She has always made a joke of it.
"We met in a church," she would say.
And people who know us would do a double take. "In a church?"
And of course, it was almost true.
You see, in our quaint little midwestern town there was an old church building which had been empty for many years. About 15 years ago a fellow with some interesting business ideas purchased the building and opened a musical instrument store at the back of the former sanctuary and a performance music hall in the former sanctuary. His sales concentration was on acoustic instruments like guitars, bass guitars, ukuleles, mandolins and banjos, and the supplies pickers needed for them. He offered group practice rooms in the basements and regular lessons were given there also.
But the part of his plan that is pertinent to our story here is that the old sanctuary became a showplace for country, folk, bluegrass and gospel music. The platform had been enlarged to a stage for musical groups and on the weekends townspeople and folks from quite a few miles around joined for the Friday night jam sessions and the once or twice monthly special shows on Saturday nights. He attracted performing groups from quite a ways away and almost always filled the little church for their shows.
On that Friday evening when Sarah and I first met I had just returned to town from a trip to New York for a meeting with some of my financial advisors. It was about 6:30 when I pulled into my garage at the lake house and went into the house to turn up the heat and drop off my carryon suitcase. I hadn't bothered eating after getting off the plane about an hour ago and had decided on the drive up here that I'd grab a couple of slices of pizza at the back of the Music Hall at the 'half-time break', as it was referred to.
I handed my three bucks entrance fee to the guys sitting inside of the door at the top of the outside stairs as we greeted each other, and then went to the store section of the place to buy a bottle of water. The Music Hall opens at about 6 o'clock on Fridays (give or take a little) and by 6:30 the first folks are usually on stage. By 7 Clint usually has a good idea of who's going to be on. When there isn't enough variety to make a full show the regular groups generally move into a 'sing-along' mode, sort of what was called a hootenanny back in the 60's. (And yes, I remember them!) Tonight the groups who were going to be stuck making the rest of us sing were two folk groups and a gospel music group. I found that out when Clint grabbed me before I could get to a seat and got me to help hand out the song sheets.
These have been around for several years now, copied and recopied periodically as the old ones got too ratty to hand out anymore. I'd contributed to the last reprint effort when the copy I'd received one night was literally unreadable. There were three different song sets: Folk, Country/Blue Grass, and Gospel. That night he handed a couple of us the Folk and the Gospel sets and shooed us down the aisle to hand them out. Most folks knew what getting them meant: they'd be doing quite a bit of the entertaining themselves that night. Those same folks were grinning at each other when the song packs started down each row of seats because most of us here love to sing and hold back only out of respect for the groups working the stage. This 'sing-along' evening generally happened two or three times a year and is much enjoyed by the regulars and by most of the guests, too.
When I had handed out all the song sheets available for my side of the music hall I scanned for a seat for myself. There were only three that I could see as empty on 'my side' of the room and I made for one of them. It was down about three rows from the back and was either the third or fourth seat in on the left side of the east aisle. When I made motions over the stage music that I'd like to get into one of those seats the two people between me and the seats both moved over one and left me the aisle seat. That was fine with me as I like being at the end of the row.
Looking at my seatmates as they moved I had recognized the lady who was now in the number three seat as Dort, the wife of one of the players on stage right now, playing the first set. Her husband, Fred, plays a good bass guitar and they were regulars at the Music Hall. They also live just around the lake from me. The three of us were good friends. As I nodded hello to her she introduced the young lady between us as Sarah (no last name), a first timer here at the Friday Jams. We're pretty loose about audience silence here so we went through the usual 'Hi, I'm Cal' and 'Hi, glad to meet you, I'm Sarah' routine before settling down to watch the show.
I might take a minute here to tell you that my name is Cal Meyer and that at the time I'm talking about I was just 50 years old by about two weeks. Dort was Dorothy Gibbs and she and Fred were both about 60. She had streaky grey hair reaching around her shoulders while he was bald on top and usually shaved off the rest. We knew each other from our lake association, from the Music Hall, and from the fact that I sometimes jammed with Fred and some of his friends.
Dort sings a clear, crisp soprano line but will often carry the line of a male high tenor to make some great harmony with us guys. Fred sings tenor; I sing bass and baritone. We all like the same kinds of music and like to sing together on occasion. The three of us think we sound pretty good after two or three beers. We've often sung together without the beer too! Most often we did that here at the Music Hall.
Sarah, of course, was an unknown voice to me as we sat through the sets that had been planned by our three groups of the evening. But, you can see the almost truth of her statement that we met "in a church!"
Clint went down front after the gospel group had finished their planned material and explained to everyone there what was about to happen. The gospel group would lead us through four or five songs and then we'd take about a 15-minute 'half-time break'. After everyone had a chance to hit the restrooms in the basement and get something to drink or nibble on the two folk groups would lead us for about 45 minutes and then we'd call it 'a night'.
The gospel group is good! They started us out with a Gaither number called 'One More Mountain' and segued that into 'Lonesome Valley'. These two songs started Dorothy and I off singing together as we were used to doing. And then, after a brief moment, Sarah joined us. With a beautiful, strong and clean alto voice. By the time we started 'I Saw the Light' (Oak Ridge Boys) the three of us were actually leaning in to mix our voices together better. We sounded GOOD!
We grinned at each other in that feeling of doing something together really well. And then the group called for their last number before the break: 'Amazing Grace'. Dort and I looked at each other and stood up, dragging Sarah up with us to sing one of our favorite songs. Others must have felt ready to stand too because we turned out to be starting a ripple of risers that went on through the entire place.
I'm not too tall at 5'6, in fact Dort is taller than I am and Fred is taller than she is. Sarah on the other hand was a bit shorter than I am when we stood up to sing. I guessed her at about five feet three and eventually found out that I was right on the money. At least when she wore those heels! Otherwise she was an even five feet.
That song is a great one for all parts of the score and before we had finished the first unneeded line printed on the song sheets Fred squeezed past Sarah and me to stand and sing with Dort. Adding his tenor voice we were sounding GREAT! It was the kind of blend that can make your back shiver! We weren't the only ones blending really well either because the group up front called for a reprise of the first verse for the audience's own encore, before announcing the break.
Leaving the group with a quick 'see you in a bit' I took off for a much needed visit with the aforementioned restrooms. An airplane ride, a car drive and the most recent bottle of water had me moving fast to stay ahead of the crowd. After the rather much needed visit to the Men's I headed back upstairs to claim my supper for the night.
Grabbing a couple of slices of pizza and making them into a sandwich, I picked up a Diet Coke and handed Melanie the required three bucks. Backing out of the throng at the counter I started looking around to see who else was there that evening. After visiting with a few other regulars I started heading over to catch Fred, who was talking with the other members of his group and visiting with the other folk group at the back of the auditorium. Before I got there Dort stopped me.
"Hey Cal, that pizza had better be history before we go down there to sing!"
(Chewing and swallowing on my part.) "It'll be gone! Can I bring my Coke?"
"Sure thing, as long as you don't try to swallow in the middle of a verse! And it had better not send you off to the head as fast as you left just now! Hey, how do you like Sarah?"
"She's got a great voice! And it fits right in between the three of us! She seems to have good timing, too!"
"She moved into that double-wide rental across the street from us about three weeks ago. We've just been getting to know her a bit and when she heard that Fred was playing tonight she said she wanted to come along. She just went outside to make a call home to find out how Geri is doing."
"And who's Geri?"
"Oh, Sarah's a single mom and Geri's her 6-month-old little girl. Cutest little thing you've ever seen! Here she comes."
.... There is more of this story ...