When I started this discipline of daily writing through Lent, reflecting on those who had guided my spiritual journey, I knew that the first anniversary of my Dad’s death would fall within these days, and that I would write about him that day. Tomorrow. Today, I write about my Mom.

A few weeks ago, my Mom’s sister-in-law, my Aunt Jean, gave me quite an unexpected gift. It is a 1940 Kodascope 8mm movie projector that had been my grandfather’s. In the wooden case that housed the projector, there were several reels of 8mm film. Grandpa Warfield had been shooting movies since the mid-1930’s. Some of his films, most in color, had been transferred to videotape a few years back, so I knew there were movies of Grandpa’s family (including my great-grandparents on Mom’s side, and Mom and her brothers in their late teens and early twenties).

I wasn’t sure that all the films had been transferred though. So when my grandsons Ryan and Tyler visited us last weekend, I opened up the box, took out the projector, and, while almost-4 year old Tyler played with Matchbox cars (Tyler is 4 today!! Happy birthday!), I told Ryan that we would see if that old projector still worked. I warned him that after all this time, the motor might not run, or the lamp might be blown, or any number of things might prevent us from looking at a reel of ancient (to Ryan) film.

We applied some oil, threaded the machine, plugged it in, and turned the switch to the first position. Voila! The projector ran smoothly! I turned the switch to the “lamp” position, and there was the image projected on a white board we had set up a couple of feet away. We saw footage of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, the historic flood that brought the Susquehanna almost to Grandpa’s front yard, and movies of Grandpa’s two sons (my uncles-to-be) in their Air Force (Keith) and Navy (Dick) WWII uniforms.

And there was Mom, and her boyfriend Harry Kellam, walking the Watkins Glen gorge in one quick shot, and then coming out the front door of the Warfield home in another. Ryan and I were seeing images of my parents, his great-grandparents, before they had married. (At least that was my guess, given the context and presumed dates of the scenes.)

There are several more reels of film to explore, and we will do that soon, before that projection lamp burns out. One of the film cans is labeled “Bev and Jeff,” and I’ve seen the video transfer of what that reel holds. I was born while Dad was in the Philippines in 1944, and Grandpa had shot color movies of Mom and me so that Dad would have some idea of what I was like during the first 18 months of my life, before his return from the war.

That is a lengthy prelude to this entry then, this note about my Mom’s influence on my spiritual journey. To be honest, it will be easier to write tomorrow about Dad’s religious guidance. Mom didn’t take the lead in our family regarding church or faith-building. She and Dad went to church only occasionally. My understanding is that both Dad and Mom came from Episcopalian families, and while they were still dating they connected with the Presbyterian church in the neighborhood (the one I go to now!). I’ll bet it was the most gentle rebellion that communicated, “We’re going to go to our own church.”

They were married in that church, I was baptized there after the war, and, beginning when I was in 5th grade, for ten years we lived right across the street from that community of faith. But, as I said, Mom wasn’t active in the church, and even confessed years later that after getting six kids ready for Sunday School, she was glad to just stay home herself. I know that she was a “believer.” During the war, influenced by her Roman Catholic girlfriends, Mom had even said novenas to keep Dad safe overseas. She always supported my church activities and I’m confident that she was pleased with my call to ministry, and proud of my work in media and church pastorates.

But here is the main thing about Mom’s spiritual influence on my life, and I write this with a straight face and a joyful heart: she introduced me to … jazz. That wouldn’t occur to anyone but me, but since jazz is part of my spirituality– its rhythm, its roots, its spontaneity — if I had to look for where that began, I look to Mom.

Dad played drums in high school, including the marching band and the Continental Fife and Drum Corps. Mom played saxophone. She so enjoyed telling the stories of the high school band going with the U-E football team to play in Florida, and how the band raised the money by marching up and down the main drag with blankets opened to receive the bills and coins people would toss their way.

But Mom’s sax playing is something I never heard, having been born a few years after that. What I do remember from very early childhood on were Mom’s 78 rpm records. In elementary school, I recall stacking three or four of those heavy shellac 78s onto the spindle and hearing the music of Mom’s teenaged years. It had been the “Big Band Era,” and I grew up with Glenn Miller, Harry James, Ralph Flanagan, and Tommy Dorsey swinging in lo-fi, prevailing over the scratches and cracks of those discs. And the vocalists: Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Dick Haymes.

I know that the artists I’ve cited there aren’t exactly the hardcore jazz musicians of the 30s and 40s. But that was the music my parents danced to as teens and into their early marriage years. Big bands provided the music that keep Mom somewhat comforted with Dad absent during the war years. And out of those popular big bands came many jazz musicians who kept swing alive as the age of rock and roll dawned in the early 50s.  As I was growing up, it was Mom who played the records while Dad was at work and when I had come home from school. So I do credit her for planting those seeds in my musical consciousness.

In second grade, I took up the drums, Dad’s instrument. He always had a drum pad and sticks around the house, but here came this six year-old carrying home a snare drum around his neck, banging on it in the basement after school. But to no avail. I couldn’t paradiddle worth a flam. Within a few months (or was it weeks?), the music teacher called Mom and told her I had no perceivable sense of rhythm, and I’d be better off with another instrument in the future. I’m sure that was a relief to everyone in our household.

I tried trombone from seventh through ninth grades, but I didn’t practice enough to make much music. Playing music wasn’t to be in my life. (Except records, tapes, CDs and now Mp3.) But listening? I’m good at that. And my first choice is that music that flows in a direct line from Mom’s big band records. Jazz. Pure and simple. Or, bop and blues. Or, swing and “contemporary.” I love it all.

A little known fact: my very first radio show in college was called “Bandstand.” Not like Dick Clark’s famous TV show, but more like the stage from which the Dorseys, Count Basie, Ted Heath, Stan Kenton, and Duke Ellington had played. There in college, while my classmates listened to rock, I was playing Shearing, Brubeck, and the 78  I wore out, “Harlem Nocturne.”

Dad wasn’t a fan. He said jazz sounded like everybody was playing a different song. Mom never said. But she loved her Sinatra, from his Paramount theater/Dorsey days to the end. And Frank sang over the funeral home speakers as we gathered for her memorial service. That wasn’t my first choice for that occasion, being the theologically fine-tuned minister I am. But it would have been hers. So…Frank sang “All My Tomorrows” and “The September of My Years.” That said, I’ll be disappointed if my funeral doesn’t include some syncopation!

Mom, I’ve thanked you for a lot of things in my life, but I forgot to thank you for the music. It’s always lifted my spirit. And so did you!

I can’t resist adding something to this post. Mom and Dad did try the church thing when they moved to NC. A couple of times, in fact. But, again, that institutional link didn’t work for them.

Regarding my spiritual path, I’ve mentioned only this jazz connection, but it must be said that my mother’s sense of romance (my parents never hid their embraces from us kids, though they did hide and later burn their WWII love letters — Mom had written Dad every single day!)…OK, romance, plus playfulness, an artistic streak (she painted portraits and still lifes), plus sewing crafts like needlepoint… in some way all that shaped my own desire to be creative. From Dad, there came a sense of humor…and I’ll write about that tomorrow.

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