I am glad to see Ben load in two guitars as we finish packing the car for the six-hour trip from Houston to Arkansas. He and Sara and I are planning to meet Jeremiah and his family there on Friday evening and spend the weekend in a cabin on the Caddo River near Glenwood. A twelve-hour delay in my scheduled arrival at the airport leads us to a three-hour later start than we had planned. In spite of that, we arrive at the cabin in time to play in the river for a while. We even have time to play guitars and sing a few songs before Jeremiah, Misty and Miah arrive.
The next morning, we head over to Amity to run a Warrior Dash. It is the second one Ben and Sara and I have done together, the first for Jeremiah. In spite of a parking fiasco due to rains the day before and zero preparation for rain by the race hosts, we still have a wonderful time together and the lake is large enough to get rid of most of the mud we are coated with at the finish line.
On our way back to the cabin, we stop at a music store in Glenwood to buy a tambourine and Jeremiah just cannot pass up the opportunity to buy a twenty-dollar guitar. Back at the cabin, we eat a late lunch, then play in the river again that afternoon. While evening is passing from dusk to dark, we sit outside, playing the guitars and singing, passing around the tambourine. Sara disappears and returns with an armload of firewood. I take a break from the singing and gather up some kindling to help her get the fire going.
Just before dark, Jim, the owner of the campground, shows up with the rest of the firewood Sara bought and with his guitar. He plays well and has a really nice voice, both for harmonies and for Neil Young songs, which we all like quite well. Well, Sara actually adores Neil Young and his songs, but that’s a whole different matter. By the time we’ve sung a few more songs, a few more people show up. We pass the tambourine to one of the new guests and sing some more. More people show up.
Misty and Sara sway in rhythm together in front of the fire, singing with Ben and Jeremiah on one of the songs Jim and I do not know but follow along with anyway. I smile in a way that only a father delighting in the talents of his sons and daughters can understand.
Before they were born, every one of my children knew the sound of my voice and the sound of my twelve-string guitar. They have known music for longer than they have drawn breath. Before they saw the light of day, they’d heard the sounds and songs of Gordon Lightfoot, Guy Clark, Neil Diamond, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Don Williams and a host of other singers and songwriters. They knew the rhythms of wood and steel before they could sing; they could feel the pulse of music within them long before they found its source. I cannot describe the joy of sharing it with them as they have developed their talents beyond my own, the pleasure of seeing them joined with strangers in this sharing of music around this campfire with the sounds of the river rapids coming through the near darkness.
A bit later, with Ben and Jeremiah sharing lead, Jim and I join in on the chorus of “Wagon Wheel.” I feel the strength of love and family, the power of music to draw strangers close and children even closer. I feel that strength, that closeness, that transcendent power of shared love. I tilt my head back a bit, hope my tenor will harmonize and let it loose, “Rock me, mama, like a wagon wheel; rock me, mama, any way you feel.”
This moment is worth everything that it has cost me to get here.