The last time we talked, I was telling you about the good visit my wife and I had to Ottawa, Ontario. Following up, I briefly mentioned that one of my goals was to get a photograph of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman in full bright red dress uniform. It didn't happen. The next day after writing the article, we toured the Canadian Mint. I met this officer guarding a gold bar that was on display and he told me that I wouldn't see the bright red uniform during the winter. Only on ceremonial occasions and during the summer, he said. I guess I'll have to go back. It won't take too much urging. The visit to Ottawa – even with a chilly 9 degrees outside – was a trip to remember. The glow lasted until we got home...
My wife works in a job where she has to be overseas a lot. She is an engineer who works with commercial rockets used to launch satellites. Prior to our Ottawa trip she knew she would have to go on a trip to relieve some people who had been in Central Asia way too long. The deal was that she would be there through Christmas Day and then return. It didn't happen. Another glitch and turns out that she was extended another week. Am I crying? Not really, this is the reality of her job and my commitment to support her. It was still a bummer. On Christmas Eve, she calls me and reminds me to go to church the next day. Okay, I said.
Thinking of PO writer Everett Wilson and his wonderful story about cufflinks, I pulled out a newly pressed suit, found my starched shirt with the French cuffs, and attached a pair of cufflinks given to me upon my retirement from active duty. One last glance in the mirror and I was off to church which normally starts at 10:30 a.m. I arrive at 10:15 and the parking lot is empty. Drats! I had been reading about these mega churches that were closing down for Christmas. Was my church (certainly not in the mega category) one of them, I wondered? Driving away, I drove through the small town of Purcellville, Virginia determined to find a church. Same story – parking lots empty. Scratching my head, I headed home.
It was raining heavily when I arrived at the house, still wondering why my church was closed for business on Christmas Day. In about forty-five minutes, I found out why. Pulling up the church calendar on the church website (which I should have done in the first place), I discovered that services had not been cancelled but postponed for a half hour. After awarding myself the "Idiot of Christmas" award, I contemplated going out to a nice restaurant for Christmas dinner when the thought struck me that there wouldn't be very many restaurants open because it was…after all…Christmas. Besides that, it was raining. I contemplated calling my wife in and telling her what an idiot her husband was when I remembered – because of the time difference – she was sleeping. If I had pushed those buttons on the phone without thought - waking her, I would be an idiot – compounded!
Books and reruns the rest of the day and not feeling very complete because dumb me missed church, I stewed and thought about what kind of article to write for today's column. All kinds of possibilities came to mind. The first was political. I ditched that because you guys don't want to hear about politics at Christmas. The second was humor. I ditched that one too, because how can you write something humorous if you've lost your sense of humor? I finally decided I would send Mark Johnson, the founder of The Partial Observer a note telling him I was on vacation during the week between Christmas and the New Year. What a lie that would be, I thought. I'm retired. I'm on vacation all the time. I decided to take a walk during a respite in the rain and think about it some more.
Two miles into a five-mile walk, you guessed it, I got soaked to the skin. Being wet and cold is always my idea of personal misery, especially as I'm prone to colds and earaches. I headed for home, took a hot shower, plopped down in front of the TV, and finally had church. You're probably thinking I flipped to one of the twenty channels of religious programming available through my satellite provider. Actually, I was looking for something with Arnold, Bruce Willis, or Segal. I was looking for something that had a lot of guns, action, and vengeance to keep pace with my mood. Furiously changing channels, I was suddenly arrested in mid flip by a sound of my youth growing up in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains – bluegrass gospel.
I had stumbled on a channel that I'd never seen before, RFD TV from Nashville, Tennessee. Pushing the "information" button, I discovered the program I was watching was a segment of a gospel bluegrass group called The Cumberland Highlanders. At the moment, accompanied by mandolin, guitar, bass fiddle, and banjo, a man with one of the most high lonesome tenor voices I have ever heard was singing one of many gospel hymns I would listen to for the rest of the program. The man's name is Russell Wilson. He and the others on that taped program brought my Christmas service to me in a way that I didn't expect. My eagerness for guns, action, and vengeance in TV programming evaporated and was replaced with the plaintive gospel sounds of my Scots-Irish mountain heritage. I was balanced again...
If you enjoy bluegrass and wish to hear some of the sounds that made my Christmas day a joy, go to www.wilsonbluegrass.com.