My youngest sister once gave my father a book entitled “Dad’s Memory Book.” Each page give a prompt. Beth hoped that my father would complete the book, as she wrote, “for your grandchildren.”
Pop completed two months, and at some point in March quit writing. We all regret that he did, because there is so much family history and information that he could have provided. My sisters and I did not know our father well in many ways; this book could have helped.
My father, V. Richard Carter, would have been 84 years old today.
Amongst his belongings that I brought home last year was his graduate school commencement announcement. He completed a degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
He was 26 years old when he finished seminary, soon to turn 27. My mother was 23, soon to turn 24. And I was ten months old.
Think of it — married less than two years, finishing seminary, with a new-born son, faithing that a church placement would be there for them. And it was, in Coushatta, Louisiana, a town of 3,000 souls near Shreveport.
I spent a few hours at Mizzou this weekend. State solo/ensemble festival is held in various buildings on the campus.
And I visited my great-nephew and niece. My sister Karen had driven in for the day, and we chatted about gardening while enjoying the sight and sound of a baby boy who represents the next generation.
And I found myself thinking about my father.
Pop used to tell me stories about time spent in this Union building at Mizzou. He and Mom met at the Baptist Student Union just a few blocks away from Memorial Union.
When I was a child, my parents had tickets to home football games at Mizzou. They’d bundle us kids up and leave us with Aunt Esther and Uncle John (I saw them more than my grandparents, thus cementing that life-long bond between me and Aunt Esther). In 1969, we were driving in from Hannibal. In 1971, from Lee’s Summit.
I realize now, of course, that those season tickets to football games represented my parents’ wish to stay in touch with their college friends. If I remember correctly, that would likely be Bob & Shirley, Bill and Ruth Ann.
At some point, the connection to Mizzou faded in its intensity. Family, career, location — all have a way of altering the DNA of our inner lives.
For years now, whenever I am at Mizzou for an event, I have this sense that this is the place that allowed me to be. I would not be here were it not for the Baptist Student Union, and Calvary Baptist Church, and the University of Missouri where my parents ended up at the same time, in the same room.
And as much as I bleed crimson and blue and fly my Jayhawk flag proudly, I’m grateful for Mizzou.
I was also thinking yesterday about shadows and memories.
Any drive around Columbia, Missouri is filled with them. I spent summer weeks with Aunt Esther in the tidy little house on Clinton. I went to West Boulevard Elementary School for one year. The first house my parents ever owned was on Clayton Street in Columbia. My youngest sister was born there.
But I also found myself thinking about my father’s last days sixteen months ago, about his decision to cease treatment for leukemia . . . his concern for his wife and my sisters and the effect of this decision on them . . . his stubborn refusal to let go in his last minutes of speech and lucid thought as he said “I’m not ready.” . . . his lack of tying-up-loose-ends preparation for the end . . . his incredible loyalty to my step-mother who had saved him over and over in those years after my own mother died, and who he was now saving from her own increasing frailty.
There’s no moral here. No great revelation. Just shadows of thoughts. And perhaps some self-awareness too. We shall see.
Greetings to friends and family around the world. I write on the day of the winter solstice, and note with sadness that this world seems particularly darker than it did a year ago. I pray for light and truth to again be kindled in the hearts of those who lead, and who alone can set to the tone for this world.
May it be so.
Even with the death of my father in the waning days of 2017, my own 2018 has been significantly brighter than national and international news might allow!
Winter. A solo cabaret act. Loads of teaching and concert-going and the robust time of the year at the office. A quiet winter without any significant travel except for a quick trip to Naples, Florida to see Spencer go on as Prince Chulalongkorn in The King and I.
Spring. Begins with a trip to Moscow to discuss collaborations. Attend a concert in Tchaikowsky Hall. Tourist for full, long day in Moscow. Holy Week in London, with services at St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. My former student sings Gerontius at King’s College Cambridge. Wrap up the school year with a sizable graduating class. Pack up and finish work on my father’s estate. A week in NYC, and confirmation of a budding relationship. Solo/ensemble contest brings solid results. Senior recitals with three voice students. Attend the Tony Awards. Celebrated the completion of 10 years at Webster University.
Summer. Begins with a week in Lincoln at a conference. Then to Vienna on the Messing Faculty Award for three weeks of research and curriculum development. Side trips to Stockholm and Florence. Allergies abound in Vienna! Wept copious tears at the sight of Michelangelo’s David. Start the new school year with days of meetings, and a robust new-student class. Yufei visits Saint Louis. Start work with Variety Children’s Choruses as the new conductor. Celebrate my 57th birthday with a day of museum visits in Vienna, and a screening of The Third Man at a kino.
Autumn. Auggie turns 8. Sabbatical begins in mid-October. Accept a gig with Circus Harmony as composer and music director for the big January show. Start traveling immediately. Chicago with Yufei. Toronto and Niagara Falls with my nephew Luke. Washington, D.C. (pandas!!) and NYC with Yufei. Chicago again. And Christmas at home in Lee’s Summit with my sisters. Attend multiple Circus Harmony classes and practices. Conduct a holiday concert with the Variety Children’s Choruses. Attend Joffrey Ballet and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Over the course of the year I’ve witnessed powerful live concert performances. Viewed some of the world’s greatest artworks. Learned more about cooking. Kept up the slow renovations on a 100+ year-old home. Enjoyed some stunning meals (Stockholm, Vienna, Chicago, NYC all were gastro-delight locations). Worshipped in grand and beautiful spaces. Composed some decent music. Shot loads and loads of photos (I’m starting to understand light much better). Whipped up homemade plum jam and blood orange marmalade. Taken various architectural tours. Read more books than the year before, and also a big chunk of the Bible. Extended my cufflink-buying spree with a dozen new pairs. Imparted lessons about singing, and about life, with students. Loved on my dog. Caught up with friends in far-flung places. Bought more new eyeglasses. Fallen in love.
Not a bad year indeed.
May 2019 bring us comfort and joy and challenges that we can together address.
One year ago this evening, my father Richard breathed his last. His end was peaceful.
I did not publish this photo a year ago, because it was too personal. But perhaps today is the right time. Pop was in his bed at home, under hospice care. His wife JoAnne spent hours by the side those last few days.