It was Sam who found out that John Prine was going to perform in Kansas City on Saturday, March 11th and suggested that we get together for that. Dan and Jeremiah agreed to come over from western Kentucky. Getting together the night before at our big old farmhouse in northeastern Kansas for our own John Prine hoedown was my idea. I invited Neil to join us. He’s become a very close friend since we met in 2010 and a good friend of Sam’s since I introduced them in 2015. All five of us play guitars and sing so we had been looking forward to our warm-up celebration for over two months.
The day before Randa and I left Arkansas City I woke up with a sore throat. By Thursday evening, I was a noticeably hoarse. As we packed up and left on Friday morning, my voice sounded like the mix of a croaking frog and a dying mule. By the time Neil, Sam and I tuned up around 8:30 that evening, I could barely talk. Nonetheless, I started us off, rasping out the first verse of “Paradise.” By the time I got to “Mr. Peabody’s coal trains done hauled it away,” I knew I wasn’t going to be doing much singing. I nodded toward Sam and mouthed “Take it.”
Just before ten o’clock, Dan and Jeremiah rolled up the driveway at the end of their five hundred-and-twenty-five-mile drive out from Murray. Sam, Neil and I took a break for hugs and hellos. Ten minutes later, five guitars and four voices were ringing out in the living room. As we continued playing John Prine and songs by a few others, Randa would join in every now and then on the piano in the next room. When she wasn’t doing that, she’d sit on a chair and listen.
Every now and then, while the boys and Neil were singing, I’d watch them for a while and then look over at her and grin like a horse eating thistle blooms. I couldn’t sing a lick but I was having a truly wonderful time, surrounded by men I love and all of us doing something we love to do.
Somewhere between midnight and whatever hour comes next, my fingers had endured about as much pressing against steel strings as they could stand for one night. I managed to make them get through “Wagon Wheel/Rock Me, Mama,” though. With Jeremiah taking the lead on that one and with the others helping out, I mouthed the words and played along. I wasn’t able to sing but I sure did enjoy the singing.
Listening to my sons and playing guitars with them transcended whatever distances might have grown up between us at some time in the past. Even those old songs we’d known for thirty years seemed fresh this night. I might have a sore throat but I wasn’t going to let that dampen my spirits.
Even when we have lost our own voice, we can still rejoice in the singing of others. Especially those we love.