Some United States Veterans Hospitals have places within their compounds called domiciliaries. These doms house men who otherwise would be homeless. This is a true story.
Chappy Dunlap shuffled by the office where the domiciliary staff was meeting. Nurse Ruth watched him through the windows facing the hall.
“For example,” she added to the discussion as she glanced in his direction, “Mr. Dunlap.”
A few at the table shook knowing heads. This stoic man was no trouble. Most of his activity revolved around trips to the porch to smoke. Sometimes he sat and stared at television. No one could remember the last time he had spoken.
The supervisor brought the meeting to a close.
“It’s settled then. Ruth will over-see the new project to inject some life into these vets before they turn into zombies. ”
Lester Johnson felt totally spent from his last chemotherapy. He sat in the wheelchair reading the bulletin board. When Nurse Ruth walked up to post the announcement she noted his obvious discomfort and offered him an iced cola.
“Here you go, Mr. Johnson. Maybe this will help.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“ You interested in joining us?”
Before Lester could answer, Melville Jergins’ raspy voice interrupted. He had suffered shell shock in the war and had a scared rabbit look about him most of the time.
“What’s it say? I ain’t got my glasses on me.”
Ruth always sounded like twinkling lights look. “It says we need some musicians to form a Blue-Grass band for the Veteran’s Day entertainment. Anybody here ever play an instrument?”
Lester mumbled from the wheelchair. “That’s how I made my way for many a year…picking on that old git-tar.”
“Perfect,” she cooed, “May I sign you up?” Her natural, sweet way was hard to resist.
“Uh…well, I might not even be here when it’s time to perform.”
She patted his shoulder and wrote his name on her official looking clipboard; then, she looked around for more volunteers to ambush. She knew next to nothing about music but intended to give her best to this assignment.
“How about you, Mr. Jergins?”
Melville’s face flushed crimson as he looked down. She almost missed his admission. “Yeah…I’ve thumped a bass or two in my time…you know, those big tall ones that stand on the floor?”
“Great! You’ll join us.”
When he raised his head his eyes glistened with tears.
“Come on fellows,” She coaxed, “ Who wants to help pull this band together? Truly, I don’t know what I’m doing!”
She took a seat beside Chappy on the old leather sofa. Pencil poised to add his name, she asked, ever so quietly but with great expectation, “What is it you play, Mr. Dunlap?”
Without looking at her, he whispered one word. “Fiddle.”
She whispered back, “When the instruments arrive, you can walk over with me to the basement of building 7 where we’ll be practicing.” She felt, rather than saw, an almost-smile.
In record time for a governmental agency, the requested items were in place. Ruth commissioned Chappy to push Lester’s wheelchair while Melville clomped along in his over-sized high top shoes. It never occurred to this cheerful woman of faith that any of them were over estimating their abilities.
After tuning up, but without speaking, Chappy placed the violin under his chin and pulled the bow across strings waiting for the master’s hand to begin *The Orange Blossom Special.
Melville hiked one unlaced brogan on a small stool for support and joined in with a thumping bass back up. Fortified with excitement’s adrenalin, Lester enticed his guitar to sing with chords and runs so exquisite Ruth could hardly keep from shouting with delight. They were good. They were really good!
It was if memories of a gift long buried by the realities of war and loss had surfaced at the perfect time for a select group of old, misplaced military men.
Lester still fretted that he might die before the big performance, but he soldiered on. He said when he was playing the guitar he forgot about pain.
The Mountain Home Blue Grass Band made its debut to an audience of foot-tapping, hand-clapping appreciation.
Nurse Ruth had used her gift of good humor and encouragement to offer a missing spark to a group of veterans who re-discovered a gift that simply flowed right out through their fingers.
I know for sure it was a gift. None of them could read music.
*The Orange Blossom Special is a famous Blue Grass tune written by Ervin T. Rouse and Chubby Wise in 1939.
Click for fun sample.
Scroll to bottom to see cowboy foot-tapping and keyboarding. Enjoy the gift.
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