Saturday, December 10, 2011


This blog consists mainly of sample chapters of my book. I may be adding or deleting certain chapters as time goes by. The first chapters are at the bottom, so you will need to keep clicking where it says "older posts" if you want to start at the beginning of the story.
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter 16

Chapter 16
Concerts and Recordings

On our way out to the farm that evening, the four of us siblings burst into spontaneous singing as we often did. It was nice to have a fourth-part to our harmony, now that Reed was old enough to chime in. Two of our favorites were “Operator” and “Bad Connection,” which we put together into one medley, because both had a central theme that talked about getting Jesus on your “telephone line.” We usually managed to work in an old hymn or two as well, which always reminded us of Grandma Hoffman, who had so much enjoyed hearing us sing the great classics like “Amazing Grace,” or “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

"Reed, take your inhaler," Kim commanded, as an audible wheeze came through on the final note of "Inside Out," a tune originally sung by Londa Lundstrom.

"Oh, don't be so picky. A wheeze now and then doesn't hurt anything," Reed complained. But he dutifully took it out of his pocket and did as he was told. He was usually able to keep his asthma under control with his inhaler and the occasional use of his breathing machine, although late-night trips to the emergency room weren’t unheard of either. Reed never fussed about it though, even when his breathing became labored. We fervently hoped he would grow out of the asthma someday, and that the more severe occurrences would become a thing of the past.

"Home again, home again," Dad chanted as we turned into our front yard. We all piled out, and everyone went in various directions. Dad took the van to the car shed, while Mom went inside the house and checked for messages on the answering machine. Kim was inspecting the corner stash in the living-room to see whether any mail had come for her in the past week, and Reed started for his own room to catch the last few minutes of one of his favorite radio programs. Rory was on his way to what had formerly been Grandma Hoffman's house, and was now our music studio. I was sure Grandma would have wanted us to use it for that very purpose, since she was now living in a heavenly mansion and no longer needed her earthly dwelling.

I lugged all of the paraphernalia I'd brought home into our house, dumped it at the foot of the bed where Kim and I slept, and then went to see what Reed was up to. “Adventures in Odyssey” was just ending as I entered his room.

"Why do you bother to listen to that, if you’re only going to catch the tail end?" I wanted to know.

"That's better than nothing," he pointed out. "And besides, another good show is coming on right away, so there."

"What program is that?” I inquired.

“It’s a really funny one! I just discovered it. You need to stay in here and listen to at least part of it. I’m sure it’s the weirdest talk show that you’ve ever heard of.”

I groaned. “Leave it to you to ferret out the strangest thing out there.”

“Just wait ‘til you hear it. This guy, Mischke, reports on some of the craziest news stories he can find and then usually adds his own concocted details or makes little songs or skits about them. Sometimes he’ll take phone-calls all about the story, or makes prank calls, himself. It’s so cool!”

“Hmm. So are you implying that your radio programs are more important than your dear sisters coming home for the weekend?" I needled him further.

"Well, you're in here with me right now, aren't you?" Reed reasoned--always having a comeback for any argument. "So it isn't like I'm not spending time with you or anything."

"That’s only because I took the initiative to hunt you down," I retorted. "Otherwise you'd just hermitize in here the whole time, and we'd never get to see you."

"You wouldn’t let that happen, so why worry about it? Anyway, wanna look at my keychain collection real quick, before the next show comes on?"

I reached over and discovered that he'd added several new ones since the last time I'd inspected them. "If you keep this up, you won't have room to sleep in here by the time you're a teenager, because your keychains will be taking up all the space," I laughed.

"If it starts getting that big, I can just stand it up on end," Reed assured me. "See how I have them all hooked together so handily?"

"I guess I know what we can get you for Christmas from now on--just a few key chains," I suggested.

"Don't bother; I get enough of them during the rest of the year from everybody else," Reed told me.

"Speaking of Christmas, I suppose you still remember what you got every year, since you were two?" I questioned, just to be sure his memory wasn't beginning to fail him, now that he had almost reached the ripe old age of nine.

"Of course," he said indignantly. "Why would I forget a thing like that? I remember all my birthday presents, too." And to prove it, he proceeded to list them for me in chronological order by year, even remembering who each gift was from.

"I sure don't understand how you can get such good grades in school, when your brain is so full of all this extraneous stuff,” I said. “I‘ve never heard of anyone else who knows the table of contents of their favorite books by heart, or anybody who can recite a half-dozen story-records word-for-word, just from listening to them so often.”

"It isn’t hard," Reed replied. "I remember nifty little details without even trying."

Just then Kim opened the door and announced that Rory had called us over the intercom to say that everything was hooked up and ready to go.

"I guess you'll have to miss your show, after all," I said in a mournful tone. "It's time to practice."

"Well, if I have to miss it, playing music is the best reason," said Reed.

We all trooped over to the music studio, and Reed found his newly-acquired position behind the drum-set, while Kim and I took our places in front of the piano and keyboards. As Kim did some fancy warm-up trils on the piano, Reed began showing off the new drum-rolls his brother had taught him, and I added to the overall effect of the din with a helicopter sound from the synthesizer on my right hand, while playing an impressive bass accompaniment with the left. Rory now knew almost as much as Dad did about where the myriads of wires and cords belonged, so the two of them were scurrying to get everything plugged in and ready to go. He was also a pro on our mixing board already, and could tell you exactly what each of the dozens of buttons did and how they should be adjusted so we'd all sound our best.

Finally Rory picked up his lead guitar and asked, "Well, should we get this show on the road?"

"Okay, don't keep us in suspense any longer, Reed," Kim said. "Let's hear your song now."

Reed cleared his throat dramatically, and then the boys began to play the new song that Reed hadd just composed, with Dad joining in on the guitar. Kim and I were so engrossed in listening that we didn't think to accompany them on our piano and keyboards as we normally would have done. I was amazed at the good chord-structure and the rhythmic flow of the lyrics. It would have been a fine first-attempt for any song-writer, but was especially so when considering it had come from a child of his age.

Kim and I cheered enthusiastically when the song was finished. "I can't believe it," I marveled. "It has so many words, that you have to be listening really close to catch them all."

"Yeah, it's just like you're telling a story or something," Kim agreed. "Do it again, Reed."

Reed happily obliged and repeated the tune--all six verses worth.

"I think you'll have to be our main song-writer from now on. Since you're getting started so early in life, you'll be writing phenomenal stuff by the time you're twenty," I noted.

"This one is already pretty phenomenal, if you ask me," added Kim. "You’ll have to do it on Sunday, for sure."

"And Ror, you should get with the program soon, or you’ll be left in the dust,” I chided my other brother good-naturedly. "Do you realize that you’re now the only member of the band who hasn't written any songs?"

"Well, I can play more instruments than all of you put together, so that should count for something," Rory pointed out. "I guess I'm just more into figuring out melodies than trying to come up with ideas for lyrics."

"Excuses, excuses," Kim said. And that was all I needed to hear. Her remark had brought a song of the same title to mind, about all the funny excuses people come up with for not going to church, and I played the beginning bars on my keyboard. The rest of the clan joined in right away, as though it had been rehearsed.

Afterward, we went through some of the songs for Sunday's program. Rory's skill on the guitar was constantly improving and expanding. Already he could play at least as well as our Uncle Rick had, which was hard to imagine, because Rick had always been at the top of our list of musicians. We would never have believed we could find anyone else with the same talent, much less such a person turning out to be our own little brother!

Kim and I had Brailled two copies of the song list, so we would know what was coming up and could switch instruments with one another whenever the upcoming song warranted the change. Our brothers, of course, had the song list memorized, and scoffed at our inability to do likewise.

"Looks like next up is your saxophone number, Ror," I said as I consulted the list.

Rory began putting his horn together. "Too bad I can't convince Dad to do any old-time stuff on stage," he lamented. "You guys should hear what I've been doing over here lately, since we bought our new recording equipment. I've been makin' all kinds of old-time music, and it sounds really neat!"

"Go ahead and show them a couple tunes," Dad encouraged. "It’s not too bad, for a bunch of waltzes and polkas, especially when you consider that Rory is playing all the instruments himself."

"Not to mention also doing all the recording and mixing, too," Reed added.

"Well, Gramp has been wanting me to make a tape for him of me playing all his favorites, so I figured this would be as good a time as any to learn how to run all the sound equipment and kill two birds with one stone," Rory reasoned.

He laid his horn aside and went over to find a song he could share with us. "I don't have the final mix done on all of these yet," he told us, "But I'm getting there." He turned on the machine, and the next thing we heard sounded just like a full band, playing the old familiar melodies we'd known ever since our childhood visits to Gramp and Gram's home.

"Wow, Ror! This is too good to just keep to yourself. You should be selling it or something,” I told him"

"Is that really you playing all those instruments, Ror?" Kim asked incredulously.

Rory laughed. "Who else do you know around here that can play old-time music?"

"You have a point there," she acknowledged. "I just can't get over how good it sounds though."

"And the quality is great, too," I continued. "I’m sure people would have a hard time believing this was the first effort of a 12-year-old engineer."

"Seriously, Ror, if you keep this up, we wouldn’t even need to go to Bismarck to do our albums anymore," Kim went on excitedly. "We could just do them right here at home."

"Yeah," I said, catching her enthusiasm. "That would make things a whole lot easier for everybody, because we could just work on it little by little as we had the time, rather than having to get it all done within a couple of days."

"That would be so much better, especially now that Kon and I are gone so much of the time," Kim said.

Mom and Dad had mentioned to us more than once that they thought it would be nice if Kim and I would do a recording composed solely of songs written by the two of us. At first we hadn't been able to imagine how such a thing would be possible when we didn't even have enough songs written yet to fill an album. Now that Rory was making the whole endeavor seem so much more feasible, however, I was sure we would be motivated to work on some new material for the record.

Rory played a couple more songs for us from his first recording project, and then we got back down to business. He was beginning to come up with creative ideas of his own for unique chord progressionss and catchy rhythms, and it was easy to picture him someday being the leader of our group, or having a band of his own that would go far beyond anything we were capable of doing.

We were all up bright and early a couple days later, and ready to leave for the concert that was scheduled for that evening. Dad had loaded our equipment into the trailer the night before, so everything was ready to go. I grabbed the novel I was currently reading and settled myself in the back seat. Kim was right behind with her stereo and tape case. The cassettes she played for us on these trips consisted mostly of songs she had recorded from the Christian radio station in Bismarck. She turned on the player now, just as Rory and Reed climbed in.

