Who would have dreamed that “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” would lead to a songwriting career? I doubt that my dad looked that far ahead when he taught me that first tune on the piano. I was about five, and I can still remember plunking out the melody with one stubby little index finger on the blue piano in Mrs. Hepler’s kindergarten class… my first “recital”.
Dad came from a musical family. He and his siblings learned to play and sing at an early age, using their talents in the Eldorado Church of God Band in southern Illinois. Somewhere there’s an old faded black and white photo of dad with the band, circa 1934, with that old saxophone slung around his neck. He could read all those funny shaped notes and I was impressed. Music was important to him, and he made sure each of his five kids had an opportunity to find their musical place. He bought a trombone, a trumpet, a clarinet, and as long as I can remember we had an old upright piano in the dining room. Mom and dad sang together at church, and at some point in the late forties or early fifties they and my older brothers and sister made a recording. It was a chunky 78 rpm, and although it was old news by the time I came along, I loved to listen to it.
On Saturday night dad would put a stack of 78’s on the big old Philco in the living room and we’d listen for hours to the Statesmen, the Blackwood Brothers and a group called the All American Quartet. (I wonder whatever happened to them.) Even as a young child, I was caught up in the rhythms and the harmonies of the songs that are now considered classics. Get Away Jordan was my favorite, and when that fat old 78 dropped down and bounced and scratched out my favorite song, I was in heaven.
Dad was happy that I was interested and I was happy to be learning. Of course, there was that one incident in the hottest part of July when he made me play “Jingle Bells” for our insurance man. I finally forgave him for that. (Maybe that’s why we started paying the premiums by mail.)
Although dad taught me to EMBRACE the music, for which I’m very grateful, he gave me something even more valuable. He taught me to FACE the music.
One day dad drove down to the Tri-City Grocery store to pick up a few items. He let me tag along and I rode in the front seat next to him. Dad worked as a welder through the week, but on the weekends he worked a second job in the produce department at that very store. We walked in together and suddenly I was the center of attention. Dad walked around glad-handing, laughing and talking and introducing his shy first-grader to his co-workers.
He eventually got down to the business of shopping and after he’d picked up a loaf of bread and a roll of braunschweiger, we got in the check-out lane. He continued to laugh and make conversation with the red-haired lady behind the cash register, another co-worker. While he was occupied, I noticed a row of “Little Golden Books” right at kid’s eye level. I tapped him on the arm and asked if I could have one. He said, no, I didn’t need it. I had story books at home. He talked on. I kept fingering the books and finally pulled on his shirt and again asked if I could have the book…Henny Penny I think it was. “No”, he said again and went on with his conversation, mostly bragging on me.
To this day, I’m not sure how I did it, but I managed to help myself to a book and somehow get it out of the store and all the way out to our old “54 Olds without anyone seeing. Dad unlocked the car and I said, “I wanna sit in the back.” (That should have tipped him off.) He opened the door and I got in. Dad had just settled in and got ready to take off when I dropped the book. “What was that?”, he asked, to which I replied, “Nothing.” Apparently I didn’t sound convincing, because he turned off the engine, got out of the car, and opened the left rear passenger door. There lay the book. He looked surprised and then he looked at me and shook his head.
“Come on”, he said, taking my hand to cross the busy street. “Where we goin’?”, I asked. He marched me back into the store with the book and took me to Leroy, the manager, to whom he had just proudly introduced me. He made me tell Leroy what I had done, give the book back, and ask forgiveness. How humiliating it must have been for my dad to discover that his “shy” little daughter was really a “sly” little daughter. Come the weekend, he would have to face those people again.
I was embarrassed, of course, but at that moment more sorry that I was caught than for my action. Dad took me home and told mom what I had done. They explained to me that what I did not only broke the policeman’s law, but more importantly it broke God’s law, and that it broke Jesus’ heart. When I realized that I had hurt Jesus, I couldn’t bear it. I felt like my own heart would break until I prayed and asked Jesus to forgive me. I was so ashamed. Never again did it ever cross my mind to take something that didn’t belong to me…..for any reason.
I’ve often wondered what would have become of me had dad taken the modern day approach to discipline. What if he had just let me keep the book and make excuses for me? What if he had protected me from the consequences and the embarrassment? What if he had just enrolled me in some “I’m okay, you’re okay” therapy like they do today? Likely I would not be writing and singing gospel songs or sharing my testimony from the stage, and it’s likely that I would have been a totally different kind of mother to my own children, probably to their detriment.
I want to take this opportunity to say thanks, Dad, for introducing me to the music that forever shaped my life; but most of all, thanks for the lessons that shaped my character. And while I’m at it, thanks to ALL our Godly dads this Father’s Day. We still need you.