TRUE STORIES — One of those times
It’s springtime in the Little Balkans and, thanks to our neighbor, Pat, we have a large vase of multicolored irises in the kitchen. Last week I got my tomato plants in and my son and I muscled old Mr. Banana Plant out of his basement hibernation to his rightful place in the sun near our old garage.
We now go outdoors without masks, the Royals are leading their division and, a couple of weeks back, I ate lunch indoors at a restaurant with my sister, Penny — the first time in over a year.
Best of all, last Saturday my little bride and I escaped the bubble and journeyed to Fayetteville, Arkansas to celebrate (without facial coverings) the 70th birthday of one of our oldest friends from the Republic of Frontenac, Jeanne Spig Cohorst — the one drawback being the detour through Springdale that brought flashbacks of being stuck in rush hour traffic in Chicago on LSD (Lake Shore Drive).
But another of our oldest friends, Neil Young, eased us along and framed the significance of being with old friends with the songs on his Prairie Wind album. Young spends the album reflecting on his life, friends, family, the Canadian landscape and Elvis in an old-timey, contemplative, acoustic groove.
He cut Prairie Wind in the spring of 2005 in Nashville, while commuting back and forth to New York to get treatment for a near-fatal brain aneurysm, so his brush with death colors the songs, “Feel like I’m falling / falling off the face of the earth.”
It also speaks to the illness and recent death of his father, who suffered from dementia, “Tryin’ to remember what my daddy said / before too much time took away his head.” As Young is just a couple of years older than me, and I cared for my dad in his last years, that line brings heartshot memories of the humor and woe we experienced in our conversations as his dementia progressed.
Young sings, too, about the comforts of family life — his kids, “Yes I miss you, but I never wanna’ hold you down. / You might say, ‘I’m here for you'” and the ultimate return to his rural Canada home, “Bury me out on the prairie / Where the buffalo used to roam / You won't have to shed a tear for me / 'Cause then I won't be far from home”
The ‘Fatevull’ gathering was in the driveway of another of our oldest friends from the Republic — Kathy Spig and her husband, Gary. Not just any driveway this, but canopied by old growth trees and surrounded by such spring horticultural color and texture that it had me imagining that Monet or Renoir might be up on the hill capturing us in an impressionist painting.
The luncheon also included Jeanne’s two sons and daughter, their significant others, two grandchildren, and Rose, who greeted each individual visitor in black Lab love dog snuggles and licks.
In keeping with the location, we feasted on an Arkansas spread of barbecued ribs, roast chicken, pulled pork, coleslaw, potato salad, fried catfish, and more. Then came the singing of "Happy Birthday," and hugs, after which they walked us out to the Pathfinder to load up and head back.
No detour on the way home so we made good time. I dialed in the Royals on KKOW and, as they were winning 11-3 in the 9th, I pushed the CD button and cued up my favorite song on the Neil Young album — “This Old Guitar.”
The guitar in the song is "Hank," a 1941 Martin D-28 named after its former owner, Hank Williams. The song begins: “This old guitar ain't mine to keep / Just taking care of it now / It's been around for years and years / Just waiting in its old case / It's been up and down the country roads / It's brought a tear and a smile."
Young is joined by Emmy Lou Harris on the chorus, “This old guitar ain’t mine to keep / It’s mine to play for a while / This old guitar ain’t mine to keep / It’s only mine for awhile.”
Over the years I’ve come to see the song less and less about the guitar than about self care, the passage of time, and death — as in, “This old body ain’t mine to keep / It’s mine to use for a while.”
Reflecting on the Arkansas trip over next couple of days I realized just how much I missed being with close friends during the lock down. Then I thought of Carl Jung and his biography “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” a study of his lifetime exploring anthropology, art, literature, philosophy, psychology and religion. More specifically, about his belief in a "collective unconscious."
Which is to say, his belief that there are occasions when the collective, healing energy of being together talking, laughing, eating and singing outdoors becomes something bigger than the sum of its parts; times when the deep, magical, ancestral consciousness of all humankind gets tapped into as well.
Last Saturday was one of those times. As the number of people vaccinated continues to increase worldwide, I’m looking forward to more to come.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-704-1309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.