"Gee, Kim, I think you could have picked a better time for making that one," Reed commented. "Sounds like the reception was terrible that day."

"But wait!" Rory cried in exaggerated amazement. "Kim, rewind that, would you? Listen to this, everybody. She actually finished a whole song. The ending isn't cut off, or anything. How did that ever happen, I wonder? And wow—hold on a minute--the next song even starts at the beginning, instead of right in the middle someplace."

"She might be getting pretty good at this in her old age," Reed conceded grudgingly. "Now if only there weren’t so much static in the background."

To my brothers’ dismay, the hopes they had of hearing subsequent songs played in their entirety were not realized. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed the music Kim provided, even if the high standards set by Rory and Reed weren't completely met.

"I think I'm gonna learn that one to start doing at our concerts," Kim told us as an upbeat number proclaimed that it won't be old Buddha sitting on the throne. “I could tell our audiences how I go out witnessing to people at my college, and about some of the odd answers that are given when we ask how they know they're going to heaven. That would fit in perfectly with this song, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I told her.

"Play it again,” Rory requested. I was too busy listening to all the music and not paying any attention to the lyrics."

"It was talking all about how there's only one way to God, and that none of the other leaders of false religions are going to be the ones sitting on the throne," I explained. "You mean you didn't hear any of that?"

"You should know by now that I don’t usually hear the words until I've listened to a song several times and have a good idea of what all the instruments are doing," Rory reminded me. “That’s just the way I’m wired. I’m almost always drawn to the chord structures and stuff like that first, whenever I hear a new song.”

"Weird," was Kim's reaction. "Well I guess maybe that's the mark of a great musician."

"Anybody in the mood for a salted nut roll?" Dad called out. "I have a couple extra up here."

“This early in the morning? Not I,” Reed answered back.

“You wouldn’t take him up on the offer regardless of the time of day,” Rory pointed out. “You never eat candy.”

“I bet you guys never realized that candy bar manufacturers have to put instructions on the wrappers, telling you how to open them," Kim declared.

"No, I hadn’t heard that. Where did you glean that little tidbit of information?" I wanted to know.

"Oh, some of my friends at college were teasing me about how I just rip them open any old way, and I asked them what they meant. They were all surprised that I didn't know there was a correct way to open the things. So then they had to enlighten me, and I guess there’s this line with arrows or something on every wrapper showing you just where to tear, and the words 'tear here' are even written for you just in case you still don’t know what to do.

“Oh, Kim, that can’t be true,” I protested dubiously.

“Yes, it is,” she insisted. “Just ask anybody. And not only that, but apparently practically all food containers and boxes are the same way."

"What on earth?" Rory said in amazement. "Sometimes it seems like poor sighted people can't figure out anything for themselves."

"No kidding," I concurred. "It’s really starting to dawn on me just how insecure some people are. Like if I'm at a social function with somebody who has never been there before, they’re always looking around at everybody else, so they don't do anything that might be construed as being different or out-of-place.

“I know what you mean,” Kim agreed. “Like it would be the worst thing ever if anyone teased them or had to correct them or anything. And yet they usually won’t ask anyone for advice or help, either, because that would be admitting they aren’t sure of themselves, which would never do.”

"And thinking everything is such a huge deal, like waiting to see which fork they should use first and dumb stuff like that,” I went on. I mean, just think how unfun our lives would be if the four of us were always worrying about those kinds of things; we wouldn’t want to even get out of bed in the morning.”

"That’s for sure," Kim said. "Now I see why some people just don’t get how we're able to function without sight. They're so dependent on all their visual cues."

"And even when they are given instructions, they won't follow them unless someone else does it first,” I observed further. “Just last week I was at a meeting and when the guy said 'meeting adjourned', I stood up to go, and my college friend grabbed my arm and whispered frantically that nobody else was leaving yet. Everybody was afraid to make the first move, so finally the chairman had to say, 'You're dismissed,' and even then the girl next to me wouldn't budge until she had seen that somebody else was leaving the room ahead of her."

”Dr. Dobson was talking about the same type of thing on those 'Preparing for Adolescence' tapes that Kim played for me," Rory mused. "He said he was at a meeting one time, and nobody acted like they wanted any coffee when they were asked until finally it was James Dobson's turn, and he went over and got some. So after that most everybody else who came after him went and got coffee, too."

Reed had burst into laughter at these revelations and thus was unable to make his usual witty comments. Now though, he had calmed down enough to contribute his two cents to the conversation. "I just recently discovered that most doors in public places have signs that tell you whether you should push or pull to open the door, so people know how to get in and out of wherever they are."

"Funny," I grinned. "And the other day at the cafeteria, Shelley was stunned when I opened my own milk carton. She said she’d never noticed the little lines that are easy to feel on the part where it should be opened. Until then I had always thought that was how everybody figured out which end was which."

Just then Dad pulled over and brought the van to a grinding halt.

"What's wrong?" Rory questioned.

"Flat tire, I'm afraid," Dad replied, as he got out of the van to replace it.

"Why does something always have to happen to put us behind schedule, no matter what?" Mom wondered aloud.

In spite of this setback, however, we knew we had to be prepared to begin the concert when 7:00 rolled around, and I breathed a sigh of relief several hours later when once again, we’d managed to get everything ready just in time.

While the rest of us were stressing over setting last-minute volume levels, plugging everything in correctly, reteaching Dad some guitar chords he had forgotten and wondering why the amplifier was making an obnoxious buzzing noise, Reed took his place behind the drums and began doing his best to lighten the mood. He started a rousing beat and began singing with gusto. “All I Want for Christmas is my Upper Plate…”

“Oh, Reed, can’t you get into the Christmas spirit any better than that?” I moaned, when the song was over.

“You didn’t like that one?” he asked innocently. “Well then, how about this? I just heard it on the radio last week for the first time ever. I had to memorize it right then and there, because I couldn’t find a tape recorder anywhere handy, and I knew I’d probably never hear it again.”

And with that, he launched into the tune, which was sung to the melody of Jingle Bells.

“Rust and smoke, the heater’s broke, the door just blew away.
I light a match to see the dash, and then I start to pray.
The frame is bent, the muffler went, the radio, it’s okay.
Oh, what fun it is to drive this rusty Chevrolet.”

All of us began playing along with the catchy melody in spite of ourselves, and afterward Kim asked him to do a repeat performance, because she hadn’t been able to catch all the words the first time around.

“You guys, people are starting to come in,” Mom cautioned in an undertone.

Undaunted though, Reed began the song for the second time, only to be interrupted by a sneeze, followed by another, followed by six more. He never did a halfway job when it came to sneezing.

Of course, this reminded all of us of a tune we’d composed spur-of-the-moment at one of our previous concerts when the same thing had happened, and we all began the fast-tempoed country-song called “I Feel a Sneeze Coming On.”

There were a few titters when we reached the conclusion, and I remembered Mom’s warning that we had an audience. People must really be wondering what in the world they were in for. To my chagrin, my sister only made matters worse by deciding that this would be a good time to sing “I am Slowly Going Crazy, but they haven’t got me locked up yet,” which was sung to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic.

After that, I quickly whispered a directive to my youngest brother, telling him to do Achy Breaky Heart, his version of which had Christian lyrics. It was always a hit with folks, and I hoped it might help to set people’s minds at ease to the fact that perhaps we weren’t completely insane, after all.

“Let Jesus heal your heart, your achy-breaky heart.
He’s the one that really understands.
He will heal your heart, your achy-breaky heart,
He’s the only man I know who can.”

As more people began entering the church building, Kim and I decided to do a few tunes on the piano with me at the high end and her at the low. Dad helped Rory and Reed to find a seat in the front row, and then went to help Mom set up the record table in the back. This promised to be a good evening. Even though the concert wasn’t officially underway as yet, people were already engaged in the music we played and were applauding after each song. Having such an enthusiastic response greatly helped to boost our spirits and reduce the tension we’d been under earlier as we’d hurriedly attempted to get everything organized before it was time to begin.

After Kim and I had ended our third duet, the pastor walked to the microphone and gave everyone a warm welcome. He then introduced our family enthusiastically, and Dad came back up to the front with Rory and Reed, while I went to the keyboard and synthesizer and began making the appropriate adjustments for the first song. Dad began with the opening bars of “I’ve Got a Whole Lot of Things to Sing About,” and we were off to a rousing start.

Afterward, Kim and I switched places so that she would now be on the keyboards while I played the piano. Unfortunately, we bonked heads with each other in passing, but I quickly tried to cover the awkward moment with humor by saying into the microphone, "Now you can see why Kim and I decided to attend different colleges."

Everyone seemed to enjoy this joke so much that I wondered briefly whether perhaps we should try to incorporate the accident as part of our regular concert routine.

Then Kim began telling people about the next song, which was one of the old stand-bys that she and I still did on occasion--"One Day at a Time."

"Living life one day at a time is a philosophy that our family has adopted for about as long as I can remember," she was saying. "Konnie and I attended school 200 miles away from home for the first nine years of our education, but Mom and Dad came to get us home every weekend during that time. When they first started making that long trip though, they didn't know they'd have to be doing it for nine years. They just took it one day at a time--not thinking ahead to the possibility that this would mean driving 270 thousand miles all-told. Sometimes we need to just step out on faith and trust God, even though we may not understand exactly how he'll supply the needs."

"And another thing we've learned over the years," Dad put in, "Is to never give up. If you know you're right about something, don't let anybody try to talk you out of it, no matter how things might look on the outside. When there’s something you know you should be doing for the Lord, you can’t let anything stop you. If we want to wait until we’ve got all the answers and have every detail figured out, none of us would ever be able to serve Him. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and He’ll show you the next step along the way."

When the song had ended, Rory did an upbeat tune that was named "Please Don't Advertise." The lyrics stated that if we aren't living what we preach, we shouldn't go out of our way to advertise the fact that we're Christians. It was usually well-received by the audience, and tonight was no exception.

Next, it was Dad's turn. He said he would be doing a song he had written called "Sing a Song for Jesus." "Whenever I get discouraged I try to remember that somebody is probably sitting in their car somewhere with their tape deck going, listening to me sing all about this new life that God has given me. Then I realize I need to shape up my attitude and try to live out what I'm preaching, like Rory was talking about earlier. So I get out my old guitar, and before long things start looking a whole lot better."

