Monday, June 4, 2012
Fifty Years Ago Today ... Part II
As I wrote yesterday, my high school baccalaureate service was fifty years ago yesterday. I wrote mostly about Francis Proctor (the organist at the church) and his family, our neighbors. As I look at the rest of the music on the program that long-ago evening, I know that the two hymns--"God of Our Fathers" and "Now in the Days of Youth"--were very familiar to me.
Because my grandfather, uncle, and father were all ordained Disciples of Christ ministers (I nearly went that way myself--but that's another story), I spent a lot of time--a lot of time--in Disciples churches in my boyhood and youth. (You have not lived until you've sat listening to an hour-long sermon in Lahoma, Oklahoma, on a Sunday in July, temperature around 110!) Even when we were traveling, on Sunday mornings Dad would look for some little Disciples church in some little country town where we could sit and sing the same songs and hear the same words we would have sung and heard back in Enid or Amarillo or Hiram. (If no Disciples church, we would settle for Methodist or Presbyterian.) I can't say it was my favorite part of summer vacation. (Neither was Vacation Bible School, which I abhorred, and a term which I now realize is oxymoronic: "vacation" and "school" do not belong together! Even--especially?--when you put "Bible" between them.)
The Disciples hymnal in them-thar days was Christian Worship: A Hymnal. I have my grandfather's copy, 1953 edition. I know this publication well. During the dull minutes of the sermons (never my favorite part of the service, not in boyhood when I believed the Natural Order required that I be outside playing Robin Hood, not sitting in a suit and tie on a hard pew and listening to earnestness I never really understood, not then) I would page through that hymnal, looking for something diverting. I remember the day that Bob Waller, my friend (and fellow traveler through the hymnal), found that the lyrics for Hymn 102 ("Father, We Praise Thee, Now the Night Is Over") were written by Gregory the Great, 540-604. It was all we could do to keep from erupting in laughter, right there in the balcony of the Hiram Christian Church. Gregory the Great! Those words just didn't seem to go together ... how could someone named Gregory be great? Fall-down funny. (This, alone, shows how desperate we were for diversion, there in that balcony.) Years later, of course, I learned he was Pope Gregory I, a title that a Protestant hymnal would naturally neglect to mention.
My grandfather made some little notes beside many of the hymns. Next to "God of Our Fathers" he has written OK, vs. 1, 2. I guess he was saying he'd use the first two verses. I'm not sure why. The final two deal with the poor and justice and human fraternity. He has no note for "Now in the Days of Youth," probably because its uses are so obvious. The hymn is about dedicating yourself, even when young, to the faith. Before it's too late, I suppose. But I always kind of liked the opening lines: "Now in the days of youth, / When life flows fresh and free ...." I didn't feel especially "fresh" in those days--and certainly not "free" (school! homework! chores! rules! rules! rules!), but it was a nice thought. When you're young, it's the adults who seem free; not until you become one--an adult--do you realize how wrong you were.
And I see in the program for that evening that the senior members of the high school chorus--I among them--sang "Ave Maria." I have no memory of singing that night--certainly not the music we sang. But--lo and behold!--I just now, with surprising ease, found the score--free and downloadable--on the Internet. (Ave Maria). I look at the bass line--my--line and see nothing too demanding. It asks me to go no higher than C, no lower than an A-flat. I could do that. But the music--the words prompt nothing in my memory. I can't remember a thing about singing "Ave Maria" that night, even as I look at the music.
I do know that our conductor that evening was Mrs. Ruthana Dreisbach, a wonderful teacher. Her husband, Dale, taught chemistry at Hiram College and one of her sons, Paul, was a year younger than I. I liked to be next to him in chorus class, mostly because he always got the pitches right, and I was a quick imitator. Mrs. Dreisbach basically did all the vocal music in the school--K-12--and directed (in my time there) three operettas. I was in all three--The Mikado, Masquerade in Vienna (based on Die Fledermaus), Trial by Jury. Later--a teacher myself--I realized for the first time what a dedicated person she was. The school, I'm sure, had paid her virtually nothing to mount those complicated productions. She did them for a simple reason: love. Oddly, she and I ended up for a few years teaching in the same school system, Aurora.
It never occurred to me in 1962--or in any earlier year--that there was something wrong with all of this, with requiring young people to attend a Protestant religious service as part of their high school graduation ceremonies. (Was it required? I don't remember.) In 1962 I was absolutely certain that this was the proper thing to do. Catholics and others were, well, just wrong, that's all. And atheists? They were a class of people so unimaginable that I didn't imagine them. Simple. I was right. My father was right. My uncle was right. My grandfather was right. Anyone with another view was wrong. Simple. Very simple.
Now in the days of decline, of course, I look back at 1962--at the 1962 me--and am dazed by my ignorance. My blindness. My belief that the answers were easy, and that I had them. Had them all.