Which is partly why it’s so tough for him today.
In addition to being 83 years old, my dad has congestive heart failure. He often feels tired and weak. He can’t walk very far without running out of breath or experiencing chest pain. He hates not being able to do much, but his doctor has warned him about putting too much stress on his heart.
I understood his frustration. There were so many things he could no longer do.
Then a few years ago, God gave him a new opportunity.
One night, while he and Mom were at a restaurant, they heard live music coming from a nearby party room. The tune seemed familiar to dad, like something he’d heard as a child.
When dad was a kid, his parents used to invite friends and neighbors over for dances. They pushed all the furniture against the walls and anyone that owned an instrument played it. They always played upbeat music--a combination of bluegrass, old-time folk music and square dance tunes. My grandpa played the harmonica. Dad hadn’t heard anyone play that kind of music in years. Until that day at the restaurant.
After dinner, Mom and Dad poked their heads inside the party room. A small group of musicians with a variety of instruments sat in a circle. Someone played a guitar. Another played a fiddle. There was a banjo, a harmonica, a hammered dulcimer and a mandolin. When the group took a break, Dad asked if they knew a particular song that my grandpa used to play.
“Do you play?” Someone asked.
Dad shrugged. “I’ve played a little over the years--just for fun.” Dad usually played for his own enjoyment or maybe to entertain a grandkid.
Normally, Dad would never consider playing someone else’s harmonica. “It’s like using their toothbrush,” he says. Against his better judgement, he played a quick tune.
The guy smiled. “We play every Monday night. You’re welcome to join us.”
Dad laughed. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t play in public.”
Actually, Dad had played the harmonica once in public—a long time ago. It hadn’t gone well.
He was seventeen years old when an older boy named Ronnie talked him into playing the harmonica for the school talent show. He was nervous, but got through it. He finished the song and hurried off the stage. But Ronnie met him at the door with a grin.
“Hear that?” Ronnie motioned to the crowd that erupted with applause. “They loved you, Marvin! Go on back out and play an encore.”
Dad had no desire to return, but he took a deep breath and did as he was told. This time, when he reached center stage, he panicked. Never in his life had he seen so many eyes staring back at him. His mind went blank. He needed to play something, but couldn’t think of one single song.
His legs trembled and his mind raced. Finally, he played some little ditty and ran off the stage. It wasn’t anything special, but Ronnie must’ve thought so.
“Hey, Marvin, how’d you like to play in my band?”
Dad knew about Ronnie’s band. They made good money and wore fancy clothes. They drove nice cars and always had pretty girls hanging around them. It seemed like a good deal.
Dad ran home to find my grandpa’s harmonicas. As he rummaged through a dresser drawer, his mom (my grandma) walked in the room.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
“Looking for harmonicas.” He swiped his hand under some T-shirts. “I’m going to practice with Ronnie. He wants me to play in his band.”
Grandma frowned. “Oh no you’re not,” she said. Those boys play in taverns on school nights.”
Dad was disappointed, but honored Grandma’s wishes, assuming he’d probably be too nervous to play in front of people anyway.
So … who would’ve guessed that SIX decades later, Dad got a second chance to play in a band. This time, he took it.
My dad's story is a good reminder that no matter what your age, God can give you new opportunities to enjoy your life.
The modest little group of musicians have played in many venues for various occasions. Restaurants. An art center. Community picnics. Farmers markets. Birthday parties. Charity auctions. Retirement centers. Nursing homes. A wedding. A funeral.
Strangely, they’ve never played in a bar. I think my grandmother would approve