A Stranger Isn’t

Tuesday, July 31, 2018 6:53am

Yes, she is comfortable.

Timer is set at 15 minutes.  Second cup of coffee: half decaf.  Chloe is comfy on the couch — she seems to go there in the middle of the night after starting with cuddles with me at bedtime.  

Sinead O’Connor playing on Spotify: “Nobody Compares 2 U.”  That’s an old one and it plays into a subject I wanted to address since yesterday: the abject vulnerability I felt as a father with my young sons.

The idea / memory came to me as I was working alone in a little well house / laundry area in a bucolic setting in the middle of a suburban landscape in the eastern part of Santa Rosa, east of Farmers Lane. I was re-wiring the place and upgrading from unshielded wiring.  I had my library of music playing and along came Cathie Ryan, a wonderful Celtic / Irish / folk singer the boys and who performed at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Hinsdale, Illinois.  It must have been 1995 of ’96.  It was me and the boys.

She was part of, oh, at least six performers that the Church had booked for monthly Saturday night concerts in their sanctuary / auditorium through the winter months.  Ellis Paul.  Sally Fingerett.  Some well known names, apparently, in folk circles: I had heard of none of them before I saw them at these concerts but my life is now richer because of them.  And, so are the lives of my boys.

The concert series was initially an effort, on my part, to help my marriage.  Financially challenged, it was my best effort to find something that we could afford and that my second wife and I could attend together and enjoy and would involve a short car ride.  Hinsdale was a solid 30-45 minutes from our home in Batavia, Illinois.  

At the time, the thought of spending 45 minutes in the car was a scary notion to me: the marriage was in trouble and I was scared: scared to be in it; scared of being out of it; scared of spending time with her.  We feared each other.  Spending the time with each other was an activity I thought we just had to do.

So, this folk series was a chance for us to get away, at least once per month, from our brood of four (two stepchildren from her previous marriage), a 7- and a 4-year old and our life of financial, emotional and psychological challenges.  It didn’t take long before Patty, due to work or some other reason, was not able to attend the concerts with me so I began going with the boys.

As season ticket holders, we had the privilege of front-row seats: we were less than 20 feet away from the performers.  Even though it was music we knew little about, it was exciting to be in “the thick of it.”

Cathie Ryan, http://www.cathieryan.com, a beautiful person gifted with a supple voice, greeted us after the show to sign CD’s (that we were purchasing, of course).  She remarked at the handsomeness of Ethan and Alexander: they were.  On the CD cover, in black Sharpie, she made some kind of remark to that effect: “handsome boys.”  I always liked seeing that when I take out her CD.

The timer went off minutes ago: I will keep writing because I want to see if there’s some thread that comes together on its own in this story.

Chicago’s Petrillo Band Shell

Several years later, maybe 1999 or so, the boys and I went to some festival in downtown Chicago near what is now Millennium Park.  The festival included an appearance from Cathie Ryan on the Petrillo Music Shell.  After her set, we went to get another CD and greet her.  She remembered my boys from that night in Hinsdale years before.  And, she remembered the inscription she wrote about them.  

I smiled.  What else could I do?  I was just floored by her indelible memory of my boys and, by association, me.  We mattered.  A stranger remembered US.  A kind stranger.  A gifted stranger.  And, in the end, not a stranger.

The concert series that, in some small way, kept me and Patty together for almost 15 more years, morphed into a profound lesson in serendipity and love.  

I’m moved to tears by the splendor and beauty of it all and by the memories of the joy I experienced as a proud and loving father and the pain of trying to be a decent husband.  I don’t think I succeeded.  

Life goes on.  And, so it is.

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