Sunday, November 11, 2012

Armistice Day

"At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" ... we will remember. 

Today is Veterans Day.  As many of us know, it's a Federal holiday that has evolved to be called Veterans Day, but it was initially called "Armistice Day," to commemorate the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.

My grandfather, Thomas Jackson Kolb Funderburk, served the United States in World War I.  I was only a young teen when he died, so it never occurred to me to ask him about his overseas service.  But one night, as he lay in a hospital bed nearing his death, I "served" alongside him in Europe: he was unaware of his granddaughter's presence, but rather seemed to regard me as one of his Army buddies.  The experience scared and fascinated me!  So many memories he'd suppressed, and he seemed to be reliving them.  Although I couldn't really understand what was happening, and still don't, I have vivid memories of that night.

So the memories I'm going to share in this Note are those of my grandmother, from the day the Armistice was signed.  My grandparents had been married only a short while when he shipped overseas.  During his absence, she went to live with an older sister and their father in Jacksonville, Florida ...

My grandparents on their wedding day, October 10, 1917

"One day Papa came in from the bakery where he was working and stood by the table and raised his head up and thanked God.  The Armistice had been signed – where or how Papa learned of it, I do not know, for we had no television or radio.  But there Papa was, thanking God; he said, 'Thank God my boy will come home.'

"Soon we all heard it, for cars with horns blaring were riding up and down the streets saying, 'The Armistice is signed!'

"But it was four months before Jack came home.  He had been in Headquarters Detachment, riding a motorcycle to carry orders to the front.  His commander was Major Oral E. Clark, of the Fifth Division supply train, and Jack thought so much of him.  After the signing of the Armistice, he was assigned to the Army of Occupation in Luxembourg and helped to entertain the troops until they were shipped out.  He played the cello and sang in a band, and they (along with local girls) put on dances and plays until all were gone but his detachment.

"Jack told us so many things that happened while he was overseas; he said that often, as he rode, bombs would explode, first on one side, then the other.

"In one particularly graphic description he wrote of a trip down the Rhine.  The story I like best, though is the experience of a young man in his outfit.  It tells us that God does hear and answer prayer:

"In November of 1918, after the Armistice was signed, the outfit moved eastward, behind the retreating German army.  Jack had been billeted in Luxembourg for months, enduring long forced marches through heavy snowfall.  A young man named Edmond became ill and had to fall out, but later caught up with the outfit and went supperless to bed on the floor of an abandoned schoolhouse.  The next morning they moved again to better shelter – with a roof, walls, and a floor, and on old iron stove, and they managed to keep warm, after a fashion.  Each morning they went out in the deep snow. Edmond developed a sore throat, which turned into tonsillitis, and nothing seemed to help him.

"One day just before Christmas a runner came from headquarters with orders to transfer five men to 'C' Company.  No one wanted to go, but Edmond was to be in charge.  He assigned four other men, and as they were rolling their packs, he slipped into another room and, being a Christian, dropped to his knees and prayed, 'Dear Lord, I do not have the strength to go anywhere … '   It was then he was aware of the Lord’s presence.  He said it was not something he could see, but he could feel the Presence – it was so real.  In his heart he heard Him say, 'I will go with you.'  That was all.  But that was enough.

"By night the transferees arrived in the village of Baden. There was a room in a house, a kitchen, and a German housemother who spoke broken English.  God gave Edmond a feather bed for Christmas – best of all, He taught the reality of His unfailing presence."

Thank you PaPa, for your service in the War to End All Wars. Thank you Daddy, Uncle TJ, Uncle Dutch, Uncle Mike, and Uncle Ben, for your service in the War after that. Thank you to all who have served, and who are serving, and who will serve ... we will remember.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Memories of My Musical Mother

Today, as I sat on the porch with my morning coffee, my mom crept into my thoughts. As she often does! It's going on six years now, since she passed on, but it's safe to say that some memory of her has made me smile for each day of those six years.

And what made me smile today? A fragment of a song: "K-K-K-Katy, Beautiful Katy ... You're the only g-g-g-girl that I adore ..." Do you know this song? It's a WWI-era song, sung by a soldier who was headed off to "see if he could make the Kaiser dance." Everyone knows "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" or "Over There." Camille Wallis knew "the sensational stammering song."   

She knew quite an assortment of songs, and sang them all to my brother and me: the "Erie Canal Song," though as far as I know she never laid eyes on the canal; a Christmas ditty set to the tune "Country Gardens," which I have never heard since, nor met anyone else who's known it; ... and a completely un-PC version of "After The Ball" that is so un-PC that I wouldn't even consider putting the words down here! (If you ask me when you see me in person, I will sing it to you -- provided you swear in writing that you will not let it diminish your good opinion of me or my mother!) There have been occasions in which I've been doing research, scouring old books for new tunes for my repertoire, and found the fragment of a song which I already knew thanks to the wild and wacky breadth of my mother's musical knowledge. "Oh where have you been , Billy Boy, Billy Boy?" is but one example.  

My mother was a classically-trained soprano, destined to be so by her very name: my grandfather, a classical bass/baritone and cellist, named her Camille for "La Dame aux camélias," the central character in Alexandre Dumas's novel which inspired the opera "La Traviata." (At this point it should be painfully obvious that I have come by my musical "nerdiness" honestly.) Too much a tomboy to have mastered the piano -- because you can sing while climbing trees; you have to actually sit at a piano -- she poured her heart into her singing, and had a song on her lips almost constantly. I don't think she ever imagined herself a professional musician, however; she sang for various social occasions and in the church choir, and once competed in Florida's "Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair" contest (though she did not win).

She did make sure that her daughter (that's me) mastered the piano, however, in fulfillment of a promise that she made to my grandfather on the day that I was born ... he noticed my long fingers and proclaimed "that child is a born pianist." And she, and my father both, were ardent supporters of all my musical endeavors. Even when I was "only" performing as accompanist to someone else, it was the rare occasion that I did so without one or both of them in the audience.

She loved Irish music, the musicals featuring Julie Andrews, loved Nat King Cole and Engelbert Humperdinck, loved Roberta Peters and Beverly Sills (both operatic sopranos), but the music she loved best, far and away, was "church music," the old-time hymns and spirituals. She loved a good gospel quartet! And in her last years, she would watch her extensive collection of "Gaither Homecoming" videos over and over again, much to the occasional chagrin of my brother, with whom she lived; he'd sometimes call me and say, "It's all Gaither, all the time, here!" She'd watch them so often that she knew every line, every joke, and to us it seemed boring, but to her it was bliss because, ultimately, the Gaithers are all about music. 

Of all the things my mother gave me and taught me, it's her love of music that has had the strongest influence on me. So this Mother's Day, as every day, I play with extreme gratitude for that love of music, and the joy and fulfillment it's brought to my own life.  

Happy Mother's Day, Camille Wallis!