Country Place

And I wish you could hear them. They are your ancestors. And mine. They are soft, but not weak.

Greenville, Alabama—welcome to Country Place Senior Living. I’m playing guitar for a room of people who have more life-experience than a sackful of white hair.

My guitar is beat-up and old. It once belonged to my father. It’s been with me a long time.

It’s traveled to a lot of places. Beer joints, all-you-can-eat-catfish joints, weddings, crab boils, Baptist chapels. And nursing homes.

I’m not a good guitar player per se, but here I am just the same. I’m standing before a ninety-nine-year-old colonel who sits in a wheelchair. He is watching me sing.

Life is funny sometimes.

I’m taking requests from the Southern Baptist hymnal.

The Colonel calls out, “Play ‘When the Roll is Called up Yonder.’”

“Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” suggests one woman.

“Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

“Precious Memories.”

Another woman claps in rhythm to “I’ll Fly Away.” She barely has enough stamina to clap two full verses.

A lady says, “Can you sing ‘Blessed Assurance?’”

I give it a shot. It’s been a long time since I last sang the great Fannie Crosby anthem. I get through verse one.

Then, I forget the words to the second verse.

And even though long ago I won a county-fair talent show singing this EXACT American classic; even though I took the blue ribbon playing this VERY guitar; even though I have bellowed this song a hundred times before in the church; I have to stop singing.

Life is funny sometimes.

Alaina, the activities director, knows the lyrics. She starts singing for me.

“Perfect submission,
All is at rest…”

She has a good voice. And while she sings, I hear more than just her. I hear old folks singing.

The old colonel’s voice is strong and sweet. Hazel—the ninety-four-year-old—sounds like country chapels and chess pies.

And I wish you could hear them. They are your ancestors. And mine. They are soft, but not weak.

“This is my story,
This is my song…”

Stories. Songs. Those are fitting words. In this past year, I’ve visited more people than I can remember. I’ve heard stories. Songs.

Once, I met a teacher who got beaten by her students during school-integration riots. She was defending a student.

I met a farmer who earned his high-school diploma at age seventy-six.

I’ve watched a ninety-one-year-old preacher play banjo. He was in a bed, attached to oxygen.

I finish playing. Some folks applaud. One woman has fallen asleep with her mouth open.

Someone asks, “Will you play ‘Amazing Grace?’”

Well. I know all the verses to this one. My father taught it to me long ago. He helped me learn it so I could sing it at my granddaddy’s graveside.

I did. And a few months thereafter, I sang the exact song at my own father’s funeral.

The Colonel and the others sing every word with me. Every pea-picking word.

My time is done. I pack my guitar.

“Thank you for coming,” a white-haired woman says. “I want you to know, you’re part of my family now.”

“Come back again,” says Miss Hazel. “I wanna bake you cookies.”

“I’m glad you forgot the words,” says the Colonel. “Or else I woulda never started singing. I needed that today.”

So did I, sir.

Life is funny sometimes.

28 comments

  1. GeeGee Chandler - September 17, 2017 2:02 pm

    Blessed Assurance…..no better song, no better thoughts.

    Reply
  2. Gary - September 17, 2017 2:06 pm

    Yep, another GOODEN !

    Reply
  3. teachenglish67 - September 17, 2017 2:21 pm

    Through your writing, I could hear them; I could see them. Those are the walking history lessons, time-gone-by accounts of what life was like across the country. They are treasures, in my opinion. Chief Dan George said, “If the young will listen, the old will speak.” There is so much to learn from our “history treasures”.
    Thank you, Sean, for another really good enlightenment.

    Reply
  4. Connie Ryland - September 17, 2017 2:22 pm

    I read this as I was getting ready to go see my mom in the nursing home. Thank you for the time you give to people, and for the lives you touch that you know nothing about.

    Reply
  5. Catherine - September 17, 2017 2:24 pm

    Love all these songs, learned in the cradle, remembered till we leave. Thank you Sean. Precious memories, how they linger.

    Reply
    • Joan Dake - September 17, 2017 2:28 pm

      Thanks Sean. Precious memories brought to my mind…comforting with Blessed assurance here in the center of Irma’s wrath–Polk County.

      Reply
      • Melanie Tighe - September 18, 2017 1:09 pm

        Joan sending my thoughts your way. I hope you are OK and things are back to normal for you soon. Hugs.

        Reply
  6. Sandra Marrar - September 17, 2017 2:27 pm

    I grew up singing those songs. It sure brings back some precious memories. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. ronald41 - September 17, 2017 2:55 pm

    Sean, you are a wonderful writer! I write, too, but yours puts mint to shame. When you travel down the road, you take me with you; same when you go to church, and there at the nursing home, I remember my Mom’s last days in an assisted living community. I share your posts on my FB page for friend who aren’t on WordPress … I hope that is okay. Your writing is a real blessing!

    Reply
  8. Janis - September 17, 2017 5:04 pm

    Another glimpse into your relationship with your father and those gifts her imparted to you that are still thriving within you. May whatever motivates you continue to feed your heart and soul and spirit and thereby provide a source of nourishment to the hearts and souls and spirits of others.