When Dad had finished singing Rory said, "This next one is called UHaul Trailer, and it talks all about the fact that we shouldn't be so focused on material things, because when it's our time to leave this earth, we won't be able to take any of that junk with us, anyhow. So we should be generous with what we have--which actually brings up an interesting point. It didn't cost any of you a dime to get in here tonight, did it? If anybody had to pay anything, speak up now--because I don't see any raised hands out there."

Rory waited for the laughter to die down before continuing, "Well, that's good, because I have news for you. You’re going to have to pay to get out."

More laughter. Rory chuckled and went on, "Well, anyway, I think they're going to be taking the offering in a few minutes, so just remember what I said. God does love a cheerful giver, but I'm sure he would also accept from a grouch."

Rory started to sing, and after the offering had been taken, Dad announced it was time for the youngest member of the family to have a turn.

“Well, it’s about time,” was Reed’s assessment. “And now ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.” He punctuated his remark with a crescendoing drum-roll that ended with a loud symbol crash. “It’s none other than Reed F Hoffman, here to sing for you about the fact that I just don’t care.”

Amid the puzzled laughter that followed this comment, the lively song began—which talked all about not caring what people thought of him praising God in his own way. By the time the song had ended, people were tapping their feet and clapping along with the music.

“Thanks very much,” Reed said graciously. “And now I think it’s time to turn you over to my sister for this next number.”

“Well, that’s a hard act to follow,” I said. “I guess I’ll just try my best. This song is called “I Love My Jesus,” and it pretty much speaks for itself, so I think we’ll get right to it without further ado.”

“I just wanted to say a few words before you get started, Konnie,” Dad interjected. “We don’t always need to make a big show of our love for the Lord. A lot of times it can just be the little things, or the stand we might take in our own quiet way, that has the most influence. A good example of what I mean happened not too long ago, as a matter of fact, on Konnie’s 21st birthday. Some of her friends had planned an evening out on the town for her, now that she was officially old enough to go out and party. But she just told them she would rather spend a quiet evening in the dorm. I think that probably made more of a statement than anything else she might have said. And the fact that she didn’t cave into the peer pressure and go along just to save face says a lot, too. When her mom and I heard about that, it was just one of those moments that made us proud. Okay, go ahead, Konnie.”

Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that what I’d seen as being such an insignificant event in my life would make an impression on anyone. I realized anew that we don’t always know when our day-to-day behavior might be impacting people.

After we had done a few more songs, it was time for Dad to bring things to a close. “We’re going to slow things down a bit as we wrap up here tonight,” he said. “This is a song we learned about a year ago, called ‘I've Never Been This Homesick Before.’” There was a catch in his voice, as he began to reminisce about Grandma Hoffman, and told how she had always kept us in her prayers, and was likely still doing so from up in heaven. "She can talk to God face-to-face now," he said, "and I'm sure she hasn't forgotten about us down here, but is interceeding on our behalf every day. We all miss her so much, but we'll see her again someday, and that's such a comfort, knowing that this life is only the beginning, and that the best is yet to come.”

Even after the concert had ended, I was still reflecting on what Dad had said about Grandma, and I hoped she had been allowed to peek down on us as we sang our songs, and that we were making her proud.

Loading and unloading the equipment took even longer now than it had back when Rick and Denny were with us to help out. We had accumulated a lot more of it since then, and our parents were very grateful for the times when a few thoughtful people would stick around after the concerts to lend a hand. Even so, the job wasn't an easy one, and often folks were careless in their handling of the heavy amplifiers and instruments. Sometimes Dad would encounter a tangled jumble of cords and cables when he opened the trailer after unhitching it from the van when we got home. He didn't intend to look a gift horse in the mouth, however, because the help was certainly appreciated.

Kim and I were glad that our Christmas vacations began in time for us to be able to attend our brothers’ school Christmas program that year. They would usually tape the ones we had to miss, but we much preferred to be there in person whenever possible.

We all arrived at the gymnasium early on the night of the program, so we could be sure to get good seats. Of course, the highlight of the evening was when Rory did his solo, “O, Holy Night.” A hush fell over the audience as he began to sing, and a little tingle went up my spine as he hit the high note near the end just perfectly, in a loud, clear voice. The room erupted when he had finished, as the people stood to express their appreciation. It was a memorable moment, to be sure.

When the program had ended, Pam Seim, our brothers’ aide, was the first person to express her congratulations. “Great job, Rory,” she said as she walked up and gave him a big hug. “I think I even saw a little tear in your dad’s eye when you got that standing ovation. And Reed, you were just awesome, too!” she continued, turning to my youngest brother. “I’m so proud of you both.”

“Well, hi, you two,” she went on as she came over to where Kim and I were sitting. Wasn’t this just great? I’m so glad you got to be here tonight.”

“Yeah, I’m sure glad we didn’t have to miss it,” I answered sincerely.

“So how’s college treating you guys? This must be your last year already, if I’m not mistaken.”

“That’s right,” Kim said. “And you might actually be seeing a lot more of us this spring, if we get to do our student-teaching here in Lemmon.”

“That would be a blast. We could pester each other again, just like old times,” Mrs. Seim replied with a chuckle.

We all laughed and reached for our coats. It had been a fun evening, and there was a lot to look forward to in the months ahead.

The new recording project that Kim and I began working on would feature five songs written by her, and five by me. The first song was entitled “Sisters,” which Kim had written about the two of us. It would be followed by one of mine, and so on. I had composed my first song a few months earlier, which I’d named “My Humble Prayer.” In it, I asked the ever-provoking question that most of us have probably wanted to know at one time or another—“Is it your will, God, or is it mine?” Once I’d gotten started, lyrics were beginning to come more easily to my mind, until now I had only a couple more songs to write for the album’s completion.

When all was said and done, Rory was playing a grand total of eight instruments on the recording—including mandolin, violin, recorder, lead-guitar, rhythm guitar, saxophone, drums, and bass guitar. We were amazed and humbled by the fact that our 13-year-old brother was not only the chief instrumentalist on the album, but the recording engineer and vocal accompanist, too. His voice was just beginning to change, so he had to switch from singing high harmonies to low by the time the album was finished.

The project was not without its challenges, of course. During one of my songs, “New Doors” Rory came down with a bad case of the flu. He was so ill that he couldn’t even partake of one of his favorite specialties which Mom had prepared for supper that night, fish and fried macaroni. For Rory not to indulge at mealtimes was a rare occurrence, indeed! Nevertheless, that very evening the immense dedication he already had toward music was made very evident when he managed to drag himself back over to the music studio, in spite of feeling far less than optimal. I was heading to college the next day, and we didn’t want to forget the arrangements we had worked up, so Rory insisted on finishing his guitar and drum parts for the song before calling it quits for the night.

What was even worse than the stomach virus though, was the bad ear infection Rory contracted—one of the very few he’s ever had. The thing that bothered him even more than the pain was the fact that it affected his pitch in one ear. He was trying to record one of Kim’s songs and had to keep turning his good ear toward the music and try to block out the distorted notes coming from his other side.

It wasn’t until many years later that we found out just how worried he had been about this incident in his life. Never having had an infection so severe before, he didn’t know what the long-term effects might be, and couldn’t think of anything worse than having his hearing damaged in such a way. Fortunately, the problem did eventually fade as the infection started to heal, but even to this day some of the higher frequencies are gone in that ear. Still, as things turned out, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, and for that we were all quite thankful.

When we listened to our finished product a couple months later, it was apparent to all of us how much God had obviously been at work, helping us at each step along the way. This recording was a completely homegrown project, and the three of us siblings were the only ones who had a hand in it. Even Dad hadn’t been able to help much, except to give Rory a bit of technical advice every now and then. The more contemporary genre of music was not his cup of tea, and a lot of the chords we were playing were ones he’d never heard of before. But he and Mom were behind us all the way as usual, praising all of the attempts Kim and I were making at composing songs, and giving us the moral support we needed when times got tough.

Rory’s polka-tape was also doing well. Mom had taken a few of the finished copies to our local Ben Franklin store in Lemmon, and they had actually sold out rather quickly and were in need of more. A radio-station in Dickkinson which featured that type of music every Sunday was even giving it some air-play, of all things. The rest of us couldn’t get over the fact that it was the old-time music which was gaining notoriety—and all played by a now 13-year-old, which just added to the irony.

Just as Kim and I had hoped, an arrangement was made between our two colleges that would allow Kim to do her student-teaching with me in Lemmon, so we began to make plans to move into the house that Mom had found for us. As things turned out, I was assigned to work in Mrs. Thorne’s third-grade class, which meant that Reed would be one of my students. Kim was going to teach in Miss Podahl’s fourth-grade room next-door.

Mr. Haakedahl had undergone a complete change of heart since my teaching experience class the previous semester. Surprisingly enough, he was now one of my biggest fans, and was staunchly in my camp when it came to convincing people that I would be a great teacher someday. I appreciated this turn-around on his part more than I could say, especially since he was giving me his full support before I’d even begun my student-teaching and was now willing to supervise my sister, as well. I knew it was just another one of God’s blessings, and a confirmation that He really does care about all aspects of our lives.

Postscript by the author: The following is a link to hear one of the songs on the recording that consisted of songs Kim and I had written. Kim is singing and playing piano and keyboard on this tune, and Rory is doing everything else--including guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, harmony vocals,as well as engineering and mixing. At age 13.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chapter 15

Chapter 15
Teaching Experience

My desk was in the very front row where Mr. Haakedahl couldn’t possibly miss me. The way I saw it, he’d been trying his best to ignore my existence for the past week, ever since my “teaching experience” class had begun. I realized I was going to have to take some sort of stand, or I’d be overlooked entirely. This class was a prerequisite for anybody pursuing a teaching degree, and if I didn’t perform at a satisfactory level here, I knew I wouldn’t even be considered for a student-teaching position later on. Mr. Haakedahl was the one I’d be dealing with when it came time for doing my actual student-teaching, so a precedent needed to be set that would guide any future communications between us.

My face grew hot with resentment when I realized there was only one other person left in the room besides me, as everyone else had already been assigned to the perspective elementary schools in the area where they would be working for the rest of the quarter. I raised my hand and cleared my throat loudly as my instructor walked past me to the back of the room where the one remaining student sat, waiting for her assignment.

