It felt like such a private moment. The delicate strains of the violin playing Ashokan Farewell swirled around us in the great sanctuary.
I watched her play, and then I had to look away.
It was Bob Herst’s memorial service. I knew that I needed to be there. Our families’ lives have long been intertwined. Both families, ours and the Hersts, arrived in Cooperstown in 1967. They had four children, we had five — my youngest brother the only one without a corresponding Herst.
In those early years, I sat in the front row and played tic-tac-toe with Calvin on the nap of the velvet pew cushions of the Presbyterian Church while his father stood at the lectern and preached. Calvin knew the Lord’s Prayer and all the words to the Nicene Creed; at the age of 8, I was duly impressed.
We vacationed with them in Myrtle Beach. One time, at a crowded restaurant, in order for our large party to be seated, we had split up — adults at one table, children at another. Ricky harassed our waitress by flipping up his eyelids and batting them at her while he ordered.
Oh, the memories.
When someone at the memorial service talked about the Herst’s hospitality, I remembered sitting in their kitchen while Ricky prepared blue mashed potatoes. I mentioned it to him yesterday.
“You were ahead of your time,” I told him. “I thought of you when they started coming out with blue foods.”
“I thought of me when they started making blue foods,” he laughed.
But their house was always open. I never felt unwelcome there.
And it seems like there was always music there. Sweet music. Rich music. Cello. Violin. Piano. Trumpet. French horn.
Calvin played the organ at my wedding. He has made a living of music.
He accompanied his mother at the memorial service.
Ashokan Farewell — gentle and sorrowful.
She began playing solo and then Calvin joined in.
Although, she had a music stand in front of her, I don’t think she looked at it. Her eyes were closed and the music rose as the bow passed over the strings.
Heartache was etched in the lines on her face, but love poured from the violin. I watched until I couldn’t bear it.
She held the last note and left it lingering over us.
When she stopped, silence fell on the seated congregation.
How can anyone speak after that?
Later I hugged her.
“You were so brave,” I told her. “You played beautifully.”
“It was his request,” she said.
Nearly 66 years together. She honored him well.