    Reply
  9. Ahna Baggett - September 17, 2017 5:29 pm

    Dear Sean,
    I’ve almost written you so many times, but I just couldn’t stop myself today. I was born in Greenville. My Granddaddy was born in Greece. He came to this country as an 18 year old and never saw his family again. He and my Grandmother opened a cafe down on Main Street in Greenville called the Alabama Grill. As I read your article today, I couldn’t help but think of them. They are long gone, but everyone in that sweet little southern town knew them. Probably some of those precious residents singing with you, put their feet under one of my Pop’s tables for Sunday lunch, or sat at his counter for their morning coffe break during the week. My Granny would have for sure been lifting her creaky old voice on those good old Baptist hymns.
    Anyway, as the tears flooded my face this morning and you and the Colonel said “I needed that!”, I just wanted to say, “Thank you Sean!!! So did I. So do I.”
    Not just today, but every day. Keep listening to the stories people tell, and then keep telling us. We need it.
    Thank you

    Reply
  10. Jack Quanstrum - September 17, 2017 6:27 pm

    Thank you Sean for this story. These folks are unique and amazingly precious. They are the sugar of our population. Full of wisdom, experience and they matter. They are inspirational to me. And are so gentle and kind. I love the way they interact and there spontaneous responses. Thank you for sharing, it made my day. Keep them coming! Shalom!

    Reply
  11. MARY E GREER - September 17, 2017 7:37 pm

    Great music choices. I sing them to myself all the time. When I was growing up, my Methodist preacher daddy loved for me to sing solos. I miss singing for my daddy

    Reply
  12. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 17, 2017 7:48 pm

    It’s sad that we don’t sing the old hymns at church anymore. They are the best and I love that you went and sang them for the nursing home. What a blessing you were to thrm.

    Reply
    • Jack Quanstrum - September 17, 2017 7:53 pm

      I agree with your thoughts about the old songs.

      Reply
  13. Pat Durmon - September 17, 2017 9:31 pm

    Precious. Thank you for going to nursing homes. Exactly how it flows. I volunteer twice a week with family support. This is touching because you nailed it.

    Reply
  14. Ben Martin - September 17, 2017 10:51 pm

    Yes, it is sad that we don’t sing the old songs anymore. Some of the songs today are
    “7–11” songs. 11 words that you sing 7 times over.

    Reply
  15. Wendy - September 17, 2017 10:58 pm

    Sean, you have a way, a gift, of evoking wonderful sweet memories. TYSM. Whatever happened to Sunday night services where we sang the good old songs from the Cokesbury hymnal? Sometimes Daddy led while I played piano. Precious memories indeed. Also this one sounds just like the place where my in-laws reside in Roswell, GA.

    Reply
  16. The Rev. Frances Metcalf - September 18, 2017 12:23 am

    Greenville, Butler County, is my husband’s family’s home. No one still lives there, but thank you so much for a picture of who his people were.

    Reply
  17. Harold Duncan - September 18, 2017 1:57 am

    Your article was forwarded to me by a dear friend. My aunt in Tennessee passed away at the age of 101. Well into her 90s , she and some of her friends who were in their 80s, would go to the nursing homes in town and sing and play for, as she like to say, “the old folks.” When I was in town, they would allow me to sit in on their gig, and it fed my soul! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Reply
  18. Michael Hawke - September 18, 2017 2:38 am

    Amen

    Reply
  19. Jackie Darlene - September 18, 2017 2:57 am

    I needed that. Thank you ❤

    Reply
  20. Mary Bond - September 18, 2017 11:52 am

    we all need this love

    Reply
  21. Ashley - September 18, 2017 11:58 am

    My Grandmother Dot Norman was there. You are part of my family now too. God bless you and your family always. Hope to bump into y’all at Country Place visiting Gmama Dot soon. Love, Ashley Norman ps – you met my crazy ass brother Michael at the porch speakin. I was there too. In the back. With my Daddy Mama and loooots a other Norman’s. We Norman’s relate to you Sean. Pps. Thanks for signing my book Michael bought. Just got my heart crushed that day. You were an answer to prayers that day.

    Reply
  22. Joel Mikell - September 18, 2017 12:13 pm

    Some of my favorite hymns sung with one of my favorite instruments in one of my favorite Alabama communities.

    Reply
  23. Ashley - September 18, 2017 12:47 pm

    Ppps – We gots plenty a Norman homes for you and your fam to stay in when y’all roll back through.

    Reply
  24. Melanie Tighe - September 18, 2017 1:06 pm

    This is one of my favorites now. Course I say that many times after reading these stories but for now…I wish I had known you played at nursing homes. My mom spent the last year of her life in the home in Ozark AL and she loved music. She would have loved hearing you Sean. ❤️

    Reply
  25. conniecheek - October 4, 2017 11:46 pm

    You are the best story teller alive. This is one of my favorites so far.

    Reply

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