“I think Konnie was trying to say something,” the girl put in quickly before he could begin speaking to her. I was grateful for her intervention, and wondered briefly how she knew my name since we hadn’t met before. But then, I’d gotten used to the fact that there were usually a lot of people who knew who I was, even though I’d never met them. Just comes along with the package when there is something that makes you different from those around you.

Seemingly taken aback, Mr. Haakedahl turned around hurriedly, as though noticing me for the first time. I forced myself to stay poised and speak calmly, though what I really felt like doing was shedding a few tears of humiliation.

“I was just wondering where I was going to be helping out. “I haven’t received any assignment yet,” I reminded him.

“Oh, that,” he replied, as though it were a simple oversight of little consequence. Then he proceeded to pace around the room, shuffling papers as he did so. Finally he came to a dead halt in front of me and said dismissively, “I’ll just send you along with Heather, here.”

Fighting panic, I tried to decide quickly how to respond to this. I didn’t want to be “sent with Heather,” as though I were some sort of afterthought. The solution he’d come up with wasn’t fair to either of us. She likely didn’t relish the thought of me tagging along with her, any more than I did. If someone were partnering with me, I knew that person would get all the focus, while I was stuck in a corner somewhere, doing menial tasks that wouldn’t prepare me at all for teaching in the real world.

Trying to remain respectful, I pointed out that I thought it would work out a lot better if I were assigned to my own classroom, just as every other student had been given.

“That isn’t an option,” he informed me in no uncertain terms. “You can go with Heather tomorrow if you want to, and if that turns out to be too challenging for you, we can talk about having you opt out of the class.”

Shaking with anger now, I figured I’d better drop the matter temporarily, before things escalated any further and poor Heather was caught in the middle somewhere. I bit my lower lip until it almost started to bleed, in order to keep my composure while I listened to the instructions he was giving Heather about the location of the school and the name of the teacher, etc.

Heather and I left the room together, and she patted my shoulder sympathetically as we turned down the hall. “Sorry that didn’t quite go the way you wanted,” she said.

“Well, it wasn’t your fault,” I assured her. “Just frustrating to not even be given the chance to prove myself, you know?”

“I can certainly imagine,” she empathized. “Maybe once he sees you in action…”

But I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Mr. Haakedahl was already biased against me and would surely have already talked to the elementary teacher by the time I met her the following day.

Heather must have seen the doubtful look on my face. “There has to be something we can do to get through to him,” she persisted.

I was touched that she was taking such an interest. “Well, thanks for your concern, anyway,” I told her. “I appreciate that a lot.”

“Just let me know if you can think of anything I might do to help the situation,” she offered generously. “I’d be happy to do whatever I could.”

I gave her a wan smile. “In that case, would you mind walking to the school with me, so I can familiarize myself with the route before tomorrow morning?”

“Not a problem,” she responded quickly. “We can go right now, if you want.”

“It’s just not fair!” I exclaimed with extreme irritation as we continued down the corridor. “I don’t get why he’s so insistent that I have a partner! I mean, what would happen if you were ever to get sick or something? Does he think I’d just stay behind, too? If so, he better guess again!”

We walked on in silence for another moment or two, when suddenly Heather coughed rather obnoxiously and began rummaging around in her purse for a Kleenex.

“This is a pretty strange coincidence,” she mused after vigorously blowing her nose, “but it isn’t completely out of the question that I might have to leave you in the lurch tomorrow. I’ve been coming down with this bug since yesterday, and it seems to be getting worse practically by the minute.”

“That's too bad,” I said, trying to sound properly concerned, though my heart was starting to beat just a little faster.

“Not a big deal,” she said as we went out the front entrance of the building and onto the sidewalk. “Whenever I get a cold, it just seems to drag on and on. I usually don’t let them get me down too much, but I hear that it’s supposed to be below freezing and snowy tomorrow, so I may not want to risk going out into the weather and all.”

“That’s understandable,” I said soberly, although I was finding it very hard to keep a smile off my face. “Well, if you aren’t able to go, don’t worry about me. The school is only a few blocks from here, so I should be able to make it there without any difficulty, once I know the way.”

And that proved to be the case. The rest of the week went by in a blur, and Friday came before I knew it. My friend, Debbie from Lemmon was planning a trip home that weekend, so I was going to ride with her. Since it was also the Thanksgiving break, Kim and I would both be home for a couple extra days, and we had a concert scheduled for Sunday. Performing our music together as a family was even more enjoyable now that Rory was playing several different instruments. This also meant that Reed had been promoted to drummer, which was an extra bonus.

Debbie took the bag I was carrying and put it into the trunk, while I walked around to the front of the car and settled myself in the front seat. “So how is your teaching experience going?” she asked with curiosity as she got in beside me and started the engine.

“Oh, fine,” I replied with a nonchalance I didn’t feel. I still had a hard time believing that the little scheme Heather and I concocted had actually succeeded.

“I heard from the grapevine that you are already getting to do way more work with the kids than any of the rest of us,” Debbie remarked a little enviously. “How on earth did you manage that?”

"It was pretty amazing how God worked everything out,” I told her. “At first it didn’t look like I was going to get to do the class at all.”

“I could tell that good old Travis Haakedahl wasn’t very comfortable having you there,” Debbie acknowledged. “That’s why I was so surprised when I heard how well everything seemed to be going for you.”

“You and me, both,” I smiled. “We didn’t get started on very good footing, that's for sure.”

“So what turned everything around for you?” Debbie wondered.

“It was kind of funny, really,” I replied. "I couldn’t have done it without Heather’s help though. That's the girl Haakedahl partnered me with.”

“You got to work with a partner?” Debbie questioned.

“That’s what he wanted to happen, but it didn’t turn out that way fortunately,” I told her.

“You didn’t want a partner?” she asked in surprise. I’d think that would make things a lot easier for you.”

“It would have—too easy,” I explained. “None of the rest of you worked as a team, and I didn’t want him to be able to claim later on down the road that I required a lot of extra help.”

“Makes sense, I suppose,” Debbie affirmed. “I hadn’t thought of it like that before."

“"So I was trying to object to his plan as politely as I could, but he wasn’t having any of it,” I went on with the story. “Fortunately Heather took my side, though.”

“Really? What did she say?”

“It wasn’t so much what she said—it’s what we DID,” I corrected with a little giggle.

Debbie waited a bit and then said impatiently, “Well, don’t keep me in suspense. What did you do?”

“It was really pretty simple. Heather had already been coming down with a bad cold, so when she didn’t show up the next day, I just assumed she was sick and took off without her.”

“Yeah, right,” Debbie laughed. “This is starting to sound a little fishy, if you ask me.”

“What do you mean?” I asked innocently. “It was a perfectly plausible story.”

“Is that what Haakedahl thought?” Debbie wanted to know.

I shrugged. “I have no idea. But by the time he found out, it was too late for him to do anything about it, and I had made my point by then, regardless.”

“So wasn’t the teacher surprised when you showed up without your partner?" she asked.

“Yeah, she was pretty befuddled at first, but I just explained that Heather wasn’t able to come with me, and asked what she wanted me to do to help out.”

“And did she put you to work right away?”

I opened my can of Pepsi and took a few swallows before answering. “That was the beauty of the whole thing!” I exclaimed happily. “She just stood there and stammered around nervously for a minute or so, and then finally she asked me what I thought I could handle. I told her I wanted her to expect me to do anything that she would require of any other college student she was given. But she still seemed a little flustered and at a loss, so I basically had to take charge of the situation and give her a few pointers on the type of things she might let me do.”

Debbie considered that for a second. “Wow! So you pretty much got to set your own agenda. Must be nice.”

"It was,” I confirmed. “I just jumped in and got to start working directly with the kids right away, instead of doing all this busy-work that most of the rest of you had to waste your time on at first.”

“So what did Mr. Haakedahl say when he finally figured out what happened?” Debbie wanted to know.

“That’s the best part,” I told her excitedly. "So Mr. Haakedahl is on his rounds, and he shows up near the end of the class period, and I'm sitting at this table with all these little kids around me, reading to them from one of the print-Braille books I fortunately thought to bring along. They were all quite fascinated with it, of course, and asking me lots of questions and everything. I guess it must have been pretty obvious to him how comfortable I usually am around children, because he just said 'good job,' as I was walking out the door, and that was that."

"So did he assign Heather to a different teacher then, or what?" Debbie asked curiously.

"I'm not sure; he must have," I replied. "I haven't seen Heather since then. But when I got to the school the next day, the teacher's attitude had totally changed. Right away she put me to work helping this little girl with some math problems, and the rest as they say is history."

"Good for you," Debbie praised. "I'm glad everything turned out so well. And like you said, it should be a lot easier now to get people to believe you can do this."

"I hope so," I said. "But if nothing else, at least now I feel more confident that I can win, if put to the test."

Debbie turned up the heater in her car another notch. “And how is your sister faring at Trinity? Is she having to deal with similar kinds of issues there”

“At the beginning she was,” I said. “They didn’t even want to let her enter the education program, at first. The National Federation of the Blind had to get involved, and they sent her a bunch of literature about blind teachers working in the public school system, so she had tangible proof for all of her skeptical professors.”

“And did that do the trick?” Debbie asked.

“"For the most part, it did,” I told her. “They've pretty much accepted her ever since then."

"That's good,” Debbie said as she turned on the radio. We listened to the music playing in the background for a few minutes, and then she asked, “So how about your brothers? What are they up to these days?”

“Reed tells me he just wrote his first song—can you believe it? I guess it has six verses, no less!”

“Wow. I’m sure you can’t wait to hear it,” she responded.

“And Rory is keeping busy too, of course,” I went on. He’s enjoying playing in the school band, and is really getting to be pretty good on the saxophone these days, if I do say so myself.”

“I’m not surprised,” Debbie said. “What made him choose sax as his band instrument, rather than guitar or drums or something like that?”

“Not sure,” I admitted. “Probably because it would have been hard for him to be a drummer in a marching band, and he wouldn’t get to use the whole drum-kit like he's used to having. As for the guitar, he's likely afraid his teachers would try to make him learn to play it the ‘right way’, if you know what I mean. He sure doesn't want to unlearn everything he’s already figured out and start from scratch.”

“I can see why,” said Debbie. “Not when he can already outplay most anybody around.”

