Keep Singing Uncle
* When I was fourteen, My Uncle invited me to spend a month with him in his parsonage home at Hemingway, S.C. Uncle was a Baptist preacher. I was happy and excited to be traveling to a different state, town, and community.
Aunt Corina, Uncle's wife, was an elementary school teacher. She was spending the summer at Appalachian State Teachers College, Boone, N.C. taking additional courses to obtain a higher educational degree.
I am obliged to my readers to describe my Aunt and Uncle's humane and physical characteristics. My aunt was not the epitome of stoicism, but quite the opposite. She was vibrant and joyful. Her laughter was exuberant and happy. She wore modest, attractive and colorful dresses. Her favorite color was blue. She always wore a gold chain and cross. She had sparkling blue eyes. Her hair was black and curly. My Aunt did apply her bright red lip stick liberally and with care. She would laugh gleefully as she planted a big red kiss on my cheek. Needless to say, I had a red lip print. When talking to me about my school and school work, she would look intently into my eyes. Her eyeglasses perched on her nose. I felt her concern and love. She's gone now, but I will always have loving memories of Aunt Corina.
My Uncle was an intense Southern Baptist minister. While preaching, he did not bellow from the pulpit. His speech was polished and authorative. He was lean and very tall. His hair, graying around the temples. He was so reed like that his suit sort of hung loosely around his frame. He wore silver framed eyeglasses which highlighted his ministerial image. Uncle pastored a rural country church. Tobacco and corn fields surrounded the simple brick structure. I was impressed with the steeple and bell tower. Both were painted white and would glisten in the bright summer sun.
It was a hot muggy day as we drive toward Uncle's home in S.C. It's comforting to have nice memories linger in one's mind. This delightful memory occured when we stopped to get refreshments at a rustic country store. The small store was surrounded with lenghty rows of cotton. It seemed as if the rows went on and on. Our sodas came from an aged red Coca Cola cooling box. A block of ice had been added. The frigid water would almost reach the top of the glass soda bottles. I always looked for one with slushy ice. My cola became a late fifties "slushy." After riding in a hot car, the frigid coca cola was delicious.
We continued southward toward Hemingway, S.C. The radio did not work. Seemed like they never did in those days. While Uncle was visiting in our home, My Dad, a choir director at our church was teaching him in the fundamentals of practicing and singing a simple musical scale. It went like this, DO RA ME FA SO LA TE DO. To be sung from low notes to high notes. Uncle was not blessed with a peaceful and soothing singing voice. Sort of like the sound of an untalented person trying to sing the "The Star Spangled Banner." "You've heard the sound, I'm sure." This supposedly talented artist in a high pitched voice screeching for the notes. It was comforting to me that our dear "Old Glory" flag was not tattered and left in shreds from the concussion! Uncle was practicing the notes as we rode along. DO RA ME ME ME FA? My Dad had written the note scales on a piece of paper for him. He would glance at it and then the road. Away he would go! DO RA ME FA SO LA LA LA DO? I was hoping that a wayward cow did not become entangled in Uncle's car grill. DO RA ME FA SO LA LA LA - I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears. "Please, will this ever stop?!" DO RA ME FA FA FA - Dad could sing it frontward and backward. Uncle had not mastered this yet. Would he? I don't think so! Being a very small church, He had the duties of teacher, preacher, and choir director. He wanted to impress his choir by introducing them to something new. With practice, He envisioned his faithful choir singing like an early morning turtle dove. Over and over. "Now again, DO RE ME FA FA."
I was so relieved when we finally pulled into the parsonage drive. After unpacking, showering, and a change of clothes, we had to move fast. "Bobby, We need to hurry, worship and choir practice begins at six." I groaned inwardly.
It was a country church. Tobacco and corn backing up on all sides. These farm folks made their living entirely from farming. They didn't waste farm soil. Uncle began introducing me as his nephew. The men were dressed in clean overalls. The women were neat and attractive in their printed dresses. I was the center of their attention. They would hug me, pat me, and comment on my red auburn hair and "freckles!" "Oh no, I was self conscious of my freckles!" The women were sweet and kind. The men looked strong and rugged. They greeted me open heartedly. As they shook my hand, I could feel the many hard and accumulated years of labor. The hands were calloused and strong.
Someone was ringing the church bell. It was loud and seemed to be saying, "Get a move on, you're going to be late!" The choir members were happy to see each other and engaged in joyful conversations.
My Uncle knew me better than I thought he did. He pointed toward me, and the front pew. He took his stance in front of the choir. He made the announcement, "Tonight we begin our first class in learning a musical note scale." Again, I groaned. The choir members listened intently and obediently. They wanted to make their preacher proud. They were smiling and waiting with anticipation. "Just think, before long they would be singing in raptured harmony." Maybe not raptured, but harmony. Uncle raised his arm to begin. "Now sing after me, DO RA ME FA SO SO?" At this point, he reached into his coat pocket and retrieved the note dad had given him. "Okay, DO RA ME FA SO LA TE DO. "Now choir, DO RA ME FA SO LA..." Those obedient and smiling choir members tried so hard. They screeched and shreaked. Even at my young adolescent age, I was touched. Uncle seemed determined that these sweet souls were going to learn this scale. "Again," he says, with a hint of frustration, DO RA ME FA." Being a typical teenager, I found most things funny. I dared not laugh. No way! Finally, the pain subsided. What followed is something I will never forget. Uncle announced, "Next Wednesday, we will learn the scale backwards." Reading from his wrinkled note, Uncle demonstrated, "DO TE LA SO FA ME RA DO." "No way!" The choir members were silent as they stared into the distance with glazed eyes. Later, "It hit me!" Probably, more than a few of these wonderful people could not read. They were so kind and determined.
"Uncle?" "When are we going to the beach?" Myrtle Beach, S.C. was only twenty five miles away. "I tell you what Bobby" said Uncle. "If you learn to sing the musical scale DO RA ME FA SO LA TE DO frontwards and backwards, We go to the beach." I went to my room and in no time at all, I was back. "I can sing it Uncle." You guessed it. DO RA ME FA SO LA TE DO - DO TE LA SO FA ME RA DO. He was astonished! It was a cinch! I had heard my Dad many times singing in front of the mirror. He had his pretended choir, leading and practicing - You guessed it. I will spare you all from singing it again. "Okay Bobby, We leave for the beach in the morning."
Uncle had made arrangements to have a church family join us at the beach. Their daughter was about my age. We swam and splashed each other in the surf. It was fun when we would jump up and ride a big wave as close to the shore as we could. I was smitten. This very pretty country girl put a soft, warm glow in my heart. We had so much fun that memorable day long ago. All to soon, the vacation and my little sweetheart had to be left behind.
*This story occured in the summer of 1958. I was fourteen years old.