[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m going to tell you about a church. An itty bitty one. So small, that during Boy Scout meetings, our hindparts dangled out the windows.
One year, only days before Thanksgiving, a hapless soul left the stove on in the fellowship hall. The next morning, the only thing remaining of the church was a piano-shaped lump of charcoal. We made the front page of the newspaper. “Hellfire Cometh,” read the headline.
After the fire, the church held services at Kill Creek bar. And, as irony would have it, my daddy sat on the same barstool during service, as he did during the playoffs. The only difference being, he didn’t need anyone to drive him home after church service.
“Now folks,” said the pastor, one morning. “Since we don’t have a piano or hymnals, we’re going to sing ah-ca-peller.”
“Which hymn is that?” asked one man.
“You idiot,” said another. “It’s Hebrew.”
“How’re we supposed to sing in Hebrew without a piano?”
To which the pastor responded, “We don’t need no piano, nohow.”
Then, seventy ordinary folks stood to sing “Rock of Ages,” in twelve different keys. Not a single parishioner singing the same stanza. Nor the same hymn.
Despite the lack of a sanctuary, and piano, the church declared that the annual Christmas program would not be cancelled. The crowd applauded the good news. And it meant that Charles, Andrew, and I would hold shepherd’s crooks, like we did every year, singing backup for the beautiful Virgin Mary – played by the very married Mrs. Reese.
Well, after one rehearsal with Mrs. Reese, things looked bleak for our quartet. Without piano accompaniment, we stumbled through our song. We sounded so bad, Mrs. Reese began to cry.
“Why’re you crying?” Mrs. Reese’s husband asked.
“Because, there’s no piano,” she said. “Listen to us, we’re awful.” She glanced at we three mouth-breathers of Orient are, holding crooks.
“Nah,” said her husband. “You couldn’t sing awful if you tried, no way nohow.”
Then, we boys gave Mrs. Reese a group-hug. We’d been waiting for a legitimate reason to do that all afternoon. I held her a little longer than the others.
On the night of the program, the Kill Creek bar was a full house. Our ten-member choir opened with a few carols. Then, some god-awful acting. And finally, a scripture reading by Gilbert Donavan, who held the world-record for the most consecutive uses of the word, “um.”
When it was our turn to take the stage, Mrs. Reese took a deep breath. She clutched her rag-doll Jesus and began her solo in a shaky voice. She bumbled out three words, before she stopped singing.
The room fell as quiet as a toilet seat.
“I can’t do this,” she whispered. “Not without a piano.” A tear rolled down her cheek. And then, she started sobbing.
Mrs. Reese’s husband shot to his feet. Without warning, he closed his eyes and bellowed so hard he nearly broke his neck. He had a strong voice, reminiscent of a chain-smoking billy goat. Mister Reese sang two entire verses by himself. And then, as if on cue, every church member rose to join him. In unison, we all belted out the remaining verses of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” with as much soul as a pair of sneakers. It was the worst singing you’ve ever heard in all your life. That’s no exaggeration.
And I’ve never heard anything quite as beautiful.
No way, nohow.