During his 4th-grade year, several music-class periods had been devoted to letting the students try out many of the school’s musical instruments, in order to decide what they might want to play in the school band the following year. Rory had chosen to try a horn of some kind, but he found it quite difficult to pick which one he liked best. He checked out the flute, clarinet, sax, trumpet and trombone, and had fun exploring the shapes of each one. For some reason, he couldn’t make the flute sing at all though, and he hadn’t heard of anyone who played country music on the clarinet, so those two were ruled out fairly quickly. Rory preferred bigger horns, and his teacher, Miss Heggerfield thought that he should pursue the trumpet, which was her favorite and thus would have probably been easier for her to teach him. Rory really liked the sound of the trumpet and was able to make a few notes right away, but again, he wasn’t able to think of many country songs which employed that particular instrument.

“I think the main reason he chose sax instead of some other horn is that he’s heard Boots Randolph play, so he knows it can be used for country music,” I told Debbie. “I’m sure He remembers when Kim and I played it a little bit in junior high, too, and he’s heard it on a lot of our grandpa’s polka tapes, so he was already pretty familiar with how it could be played.”

“I see,” Debbie replied. “And didn’t I hear something about him taking up the banjo lately, too?”

“That's another interesting story. Our family did a joint concert awhile back with this bluegrass band, and one of the musicians had let Rory hold and try to play his banjo. He even said he had another one that he'd give to Rory if he promised to learn to hold it the proper way and play it correctly.”

Debbie laughed. “Well, that seems to be relative, isn’t it?”

“That’s what Rory thought,” I smiled. “But this guy claimed there just wasn’t any way to play it the way Rory was used to, because of how you have to do the finger rolls in a certain order with all those fingerpicks. So anyway, the man happened to be in the area a few months later, and he even went so far as to come out to the house in order to try to give Rory a longer demonstration, to see how he would catch on. But Rory just kept insisting that he would be able to do a whole lot better if he could be allowed to flip it around and lay it on his lap. So long story short, suffice it to say that he never got the offered banjo.”

“Bummer,” Debbie said sympathetically. “But wait a minute; I was sure somebody had told me not long ago that they’d seen him playing banjo somewhere recently.”

“Probably so. He was fascinated enough after that guy’s visit to want to learn more about the banjo, so he borrowed one from Mom’s cousin shortly thereafter and proceeded to work with it on his own.”

“Figures,” Debbie said in amusement.

“And now that he has his own lead guitar, too, he’s all set,” I added. “Although he’s always looking for something new to play, so I’m sure it won’t be long until he has added even more instruments to his arsenal.”

When we pulled up in front of Gramp and Gram's house awhile later, I opened my purse and located the place in my wallet where I kept 10-dollar bills. Handing one to Debbie to help out with the cost of gas, I thanked her for the ride and told her that my dad would bring me over to her house on Sunday for the trip back to college.”

"Sounds good,” she replied. "Looks like your grandpa and brothers are playing out here in the front yard. They're heading this way now."

"Hi, Kon; I’ll take your bags," Gramp said as he gave me a warm hug. "Wow. It seems like you have a ton of stuff in here. You'll only be home for a few days, you know."

"Yeah, but I have quite a bit of homework to do this weekend, so that's why I had to bring home so much junk," I replied as I scooped Reed up and reached to hug Rory with my other arm.

"I get to sing a solo for the school Christmas program," Rory informed me as we made our way to the house. "'Oh, Holy Night'."

"Wow, really?" I asked, impressed. "That's a pretty hard song for a 12-year-old, don't you think?"

I felt the shrug of his shoulders under my arm. "I dunno. Evidently Miss Heggerfield doesn't think so."

"You made it," Dad said from the front door, which he held open for us while we entered the house. "I'm glad the snow held off until you got here."

"Hi, Hun," Mom called as she came to join us in the entry-way. After embracing me, she stood back to peer at me more closely. "Where did you get that big bump on your forehead?" she asked in concern.

I put my hand up there to examine the spot. "I'm not sure. It probably happened when I accidentally hit the corner of my bookshelf while I was running from another room to get to my phone before it stopped ringing."

"And you have a big black-and-blue mark on your arm, too," she observed as she held it up to inspect further. "You need to be more careful."

"You should know by now that I'm always getting little bumps and bruises like that; it’s no big deal,” I said, trying to dodge away from her scrutiny. “Most of the time I can't even remember where they come from. They probably look a lot worse than they feel."

To my relief, Gram came in from the kitchen just then. "Well, hello, Kon," she said as she put her arms around me. "How was your week at school?"

"It was pretty eventful," I admitted, and proceeded to recount the entire teaching adventure again for my family. They all seemed to enjoy the tale at least as much as Debbie had. One of my brothers was on my lap, and the other one was squeezed in beside me on the rocking chair. Gram kept coming in from the kitchen where she was preparing one of her usual scrumptious suppers, in order to hear what I was saying amidst the sizzling frying-pan and clanking dishes.

"I bet he was sure surprised when he found out that other girl didn't go to the school with you," Dad said from the couch next to where I was sitting.

"We should wait until Kim gets home, so she doesn't miss all this," Mom said as she began to set silverware and plates at the table.

"I already told her everything on the phone last night," I assured her.

Just then Gramp got up from the chair by the window and stepped over to the door. "There she is now," he announced as he went out to greet my sister.

After everyone had said their hellos and I’d finished my story, we all sat around the table and began to dig in. “Why don’t you tell your sisters about the paper you were supposed to write in school this past week, Reed?” suggested Mom a few minutes later. "You won't believe this, girls."

"Yeah, I couldn't think of nothin' to write," Reed sounded more than a little upset with himself. "I was the only one in the class who never came up with anything."

This was surprising news. Even at his young age, Reed was already very conscientious about his grades and always seemed to have more than enough creativity on hand for any situation that might arise.

"Wow. It must have been a hard assignment," Kim said sympathetically.

"No, it wasn’t,” Rory contradicted. "All he was supposed to do is talk about something that made him unhappy. And he couldn't even think of one thing."

I smiled, thinking how much this sounded like little Reed, who hardly ever had a bad day. "I'm sure your teacher was pretty surprised," I commented.

"I guess so," said Reed. "But I just don't get what a kid should have to be unhappy about, if nothin' much really goes wrong for them or anything. I think it was a dumb assignment."

"I hope that's always your outlook on life," Dad put in. "That's a pretty good testimony I'd say.”

Mom scooped another helping of mashed potatoes onto my plate. “So you girls are planning to do your student-teaching here in Lemmon this spring, right?” she asked.

“I should be able to,” I told her. “A lot of my classmates will be student-teaching in their own hometowns. But I’m not sure how that will work for Kim, since her college is so much farther away.”

“Yeah, I doubt that my supervisor would be willing to drive that far to check on my performance,” Kim had to admit.

“There’s a house for rent right across from the Lemmon Elementary school, which would be the perfect location for you two,” Mom mused. “That’s why I was asking, so I could try to reserve it for you if that’s what you were planning to do.”

“I wonder if we could work out some sort of arrangement between our two colleges, so that Mr. Haakedahl could just check on both of us and then report back to Trinity,” I speculated thoughtfully.

“It’s worth looking into,” Kim agreed. “That house Mom found seems like it would be an ideal situation.”

“Well, that was a pretty delicious supper, Gram,” I told her as I put down my fork and stood up from the table.

“And just think—tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, so we’ll have even more yummy food then,” Rory added happily.

“Well, I suppose we better be getting on home, if you guys want to get some practicing in yet tonight," said Dad as he handed me my coat.

"I can't wait to hear the new song you wrote Reed," Kim said. "What's it called again?"

"He Rose from the Dead," Reed answered. “I’ll show it to ya when we get home.”

"We'll see you guys tomorrow," Gramp said as he walked with us to the door.

"Yeah--turkey and dressing!" Rory exclaimed joyously as he thought of what the next day held in store. “It just doesn’t get much better than that.”

Friday, July 30, 2010

Chapter 11

Chapter 11
Rory the Drummer

"All right now, let's go through that again," Miss Applewhite (also known as Kim) said patiently to her prize pupil. Rory was trying valiantly to learn the fine art of opening and closing the high-hat with his foot and hitting it with his stick at just the right rhythm--all while keeping the core bass-snare beat going with his other foot and hand at the same time. Nothing to it, right? Think again.

"I can't do it," Rory said forlornly. "I know how it's supposed to sound, cuz I've heard Denny do it." He attempted the rhythm once more but to no avail. "I just can't get all my hands and feet working together at the same time like I’m supposed to," he declared.

"Of course you can," Miss Applewhite told him in no uncertain terms. "You just have to keep working at it. Let’s start out very slowly, so you can have more time to concentrate on each step of the process."

So Rory, trooper that he was, gave it another try. "Hey, I think I’m gettin’ it," he exclaimed excitedly. "Listen to this! I'm really doin' it!"

"You certainly are," Miss Applewhite agreed in a matter-of-fact tone. "Now just gradually speed up a little more if you can."

Rory tripped up a bit when he attempted this, but now that he knew it could be done, his confidence was bolstered to the point where he was determined to be master of the high-hat, and not let it get the best of him any longer.

"There, you go," praised Miss Applewhite. "You're getting the hang of it. Now I'll play along on the piano, and remember, when I get to the chorus, you do that fancy roll we talked about, and then do the chorus with the ride cymbal, okay?"

"Okay," Rory agreed hesitantly. "I’ll see if I can."

"Excellent job," Miss Applewhite told him when they'd done a verse and chorus successfully. "Actually, though, I have an even better idea--"

"Tell it to me tomorrow. I'm gettin' kinda tired," Rory said. "Besides, I don't wanna miss supper."

"Oh, I won't let you miss supper," Miss Applewhite assured him. "This will be simple. Instead of hitting the snare drum on the verses, let’s find out how it sounds using the rim shot."

"No. That will be too hard," Rory complained. "I just learned how to do the rim shot a few days ago, but I won't be able to think about how to do that, plus the high-hat all at the same time."

"Let's just give it a try," Miss Applewhite insisted. "You thought you'd never be able to do the rim shot either, and now look at you. You don't even need the wood block anymore. So don't give up on something before you've even attempted it. That's not being a very good sport."

Rory sighed loudly. "I don't wanna do this," he muttered, even as his arms and legs were already beginning the rhythm. Within a couple of minutes Miss Applewhite's high expectations were again fulfilled.

"That's wonderful, Rory; I knew you could do it! Now let's just see if we can vary the rhythm a little bit--"

"No!" Rory rebelled vehemently this time. "I bet you couldn't even do some of this stuff. I don't wanna learn any more things right now."

