Dulcet Tones

Standing in the bathroom of a ranch house he designed and helped build on the High Plains of western Kansas, his face lathered, my father sang while he shaved.

“O bury me not, on the lone prairie...”

“Sang” is generous. Since he recognized his own melodic shortcomings, his singing-while-shaving was exaggerated, over the top. He knew if tried to sing it straight, he’d have not been able to pull it off.

And James E. was big on control.

The man was tone deaf. I think he enjoyed music as much as the next man, he just couldn’t carry a tune to save his life. Standing between my parents as a child during church services was a new experience in equilibrium. Mom was a lark. The old man may have been singing from the same hymnal, may have even recognized a quarter note from a held whole note, but the sounds he emitted bore little, if any, resemblance to what any reasonable person would call “music.”

The shaving lather was whipped up with a shaving brush from some shaving soap perched at the bottom of a shaving mug designed for this express purpose. I seem to recall it bore an image of a sailing ship. O bury me not in the deep blue sea?

He used a Gillette Super Speed Razor and changed blades from his Blue Blade Dispenser, which allowed its consumers to install a new blade without the worry of slicing off the tip of a digit or three. After the new blade was in place in the ship’s hold, you’d ratchet down the cargo bay doors in much the same fashion that the space shuttle astronauts would in outer space.

That Gillette Blue Blade wasn’t going anywhere.

We’re about a month shy of the one-year anniversary of Pop’s death. His wife is slowly, surely, painfully, jettisoning some of his stuff – especially the junk he brought with him into that marriage from his first – the one to my mom. I recently inherited a stack of his LP’s.

It’s quite the eclectic collection. Jimmy Dean, Sons of the Pioneers, the Ray Conniff Singers, Harry Belafonte, et al. Perusing the titles is like a journey back to 1965 into my father’s heart, mind and soul.

James E., ca. 1965

James E., ca. 1965

Careful, Pop. The Ray Conniff Singers are the gateway to the Carpenters. Then before you know it, you’re jonesin’ for Simon & Garfunkel.

It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw.

A year without the old man. Tryna figure out WTF, exactly, I will do with his 33 1/3 Long Playing “new orthophonic” high fidelity MIRACLE*SURFACE (RCA’s caps) vinyl recordings. I’ve not owned a turntable since the days of Oliver North and Fawn Hall.

I suspect it’s a happy memory because so many of them with my father during my childhood are not. Unresolved anger issues stemming from his parents’ behavior during his own childhood. I think there’s a book due out this fall that will drill a little deeper.

So the happy ones tend to stick out.

O bury me not on the lone prairie
Where the coyotes howl and the wind blows free.

Which, when you think about it, is sort of the way it’s supposed to work.