The warmth of human spirit
Almost every night I was in her company, until she could no longer manage, my Grandma East would spend 20 minutes or so working out her old upright piano before retiring for bed. It was mostly religious standards – “The Old Rugged Cross” and “How Great Thou Art” among her favorites – but once in a while she’d make like Joplin and just lay onto the keys, using every bit of her hands in grand gesture.At her house there was a sleeper sofa in an abominable shade of kelly green: my place for bunking down. The piano wasn’t six feet away. Long after I’d been put away along with the evening dishes, she’d leave on the adjacent kitchen light and head over to the upright, standing next to it, placing a hand on it just so, offering a quiet but audible prayer for a night of peace and safety. Then she’d sit on the bench and let her hands do the praying.
No matter how lonely or windy the night was outside … no matter whether wolves had already been heard out yawping in the pasture … her notes of gospel and jazz were minor epistles of how OK everything was and was going to be – a goodnight blanket of warmth and reassurance sent to a boy with naturally cold toes.She couldn’t read music. She had learned that she could play by ear while in the company of my grandfather, a quiet man named Bud who for some years had rounded out a band called the Kansas Playboys. Grandpa played guitar, viola, and saw.
Floydia East was a woman whose hands had long been made smooth and clean by generations of south-Kansas farm work. Grandpa Bud (who died when I was but a few weeks old) farmed and worked at a nearby gas plant. Their house faced north, without a windbreak, like some crazy challenge to the elements to manufacture the toughest weather they could stand: Bring it on, Mother Nature, we’ve got our love to keep us warm.One evening sometime in the late ’50s had been a night of the Playboys’ typical honkytonk, gospel, and blues dance sets, and the band had packed it in after laying it on thick. They’d emerged from the armory minor heroes, happily exhausted and looking for home, when a neighboring farmer approached with a request for help. He’d locked himself out of his truck and wanted a ride back to the house so he could grab his spare key.The story goes that Grandpa asked what sort of truck the man had, confirming a suspicion – they both drove ’54 Ford pickups. So Grandpa stuck his own key into his neighbor’s truck’s door, and voila! the door swung open and the neighbor drove home.That’s the sort of thing you thought about while covered with afghans and listening to Grandma make holy music when the night was dark and still just outside the window.
Somewhere in our lives – or at least in the memories of our lives – there are people who just made things work, made things all right. Reminiscence makes them bigger than life and sweeter, maybe, than they actually were, and simple recollection is like commemoration is like sainthood. No vaunted hallows of the institutional church keeps their name on a file, and no priest will celebrate their feast day.But their presence among the sainted host of heaven enlivens our memory and our sense of hope for the season, floating like music into the chill and nip of winter, down among the afghans at night, whispering, “Spring is coming, Spring is coming.”The Rev. Torey Lightcap is priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs (www.saint-barnabas.info). Torey and his wife have two children and live in New Castle.
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The Glenwood Springs-Rifle sports rivalry goes way back for GSHS baseball coach and former Demons multi-sport student-athlete Eric Nieslanik.