Author: Hendricks, Ralph

The Will

The ride over was solemn. Every seat in the car was taken. The passengers just stared ahead as they made the quiet drive to the service. A little girl sat next to her Mom, looking out her side window as they passed long white fences and ranches with horses grazing peacefully in the field. She sensed the family was different today but didn’t really understand the significance. All she really knew was that Daddy wasn’t there and she missed him. If he was in the car they would be singing and laughing. He always sang bluegrass to her when they were together and as a result bluegrass had become her favorite music. They had recently learned a gospel song. She learned the melody with his help and they had worked out a great chorus harmony. She thought of that song today and wished he was there to sing it with her.

As they approached the barn there was a large crowd standing around the big open door. He had always wanted a barn just like this one but it wasn’t practical or affordable for their family. He often spoke of a barn as a great place for a bluegrass event. This wasn’t going to be the kind of event he was thinking of but it was still very appropriate. The family was greeted as they got out of the car. Everyone was speaking so softly and some didn’t speak at all as they acknowledged each other with only their eyes and maybe a nod. The musician friends weren’t carrying their instruments and like everyone had dressed up a little. Inside the barn were lots of pictures of her Dad. Some were large poster size pictures of him and had flowers beside them on the table. His instruments were on display and his bass was way up front surrounded by the other classic instruments of a bluegrass band. A banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and dobro flanked his bass in a semi circle off to the right of a podium.

The old bass had been built in the mid 1940’s during a time when the entire world was at war. It seemed like such a contradiction that while some men of that time lived to destroy by waging war, others labored to create something special by building wonderful musical instruments like this amazing bass.

The inside of the barn was cool on this hot summer day. Just outside the barn door an old wagon leaned against a bale of hay. The dirt floor of the barn was pounded flat from years of barn dances and only a little dust got kicked up from the crowd inside today. In front of their seats was a podium. It seemed odd to have a podium in a barn surrounded by his pictures but the little girl understood in a childlike way that everyone was here for something important. The folding chairs were all taken by the guests now and everyone sat very still. She was in the front row with her Mom and could feel the others looking at them from behind. Everyone had stopped talking. The barn was silent now.

The first person who came up to the podium read from a written statement that the family had provided. The note thanked everyone for their recent condolences. The note went on to tell everyone how much the family appreciated their attendance today. This was to be a time of celebration not sorrow. No one would argue that he had lived a full life and had been happy. The eulogy was upbeat and had a lot of funny stories delivered by person after person as they recounted the times past they had shared together. Between these testimonials the band of friends softly played traditional bluegrass gospel songs. Their vocal harmonies rang throughout the old barn and almost seemed to have been written just for today. Someone announced that once the service ended there would be food and an open jam for anyone who wanted to play. But first, there was just one last formality to handle for the family.

The man at the podium opened an envelope and explained that their friend, husband, brother, her Dad had left a will. It had been written on yellow tablet paper in his own hand. The matters of his estate had already been handled with the family but there was this one last remaining detail. The man explained that each instrument in his collection was to be gifted to someone special. It was obvious that a lot of time had gone into these decisions as each instrument was carefully handed over to someone who could best care for it into the future. Each instrument also had a short story explaining its’ origin and his fond memories of its’ past. Some of the instruments were just inexpensive beginner instruments from his early years and were of very little monetary value but the sentimental value was enormous. Even those who had held back tears while previous individuals spoke, could hold them back no longer. There was a finality in the giving of these gifts but that seemed to bring the family some closure.

The last instrument to be gifted was his bass. It was a full size bass and stood so tall and commanding in the center of the other instruments. This instrument had somehow become the favorite of one family member over the past few years. The man speaking explained that the little girl sitting in the front row had clung to that old bass many times while her Dad played it. She was way too small to actually put her arms around it but always found some safe place to hold onto as the deep powerful notes were played. There were even times when she had fallen asleep next to the bass during a jam and anyone in the room would always laugh and comment on how impossible that seemed. After jams the bass would often be happily placed in her room if she asked. Other little girls her age had dolls and teddy bears but all she wanted was that bass. So this was to be. The little girl and the bass would be even closer now.

The last will had been read. The service had ended. The air in the barn was clean and crisp like the morning after a rainstorm. Everyone was up and mingling. Some had already begun playing music while others were preparing to serve the food. The mood was much more upbeat now as each person acknowledged that this was a good day, a fitting service for someone to be remembered. The bluegrass music that played was full speed now. The “gospel hour” was over and these were now songs that drove a strong down beat best accompanied by foot tapping or dancing. This was the music he had always envisioned for this big brown barn. Everywhere you looked his picture looked back at you with a huge smile and even bigger cowboy hat. This was his day for sure.

Groups of friends talked together normally now, no longer choosing their words so carefully. Everywhere was a sigh of relief and peacefulness. The little girl had taken her rightful place at the side of the bass while the band played. No one seemed to notice that a tiny crack in the side of the barn had let a thin slice of sunlight in which illuminated the bass. Her little head was resting on the side of the instrument as she seemed to stare off into the rafters of the barn. Her lips were moving as if speaking softly or maybe singing along. When the song ended someone asked her, “what were you saying honey?”

She paused and tilted her head a little as if confused by the question as she replied, “I was just saying goodbye to Daddy, that’s all.” The friend smiled and commented “that’s nice”.

As the friend began to walk away the little girl added “Daddy had to leave now but said to tell everyone thanks very much and that he knows we’ll meet in heaven some sweet day”.

The brown barn was alive with music. It was a good day to be with family and friends.

Posted:  10/17/2011

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