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The Faithful Shepherd


My dad was never a guy who was super interested in stuff. Having stuff, I mean. Except for a pretty dense collection of fine guitars, he’s lived a pretty Spartan life when it comes to stuff. His cars have always been second-hand, his clothes are often from thrift stores (he’s always joked that you can tell a lot about him from the fact that his clothes are from thrift stores while his guitars are from CF Martin).

It’s never really been about stuff for my dad. It’s not really Anti-materialism, I don’t think, it’s just sort of non-materialism. And that sort of karma comes back to him from time to time. One of the stories in the family canon of stories is a little tale about a time when my dad was hired to play music at a Christmas party at a big, fancy house. And he did his thing, and then left the party in the middle of a snowstorm – he couldn’t see a thing – and he climbs into the old Ford Econoline Van that was the family car all the time I was a kid, and he backs up the van, maneuvering to get out of the driveway, and he hears a sickening crunch. He stops the van and climbs out, and through the swirling snow he can just make out what it is that he’s hit. It’s a brand new Corvette, one of the cars owned by one of the guests at the party, and he’s just put a big dent in it. Well, with his heart in his socks, he slogs back into the party, and he doesn’t even know whose Corvette it is, so he has to ask around until he finds the right guy, and then he swallows and describes what happened. And the guy just waves him off, he says “don’t worry about it. It’s just a material thing.” And my dad heads back out into the snow, saved. I mean, what are the chances, right?

Maybe it was just as well that my dad wasn’t over-interested in stuff. My dad bought a nice pair of shoes once, and I drew all over them with green marker. And it was probably good for my own well-being that he didn’t care even more about those shoes than he did.

The truth is, I only ever saw my dad really freak out over the loss of a thing – a material item – one time in my whole life, I think. There was a piece of music that my mother loved. It was a operatic suite called The Faithful Shepherd. It was written by Handel in 1712, and the story told by the music speaks of a long-ago, far-away place where each year a virgin must be sacrificed to the goddess Diana, and the Oracle has decreed that this punishment can only be lifted by the marriage of a specific boy and girl, and they know who the boy and girl are, so their fathers arrange a marriage between them. Super cheerful, right? I know, but it’s a beautiful piece of music, and my mother loved it. Especially the recording made in 1940 by Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The album with the green cover with the black triangle on it. The one with the weird gold medal in the corner. It was the landmark recording of the Faithful Shepherd Suite, and it was old and tough to find. But by chance, playing an out-of-town gig, my dad had wandered into a record store, flipped through a bin of LP’s, and gasped. There it was. The green cover with the black triangle on it. The weird gold medal in the corner. The 1940 Beecham recording of the Faithful Shepherd Suite. The only copy he’d seen in years.

Well, he bought it, and brought it home as a gift for my mom. And, long story short, about three weeks later, he went to put that album on the record player, and the face of it was all scratched. Unplayable. None of us copped to the crime, but it had to be one of us kids, just not being careful with those vinyl records. And it’s true, we sometimes weren’t very careful. Sometimes, we’d put a record on the turntable on top of another record. It makes me shudder now, of course, but then. Well, we were kids. But that record. That record. Whenever I try to imagine hopelessness and anger and sadness, I think on the day my dad put that record on the turntable after we’d wrecked it. None of us ever wanted to see our dad like that again. It’s not that he was violent or dangerous, it’s just that we never wanted to be in the same room with so much sadness, so much disappointment. Never again, if we could help it.

I know better than to believe that it was the loss of the actual vinyl object that my dad was lamenting. The object was just the vehicle for the miracle of having music in our home – having that music in our home. And the rarity of the find, that had something to do with it, too, of course.

I’ve gotta say, that as a grown-up, in an era of ebay, I looked that album up and bought a copy for my mom for her birthday. These days, it’s not hard to find at all, and not expensive either. As it turns out, my mom didn’t remember the Faithful Shepherd Suite all that well. To make it meaningful, I had to tell her the story I just told you. And you know how I feel about that. That kind of sharing, of family memories – tragedies and adventures and triumphs and failures – the memories that bind us together. That, as they say, is the stuff.

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