Dear Myrl (and the band),
This letter has been a long time coming. It's rattled around in my head now, in various forms, for better than a year. But putting it all down in a cohesive manner has been a challenge I've avoided. You probably remember playing about a year and a half ago, give or take, at the Rolla Manor Care nursing center. Or maybe not, specifically. Perhaps they have the good fortune to hear you play often. Either way, though Myrl knows me, I'll try to jog memories for the rest of you. This particular day, when you opened the floor to requests, a resident, young by nursing home standards, requested a song you didn't know--"Far Side Banks of Jordan." And somehow--the details become fuzzy to me at this point--her daughter (that would be me) got talked into singing the song. I think you asked if she wanted to sing it instead, and she nudged me forward. Ordinarily, I would try to gracefully bow out of a request like that. I don't suffer the near paralyzing stage fright she lived with, but I'm generally not particularly outgoing. I'm still not sure what made me not only say yes, but drag her along with me.
You see, throughout my life, I can't remember a time we didn't sing together, at least privately. Publicly, she was more inclined to nudge me into the spotlight while shying away from it herself. Singing onstage made her terribly nervous, even though she was remarkably talented. I will forever marvel over the way she could listen to me sing any song, then pick out and sing a harmony line. In her youth, she could sing any part, from second alto clear up to first soprano. By the time I was born, her range was a bit more limited, but she still had a lovely voice. Christmases would find us driving around nearby towns, looking at light displays and singing Christmas carols. Sunday mornings would find us harmonizing "The Old Rugged Cross" or "Mansion Over the Hilltop" side by side in the same pew we occupied from my childhood. Our voices lifted together, along with my aunt's, over my grandmother as she made the journey from this life to the next. And from time to time, gatherings of friends would be filled with spontaneous music. As her health failed, she sang less and less, the result of congestive heart failure impairing her breathing. Which is why I wasn't quite sure what I was thinking that day when I grabbed the handles of her wheelchair and said, "All right, but you're coming with me."
That day, completely unprepared and out of practice, was not one of our finest performances, as you may remember. But it will always be one of my fondest memories. You see, a few months later, just a couple days shy of her 60th birthday, my mother, the rich harmony of my life, succumbed to kidney failure and complications from a stroke. That day became the last time we would sing together, and strangely enough, I think it's that single little thing that I miss the most.
For a long time now, I've wanted to thank you, and give you some idea of the gift you gave me that day. The gift not only of your music, which we enjoyed immensely, but of our own, together, one last time.