"Rory," said Miss Applewhite sternly, “what kind of way is that to talk to your teacher?”

"I'm goin' home," said Rory determinedly, as he got up from his stool and headed for the door. "Mom says she's makin' fish and fried macaroni for supper, and I don't wanna be late."

"Rory, you come back here right now. I haven't dismissed you yet," Miss Applewhite called after him indignantly, reaching out her hand in an endeavor to catch him before he could get away.

Rory, however, was too quick for her. He leaped from her grasp just in time, and ran out the door. His teacher was left behind with only his beanie in her hand, which she had snatched from his head in her effort to stop his escape.

You'd think that Kim and I would have been more patient with our brother after that little incident and not try to push him quite so hard, but no such luck. Right after supper, we were back at it again, having our usual weekend practice session with Dad. Fortunately, Rory's enthusiasm for playing music had already returned by that point. This was probably mostly due to the fact that he knew that Dad's presence would keep things from getting too out-of-hand.

Tonight would be the first time we'd practiced together as a band since Uncle Rick's departure, and Kim and I weren't really looking forward to it. Rick had done a lot of the musical arrangements and had come up with most of the unique ideas. What would we do now without that input--not to mention without a lead guitar to add fancy licks and improve upon the melody lines of our songs? We knew we'd have to just accept the fact that this second album was destined not to be as good as the first one had been, but taking so many steps backward after all the progress we'd made was very difficult.

The atmosphere that evening was much more somber and far less energetic than was typical for our Saturday night sessions. Usually we would have burst into a spontaneous mini-jam session before getting down to business, but we didn't have the heart for that this evening. Instead, we dutifully took our places in front of our instruments and waited for the new order of procedure to take effect, whatever that might be. Finally, Dad strummed his guitar a couple of times and said in what sounded to me like a falsely enthusiastic tone, "Well, first on the list is our 'Cross Country' instrumental. What do you suppose we should do with that one?"

My sister and I sat there silently for several moments. Then Kim spoke up. "I think we should just get rid of it," was her blunt response. "It won't sound nearly as good without Uncle Rick's lead guitar, and I don't think Ror is quite steady enough yet to be able to do the beginning intro all on his own, like Denny did."

None of us could dispute what she said, so Dad resignedly agreed that she was probably right. "Even if we take that one out though, we still have more songs than most albums do," he reminded us, wanting to put the best light possible on the situation.

This time, though, it was my turn to put the damper on it. "But of course, now we won't have Rick's and Denny's songs, either," I said unhappily.

"Well, maybe we can come up with something else to take their place," Dad suggested. But that prospect wasn't a pleasant one this late in the game either.

Rory was the only person who didn't seem to be very affected by Uncle Rick’s absence. He did an impressive drum-roll and crashed around on his cymbals until Dad finally told him to tone it down a bit.

"Dad, I know how to do a good high-hat beat now," Rory told him proudly. "Just listen to this." And he proceeded to show Dad his latest achievement.

"Wow! How did you learn that all of a sudden?"

""I dunno," Rory replied. "I just kept workin' at it, and pretty soon I got the hang of it."

"Miss Applewhite helped you, didn't she?" Kim hinted knowingly, deciding it was only fair to give credit where credit was due.

"No, not really," insisted Rory. "She just kept buggin' me, until I finally got mad and went home. She even grabbed my beanie; wonder where it is now?"

"I think she brought it home and put it on the table," answered Kim hurriedly, and then quickly changed the subject. "Dad, I’ve been thinking about something I could do on the keyboard for ‘Try a Little Kindness’, since Uncle Rick isn’t here to do that nifty guitar part anymore.”

I swallowed hard, trying not to think about the incredible guitar accompaniment that Rick had come up with to embellish the song. We would just have to make do with what we had left. Kim was fiddling with the buttons and slides on the electric keyboard where she sat. "Wonder what would happen if I used a lot of violins on the intro, with a little sustain added in?" she said thoughtfully, adjusting the sound a bit more while she spoke.

In fact, it didn’t sound bad, at all. Different from what the effect had been before, naturally, but definitely worth listening to and expounding upon in its own right.

"I'll play the piano at the lower end, so those high violins will stick out more," I reasoned. "And why don't we try to slow down the ending, like this..." I demonstrated what I was thinking, and the others agreed that it was a good idea.

We went over the song again, and as we did, I concentrated on putting as much variety into my piano-playing as I could, since we no longer had the lead guitar to fill in extra notes. I observed that some of the energy and excitement which had been lacking before, now seemed to be returning somewhat. Maybe, just maybe, with God's help, we could pull this off after all.

We rehearsed the song a couple more times and noted that it kept getting better with each successive attempt. "So far, so good," I had to admit to myself. Now if we could just keep the ideas flowing in a similar fashion for the rest of the night, we'd have it made. I figured that was probably wishful thinking, though. What we'd accomplished already tonight was more than we'd dared to hope for.

" Let's do 'Lord, Hear My Prayer' next," Dad suggested. Kim and I switched instruments, and Dad began to sing. He stopped mid-way through the chorus, though. "I just got a brainstorm. I wonder what it would sound like if we did it more like this?”

We started again, only this time Dad’s voice had a new timbre, and he was using a different style of singing. He changed the melody slightly, as well, and I had to confess that I liked the revised version a lot. It apparently inspired Kim, too, because she was playing differently than she had been before.

“Sounds really good, Kim,” Dad praised her. “How did you come up with that?”

Kim told him that she’d recently learned the slurring technique she’d chosen from listening to one of Mickey Gilley’s records.

“Well, however you’re doing it, keep it up.; it really adds a lot to the song."

"What's next?" I asked eagerly. It was hard to believe we were now actually anticipating each song, instead of dreading it. God was certainly giving us an extra measure of creativity tonight. It was impossible to ignore the fact that He must really want us to go forward with our plans in spite of everything.

"I think we'll do 'Little, But I'm Loud' next. How does that sound? Are you ready to give that a try, Ror?"

"Sure," Rory obliged without hesitation. "I know I won't have to sing and drum at the same time for the record, but I should still practice it that way, so I'll be able to do it at the concerts, right?"

"Not a bad idea," Dad agreed. "Let's give it a whirl."

I recalled with irony the first time Kim and I had broached the question to our parents of whether we could be allowed to play and sing at the same time. We had been way more than twice Rory’s age. But I decided it best to refrain from reminding anybody of that fact right now.

Rory, of course, did a great job. I couldn't help but wish that Uncle Rick was there to hear how well we were managing this evening. I was so proud of my little brother as he ran through the song without a hitch. Afterward, Kim suggested that to add an extra little touch, it might be a neat idea to modulate to a new key on the last verse and chorus. We tried it and agreed it was a good plan.

The rest of the practice session that night went just as well as the first part had. It was decided that we'd even get Mom involved in the action by asking her to play her tambourine on a couple of the tunes. Kim and I thought of a different-sounding beat for Rory to do on the verses of one of our songs, which would add a unique flavor; the chorus was played with a 4-4 rhythm, while the verses would now be done in more of a 2-4 pattern. When we'd gone through all of the songs, Dad suddenly had yet another brain-storm.

"I just got to thinking--you know that song Denny was going to do, 'Outlaw's Prayer'?"

"Yeah, what about it?" we asked in unison.

"Well, instead of that, how about I do the story out of Grandma's scrapbook about the school teacher? I’ll just read the story, and you girls can play some nice background music. I think that would be a good way to close out the album."

"Good idea," I affirmed eagerly. “That will probably end up being one of people’s favorites.”

"And you could even close out our concerts with that same song,” Kim added. "It would be a good lead-in for how you usually like to end the program, explaining to people about becoming a Christian and what that means and everything."

We couldn't wait to tell Mom all about how productive our evening had been. She was very happy to hear that everything had gone so well, and it gave us all a much-needed boost to carry us through until the time came for recording our second album.

The big day finally arrived, and we felt well-prepared for what was to come. I think that even more than the final product, what we were looking forward to most at that moment was showing off Rory's talents to Harvey, the recording engineer who had produced our first project and would be doing the same for this one.

Harvey was very professional about it, though, and simply treated him like one of the guys. The only time he deviated from this pattern was when he'd finally had enough of Rory's big sisters' constant little criticisms and corrections of their brother's drumming.

"Ror, you were a little late coming in with that new beat after the chorus. Try it again."

"Ror, you're dragging a little bit. Be sure to listen to the rest of us and stay right with the rhythm."

"Don't forget that fancy roll before we head into the chorus, Ror."

"For Pete's sake, you girls! The kid is only what--five years old? Give him a break, all right?" Harvey's exasperated voice came through the speaker into the room where we were recording.

Then we heard input from Mom, too. "That's right Kim/Kon," she said, referring to us in the single-name-combination she often used when reprimanding us both. “He doesn’t have to do everything 100% perfect.” Then in a lower tone, she added for Harvey’s benefit, "We all forget he's just a kid most of the time. I'm glad you told them to lighten up a little."

Kim and I realized it would do no good to point out that the only reason we expected so much of Rory was that we knew he was always capable of delivering whatever we requested of him. Instead, we just made certain that our directives to Rory were not spoken into the microphone after this incident, in order that Harvey would not be able to hear us.

Just as he had done on our first album, Harvey was always on the lookout for ways of making the recording the best it could be. At one point, he suggested that we double our vocal tracks, to have the effect of giving our voices a fuller sound. It seemed funny for all of us to be singing along with ourselves, but we all liked the finished product very much, and were glad he'd given us the idea. Harvey also thought we might consider adding some extra harmony tracks and additional instrumentation, using some different guitars and keyboards that he would make available to us. Dad wasn't so eager to take his advice on this score, however.

"Why don't you wanna do it, Dad?” I asked in surprise. “It would make everything sound even better, to have more variety.”

"I don't like it when I hear a record that sounds totally different than the real thing," was Dad's logic. "When people go to see an artist, they want the music to sound just the way it does on the records. So I don't want to do things on this album that we won't be able to copy during our live performances.”

"But why is it any different than letting us sing over our vocal tracks?" Kim wanted to know. "We won't be able to do that on stage either, but we did it on the record."

"Don't remind him," I said dubiously. "He might decide to undo that now that you mentioned it."

"No, this is different," Dad reasoned. "All that did was to improve the quality of our voices, because we just sang the same notes over again that we'd sung the first time. We didn't add anything extra, like we’d be doing if we put in some entirely new instruments."

