to me as I took another step in my grief journey.  This is the power of Music…the power to heal, comfort, and transform our pain into something of beauty.