Saturday, July 29, 2017
Today, we laid a good man to rest. And we did it just how papa Sam would have wanted – with belts ‘n boots, hats ‘n hoots, songs ‘n roots. Today, we celebrated him even as he celebrated us.
Friends (to Sam that was pretty much everyone), family (to whom he gave himself unreservedly), and lovers of music (Sam was a magnet to these types) all gathered in the heat and humidity of an Alberta-in-July afternoon to remember. Not just remember, but tell stories, maybe a joke or two, and sing songs – often at the same time.
I was honoured to act as host to an event rightly called “A Celebration of Life.” There are those who would be aghast at the idea of such revelry at an event generally reserved for more sombre fare. “Funerals are for closure,” they tell us. Unless we can see the cross and communion table, and sing In the Garden, it’s just not right.
“They’re welcome to it,” says Sam. “I prefer to have all my friends a-cross from the picnic table, communing together in God’s garden. For me, it’s just right.”
I acted as host, as I often do at these things. Beaming like high-beam headlights, Mom introduced us all as her family, as Moms do. This was to be a day for all of us, anyone even remotely related to Sam. It was an open door party. There were few expectations. Perhaps a love for tapping toes, sharing a humid afternoon with horseflies, and a belt with enough holes to allow for a belly full of pulled pork and potato salad.
Small price to pay for a heavenly hootenanny. And this affair was that, a gathering of fellow sojourners with happy hearts and hungry guts. This was Sam’s world, where the two always go together. And this celebration was designed to satisfy both.
To know this man was to celebrate in general. If Sam was in the vicinity, a gathering would soon follow. He attracted musicians like Alberta mosquitoes. Just more welcoming. It was best if you knew a song or two. Play an instrument? Not to worry, you were always welcome. If so, that much better.
All those gathered here in this place did both. Very well. And, their voices held the weight of grief borne of cheer-filled music and laughter. The Willows would be our home for the day – nestled in a little aspen grove carved out of the broad, Alberta landscape.
Sam Young. Papa Sam. He was a man of surprising talent, energy, industry, kindness, and complexity. Mom might have called it chaos. She’s gonna miss the bugger, as are we all.
This little man of a big heart kept her in the happies for over twenty years. In fact, I have observed a pre and post-Sam woman. The former was much more anxious, uncertain, ambivalent. The latter, engaged, hopeful, courageous, a risk-taker; a woman fully alive.
Sam never lived life from the periphery. The edges were much too flimsy, too safely suburban to support his wild west spirit.
No, Sam was a deep-sea diver, plunging off the bow head first, wrestling sharks and singing them songs all the way down. It’s likely why he never drowned. Life was his rodeo. Saddle up, cinch up, shut up, and giddy up. He sang songs to soothe the ornery beast that tossed him to and fro.
But, mostly, for Sam, life was a campfire – a gathering around a welcome heat and light for friend and stranger alike. He’d kickstart countless singalongs and jam sessions, enough to cheer us all and then some.
A single hour with Sam at the ranch promised at least two things: evidence of the trade in every corner of the house. It would be easy to step on musical instruments, strewn about from stem to stern. He was always boasting some new guitar, mandolin, banjo, or other.
But, the second thing one encountered at papa Sam’s was jovial conversation. Lots of it.
Lots and lots of it.
Get Sam going on a topic and he was a wind-up doll. Best to just let him run with it. Otherwise, you would only encourage another pull of the string and off he’d go again. Short visits were rare.
But they were good. Very good. At least a song or two found its way into every one of those visits. Or, perhaps some new insights on resetting a fiddle bridge, restringing a mandolin, or shimming a bone saddle. He had taught himself the luthier’s trade. I wish we’d spent more riding that horse together.
I generally consider myself to be reasonably conversant in the physics of stringed instruments. That is until any visit with Sam. Then, I discovered just how little I actually knew. Much of what I called know-how was often just a lot of pretentious bullshit.
But, regardless of poorly veiled lack of insight into the topic, the time spent was always worth the time spent. I value every moment and, whenever it is I go to join him, we can pick up where we left off. Besides, Jesus will need a break from Sam talking his ear off.
“Good, you’re finally here…can you take over for awhile?”
“Lord, isn’t patience a virtue?”
“Of course. But, the Baptists ran out of potato salad, the Pentecostals are squabbling over something, and I need to break up the Presbyterians – they’re starting another sub-committee.”
“No worries. I got this. We’ve got more songs to write anyway.”
“Thanks. While I’m gone, I’ll ask Pop where my fiddle is.”
“Perfect. When you find it, meet us back here, we’ll be singing ‘Back to the Mountain’ with Peter, Gabe and the boys at the campfire.”
“Just don’t encourage Barnabas. He thinks he’s being funny when he sings ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Oh, by the way, Peter’s on probation. He’s been hitting on the female angels.”
“He won’t be a problem. I’ll just tell papa Sam that he loves stringed instruments. That’ll keep ‘im busy for awhile. But, hey, we’ve got nothin’ but time on our hands…”
My gut tells me he’s already broken up a squabble and tricked the Presbyterians into singing “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.” If nothing else, with Sam pluckin’ and singin’, heaven won’t be stuffy, and eternity will seem like half an hour.