Reluctantly, we agreed that he was probably right. And in the end, we had to admit that it was a good feeling to realize that there wasn't anything on the album that we wouldn't be able to emulate perfectly during our shows.

"Maybe when we get back home, we can look into getting a keyboard synthesizer for you guys," Dad compromised. "That way you'll have a whole lot more instrument voices to work with, and we'll have even more sounds on our future albums."

"Cool!" said Kim with anticipation. "But how will we be able to play it, if one of us is always on the piano, and the other one has to use our electric keyboard to play the bass guitar sound?"

"I'm sure we can figure something out," Dad promised. "Maybe we can position the synthesizer in such a way that you'll be able to reach over and play it with your other hand, while doing the bass with your left."

Our second album caused just as much stir for our family and friends as the first one had. This was likely due to the fact that everyone was curious about how a 5-year-old could possibly be good enough to drum on a record. When the demo finally arrived in the mail, everyone once again gathered in our living-room to listen to it together. Even though our grandparents had heard Rory drumming a few times at our recent concerts, they were amazed by the great job he had done. Kim and I couldn’t help but take pride in the fact that we had taught him many of the skills that he was now demonstrating on each song, but we knew our responsibility was far from over. In fact, it was just beginning.

Our work was indeed cut out for us as we began making plans for the third album, which would be called "Country Gospel Blend." This time, Rory wouldn't be able to just copy the basic rhythms that Denny had already laid down for him before leaving the group. Now it would be completely up to us to assist Rory in creating and cultivating his own drumming style, and try to come up with interesting and unique new ideas to give each song a special touch.

Even little Reed was going to sing on this third album. He would be nearly three by then, which we thought was high time that he begin developing his own musical talents. He was growing up to be quite a charming little boy. Reed was never in a bad mood. Even when his asthma was acting up and his breathing became labored, this didn't slow him down any. He never complained about anything and was always happy and carefree. It was impossible to imagine that there had ever been a time when he wasn't an essential part of the family.

In spite of the age difference, Reed was Rory's constant companion and playmate when Kim and I were at school. Mom often made the comment that just as God had given Kim and me each other, He sure knew what He was doing when He gave Rory a little brother to play with and love too. They looked out for one another and stuck together, just as Kim and I always had. Rory enjoyed having someone closer to his own age to interact with now, and Reed certainly looked up to and admired his big brother, as well.

One day when Rory was playing our little organ and trying to record some songs he had learned, Reed was making a bunch of racket in the background and distracting his brother. Rather than get mad at him though, Rory just calmly suggested to Reed that it was time for his nap, and that he should go and notify Mom of this. Reed dutifully went in search of his mother, and when he found her he obediently did as Rory had instructed. "Ror says I'm supposed to remind you that it's time for my nap now," he informed her. "But I don't wanna take my nap!" he protested tearfully at the end of his little monologue. Nevertheless, Mom hid her amusement and told him that it was, indeed, getting close to his nap time, and then proceeded to put him to bed.

Even at a young age, Reed was always thinking and usually had a witty comment ready for any occasion. Once when Mom told him to put away his toys, he replied innocently with the logic that "I wanna take turns like you say we should. I took the toys out, so now you put them away."

Unlike the rest of us, Reed had a mop of curly hair, which was so cute and adorable that Mom found it hard to have it cut. Whenever anyone asked him where he got his curly hair, his matter-of-fact response was that "God gave it to me," as though wondering what could be more obvious.

True to their word, Mom and Dad helped us purchase a synthesizer that year, and we loved it immediately. The control panel had buttons similar to those on a calculator, with a different instrument sound for every 2-digit combination from eleven through ninety-nine!

"This is going to make our music sound so much better!" Kim exclaimed joyfully.

"I can't wait to give it a try," I agreed with fervor. "Now we'll have so many instruments to choose from that we might have to start Brailling up a song list before each program, so we can remember what we're doing for each one."

From that point on, each time we had a booking, one of us would take her turn at the Brailler--putting two sheets of paper in at once, so that both of us would have a copy. Then Mom would read off the song titles that we'd all chosen for that particular program, while we took notes.

We also had another reason to be joyful that spring. It was looking more and more likely that Kim and I might be able to begin attending high school in Lemmon the following year. An IEP (individual education plan) meeting had been scheduled at the school in Aberdeen to discuss the matter. Many blind students were now being mainstreamed into their own communities, and we reasoned that we should be allowed to do the same. For the past two years, we had already been attending a couple of classes at a local public junior-high school in Aberdeen, just to get our feet wet, as it were.

"We'll just leave it in God's hands," Dad said. "We've been praying about this for several years already, and we believe our prayers are being answered. Now we'll just trust in Him to work out all the details.”

PostScript by the Author: The following is an audio link to "I'm Little, but I'm Loud," Rory's solo on our second record album, Cross Country. As stated above, he was five years old on this recording. Unfortunately, this was before the days of video, but what you'll be hearing is our dad playing rhythm guitar, my sister, Kim on piano, me on bass and strings, (we girls also doing backup vocals) and Rory drumming and lead vocals. I thought this would be a neat way to close out the chapter, as tangible evidence of God's goodness and provision. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Music in his Blood

"Hey, everybody, be quiet a minute and listen to this. You're not gonna believe it!" I cried excitedly one day when Rory was about six months old. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were all at my grandparents' house, where Gram had just made us a big, delicious dinner as usual, before we made the weekly trip to the school in Aberdeen.

Everyone stopped their conversation and listened quietly. I jiggled Rory on my lap to keep him awake. It was past his nap time, and I knew he'd be asleep any minute. "Okay, now do it, again," I coaxed my brother. "You remember how to sing, right?"

Slowly and clearly I began to hum the tune for "Jesus Loves Me," which I'd been singing to him a few seconds earlier. Rory laid his head back down on my shoulder contentedly, glad to be hearing his favorite lullaby again.

"No, you can't go to sleep, yet," I pleaded as I jiggled him to keep him awake. "First you have to sing 'Jesus Loves Me' like you did a minute ago."

Everyone continued to wait in anticipation, but nothing happened. "What did he do, anyway?" Kim demanded to know.

"He was humming it!" I said in frustration. But I could tell by the silent response that no one really believed me.

"I was rocking him to sleep, and I thought he was napping, so I stopped singing," I explained further. "I guess he wanted me to keep humming it, because all of a sudden, his little head came up, and he started humming it, himself."

"How could he know the tune?" Kim asked skeptically. "He's just a baby!"

"Quiet, he's doin' it again," I exclaimed.

They all listened attentively, and sure enough, as though to prove my point, Rory began humming the song once more.

"Wow! He's really doing it!" Kim breathed in wonder. "It's right in tune, and even the right rhythm, and everything."

Rory hummed the song all the way to the end, and was rewarded by loud and long cheers and applause from his entire family. Tickled to have so much attention, he promptly did it all over again, and got the same result.

"Now do it for me," Kim insisted, grabbing her brother away from me. Rory bounced gleefully in her arms, and obligingly, began to hum the entire song for the third time.

"Well, I'll be darned," Gramp declared unbelievingly. "He is singing it, sure enough."

"There's no denying that kid has music in his blood," Dad agreed.

Needless to say, we were all very enthralled with this most recent accomplishment from our very own baby. Kim and I hardly gave him any peace during the whole trip to Aberdeen. We kept experimenting with him, to see if he'd still remember what he'd done after waking from a little snooze, and to test whether he might have stored any other songs in his brain, besides Jesus Loves Me. We could hardly wait to get back to school, in order to impress the other girls in the dorm with our incredibly talented little brother.

As the months went by, Rory's musical appreciation continued to become even more apparent to the family. Shortly after learning to walk, he started dancing to music. Whenever Mom turned on the radio, or Kim and I pulled out the bench to play the piano, Rory would begin to spin around enthusiastically in
time with the music. He'd even join in vocally, as well. He invented a way of modulating his voice to match whatever rhythm was being played, kind of like having his own portable drum-set at his disposal for whenever the need arose.

Soon Rory began to accompany our frequent jam sessions with ice-cream buckets and spoons. Pie plates made great cymbals and/or snare drums, and different-sized containers were used for the different sounding drums. This makeshift drum kit could be quickly gathered and assembled at a moment's notice. He'd beat them so hard that the buckets never lasted very long, but this gave our dad a good excuse to eat plenty of dessert.

When Rory was about two, he began traveling with the family band, so he could sing a couple of songs at the concerts. He loved being able to sing in the microphone, and hearing all the applause. He didn't ever seem to be nervous or shy, and you never knew what he might divulge to the audience at any of
these performances. Mom always joked that it's a good thing we didn't have any big family secrets, because they wouldn't stay secret for long.

"And now I believe it's time for my little son, Rory to come up here and do a number or two for you all," Dad might say by way of introduction. That was Mom's cue to bring Rory up to the front.

"Testing, one two three four," Rory said into the mike, as he'd heard Dad do several times during set-up.

"What are you going to sing for us tonight?" Dad asked him.

"It's bubbling," Rory replied promptly. "And I have to do a good job, or the girls said they would pull my hair."

This remark was followed by a burst of laughter from the people in the audience. Dad cleared his throat and tried to change the subject. "And how old
are you now, Rory?"

"I'm two years old," he stated without hesitation. "And my sisters are 12, and you're 39."

More laughter. Rory waited patiently for it to die down before delivering the punch line. “And Mom is 32,” he declared emphatically.

"All right then, thank you," Dad said above the laughter and smattering of applause. "Let's go ahead and sing your song now."

Which Rory subsequently did. Afterward, while the last notes were still being played, and before the people even had a chance to clap for him, Rory asked loudly, "Now can I have my bubble-gum, Mom? I did a good job, right?"

"Yes, you can have your gum now," Mom whispered, as she hurriedly removed him from the spotlight, amidst more laughter and applause.

One day, shortly after he turned three, I was sitting with Rory on my lap, telling him a story while Kim played some familiar melodies on the piano. I could tell he was distracted by something and not really paying attention to my story. "What's the matter?" I asked him.

"That song Kim is playin' doesn't sound right," he said in a puzzled tone, after listening intently to the music for several minutes.

I shrugged. "It sounds pretty much the same as always to me."

"No, it should go like this," Rory said, humming the same tune Kim was playing, except in a higher key. "That's how it is on the radio."

"Oh, that's just because Kim must be playing in a different key than it sounds on the radio," I explained. Then I stopped short, as what Rory had just said began to sink in. "Wait a minute," I said incredulously. "How do you know what key the song is supposed to be played in, anyway?"

"I just do," he answered matter-of-factly, as though there were nothing unusual about having this skill. "Don't you know how it should sound?"

"Hey, Kim, stop playing a minute," I exclaimed excitedly. "I can't get over this! I think Ror can tell keys apart!"

We later learned that the correct term for this ability was to have "perfect pitch." At the time, though, we weren't even aware that any other humans had ever done such a thing! So Rory seemed like a true musical genius to us, indeed! We did have reason to be amazed, however, because being able to identify the different notes audibly is a gift which only a very few people are innately given. And for Rory to be able to demonstrate this knowledge at such a
young age was quite remarkable, to be sure!

Kim played several different notes on the piano at random, just to see if she could trick our brother. "Now, can you still tell me what key you sing "Jesus Loves Me" in at our concerts?" she quizzed him.

Without hesitation, Rory started singing. Kim found the key of C where we normally played the tune, and began playing along with him.

"He's right!" I marveled. "And he didn't even have to think about it."

"Wow! This is sure something!" Kim said, hardly able to believe what she was hearing, either. Then, unable to resist finding out just how much Rory's brain could take in, she played a C and told him what it was called. Then she went one note higher, and explained this was the key of D.

"Just like D comes after C in the alphabet," I put in. (Rory had been able to recite his ABC's for a year already.)

Next, Kim played a series of C and D notes in several different octaves, in order to test Rory's ability to identify them correctly. He never missed even one.

"I bet I know what the next note is called," Rory said triumphantly. "E!"

"That's right!" I confirmed proudly--covering his head with kisses and giving him a big squeeze.

It wasn't long before Rory could name all of the musical notes, including the sharps and flats! Often he would remind us of where a song should be played, or proudly correct his dad when he'd accidentally hit a wrong chord on the guitar.

"Dad, you have to go to a G when it gets to the chorus," Rory told him. "I think this song would be easier if you would put the capo on the 2nd fret."

Whenever Rory heard a new song for the first time, his initial fascination was with the musical aspect. He would pick the melody apart piece by piece, until he was able to tell you precisely which instruments were played in any given section. If it was a song he really liked, he usually knew exactly
what notes each instrument played throughout the entire selection, as well. Once he had the music down to a science, it was then time to focus on the lyrics.

One day, Mom found him sitting next to the radio, tears streaming down his face. "Why, Ror, what's the matter?" she asked in concern. Although he was sensitive by nature, it certainly wasn't like him to be crying without a good reason.

"That little boy is so mean to his dad," Rory sobbed.

"What little boy?" Mom asked, completely bewildered by what he said.

"That boy on the song," Rory answered through his tears. "He won't even open the door and let his dad come into the house."

"What do you mean?" Mom asked, still puzzled.

Rory sniffled and attempted to calm down a little. "That man in the song keeps saying, 'Honey, honey, won't you open the door?' And then he says, 'This
is your sweet daddy, don't you love me no more?' And the poor man is cold, and has to sleep on the floor, and everything, but his son just stands there and won't let him in!" The tears began to flow heavily again, as Rory recounted the tragic story.

Mom hugged him and patiently tried to comfort her own little boy by assuring him that it was just a song, and that it was actually talking about a not-so-nice husband who was always trying to convince his wife to take pity on him. Rory was somewhat mollified, but the incident showed us all how literal Rory was,
and also made us aware of just how closely he was paying attention to the things going on around him, and taking them to heart.

As Rory grew, his interest in music continued to develop even more. Looking back, I can now see that he definitely wasn't your typical three-year-old. At the time, though, he was just my little brother, Ror. Nothing more, nothing less. Without realizing it, we were all subconsciously helping him to stretch
his potential as far as it could go. He seemed always able to deliver whatever we required of him, so we simply continued to keep expecting more and more from him, in countless little ways.

Before long, Rory was harmonizing with us on some of our songs, as well as singing several of his own. One of his favorite pastimes was when Kim or I or both of us would sit down at the piano and let him join in on his kazoo or wood-knockers, and lately even the harmonica--which was his most recent fascination.

Whenever we were on the road going to and from school or traveling to one of our concerts, we were still not without music. If the eight-track player wasn't in use, the three of us kids would often burst into song ourselves, doing a three-part a capella trio.

If we weren't singing, Kim and I would spend long hours during road-trips playing travel-games with our brother, such as 20-questions or memory games. We rarely "let him win" unless it was deserved. But as though determined not to be outdone by mere sisters, he proved to be good competition. Sometimes
Kim and I would make rhythmic patterns by clapping our hands, and see if Rory could copy what we did. If he succeeded, we'd make the patterns more complicated.

Besides games like this, we might keep occupied by indulging in some other form of educational activity—teaching Rory about rhyming words, opposites, synonyms, or syllable identification. When this became boring, Kim and I would sometimes become a little more mischievous with our forms of entertainment.

"Ror, do you know who I am?" I would ask in a high-pitched voice.

"Is that you, Henrietta?" Rory asked, always eager to play with one of his imaginary friends, which Kim and I created for him.

"No, I'm someone else," the voice replied.

"Who are you?" Rory wanted to know.


"I don't know; if you're not Henrietta, I give up."

"I told you! Guess!" I shot back at him.

"I did guess," Rory said patiently.

"No! I don't mean that!" I insisted. "My name is Guess!"

"Mom," Rory called up to the front seat in frustration, "Kon is buggin' me!"

"Knock it off, Konnie!" Mom warned tiredly, without much hope that her reprimand would be heeded.

"But I did tell you who I am," I said innocently to my brother. "I'm Guess!"

Rory thought for a few seconds. "You mean your name is Guess?" he finally asked hopefully.

"Guess!" was my reply.

"Your name is Guess!" he said triumphantly.

"Why should I guess? I already know my own name," I said.

"No! I don't mean you should guess," he countered. "I just mean I'm telling you your name; it's Guess!"

"Very good," I finally conceded. "You're a pretty sharp little boy, you know that?"

"Now, would you like to know who I am?" Kim asked in a similar high-pitched voice.

"Who?" Rory asked, always game for a new challenge.

"Nobody," my sister answered in the high voice.

"Oh, so you're Nobody!" Rory exclaimed knowingly.

"I'm somebody; why did you say I'm nobody?" Kim asked in an offended tone.

"You guys!" Mom said, with almost as much exasperation as Rory must have been feeling. "Stop it now."

"I didn't mean you aren't anybody," Rory explained carefully. "I just mean your name is Nobody."

"You're right," Kim consented. "What a smart boy."

"Now Ror, remember to sing loud and clear in the mike tonight," I reminded him sternly. "Last time you mumbled a couple of your words, and people couldn't understand what you were saying!"

"And you also sang a few of your notes a little bit too high, at the beginning of 'It's Bubbling'," Kim added. "You can sing better than that."

"I did that on purpose," Rory admitted. "Just to be funny, and see how it would sound."

"Ror, you know better than that!" I accused, giving his hair a tug. "You don't ever be silly in the microphone!"

Undaunted, Rory took a sip from his pop-bottle. "Hey, I got this bottle to be in the key of C!" he announced happily. "Kim, if you drink a little more
of yours, you can make an E note, and Kon's is almost full, so she can be G! Then we can make a nice chord when we blow in our bottles at the same time!”

"Or we could make C, D and E, and play ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ like we do with that neat push-button telephone at Debbie's house," Kim suggested.

When we got to wherever we were going, Kim and I would usually go off exploring the new church or building where we would be doing the concert. Rory, on the other hand, always had to be in the thick of whatever was going on. He was very curious, and had lots of questions for Dad while the equipment was
being set up--soaking up every bit of knowledge he could about all the aspects of what went on behind the scenes.

"Where do you plug in your guitar?" he might ask.

"Right here," Dad would reply, taking his hand and showing him which connection fit into which socket in the amplifying equipment.

"Hmm," Rory said, intrigued. "What would happen if you put it in this other hole?"

Rory was always on hand to help tune up the instruments and get them balanced correctly, too.

"That second string needs to be a little bit higher, Dad," he would say. "And the next one is flat, too. How did you ever tune your guitar before I was born?"

"It took a lot longer; that's for sure," Dad admitted.

"And do you still remember that new chord I showed ya the other day?" Rory asked, wanting to be certain there would be no goofs when it came time to perform.

Dad thought for a minute. "Not really. Which song was that again?”

"Remember, the girls wanted to try going to that new-fangled minor chord during the chorus of 'Try a Little Kindness,'" Rory reminded him. "It's pretty much like a regular A chord, but your third finger just moves down one fret."

Ironically enough, Rory's favorite type of music as a child was waltzes and polkas--probably because he heard so much old-time music whenever he visited his grandparents' house. Grandpa began letting him experiment with his mouth organs, just as he had with me several years earlier. He would let Rory
touch his face as he played so Rory could see how he moved the harmonica for the different notes--exhaling for some and inhaling for others.

Rory could often be found sitting next to Gramp as he would pick the guitar and sing his favorite songs from when he was a boy. Sometimes Rory would kneel in front of Grandpa and practice strumming along with him.

"Can I try to do it myself?" Rory begged, as he carefully took the guitar from his grandpa and tried to wield the cumbersome object as easily as Gramp had done.

"It's still too big and heavy for you to handle," Grandpa admonished. "You'll have to wait until you're a little older."

But Rory had an idea. "Not if I do it like this," he said as he laid the guitar down across his lap and rested his fingers on top. "Now I can reach the frets a lot easier, too. Otherwise my hand was too little to get around the neck of the guitar

"Hmm," Gramp said thoughtfully "I don't know if that will work or not. I've never heard of anybody doing it like that. And anyway, you have it laying backwards right now. You should turn it this way." He picked up the guitar and positioned it so that the neck of the guitar was on Rory's left side, rather than on his right.

Rory obligingly strummed a few notes, but then decided to put the guitar back the way it had been a few moments earlier. "I like it better with the frets
over here," he told Grandpa in a matter-of-fact tone. "I guess I'm just more used to it, because that's how it is for me whenever I kneel in front of you. And I like strumming with my other hand."

Grandpa laughed. "Well, you have plenty of time to figure it all out," he said. "Just keep working on it, and I'm sure that someday you'll be a star.”