[Inscription on the inside cover of my grandfather’s diary: “To My Father, Joel Sylvanus Wallace, Pioneer”]
Of Love and Soul: Music for and by Fathers and Sons | This Father’s Day Weekend
So why am I doing a concert dedicated to my sons and forebears? The reason would seem obvious – love, pride, hope, honor, dedication, ancestry, family culture. Yes, it is all those things, but it is also confusion, distrust, curiosity, shame and yearning for connection that I did not have. My father once told me he did not know how to be a grandfather because he never had one. He had naught but a vague memory of an old man coming to the door with a white beard down his chest. I never met my paternal grandfather at all since he died a year before I was born, though I felt a great spiritual connection to him vicariously through my grandmother’s love for him. My sons did not know their paternal grandfather well due to 3,000 miles of country in between them. My choice early in life.
The collection of music presented in Of Love & Soul started with From the Windy Place which I happened to be writing while my elder son was being hazed by older members of his high school football team. My daily worry and prayers became embroiled in this music and thus I dedicated it to him. The second piece (in chronological order) was pure happenstance (as well). I was due to receive on my fiftieth birthday my grandfather’s diary which he kept in his fiftieth year. The tome came in due course from my older brother who had received it three years before. To my great surprise, another box of poetry and plays came weeks later and I was instantly engrossed in a poetry collection my grandfather called Father Said, which had heightened meaning for its mysterious provenance and the author’s name – Frank Wallace! Two weeks later 16 songs were complete.
Father Said is tales of interaction between father and son – are they real or imagined? My father heard me sing these songs at his retirement home once. I was ecstatic for the opportunity to share them. His reaction: “Where did you get these poems? They can’t be Pop, I never saw them?” Granted he had severe dementia, but there were certainly real emotions and situations that spawned this reaction. My reaction was obvious – devastation. Connection? I don’t think so! But I’ll never know why.
My initial joy at discovering these fabulous poems was almost ruined when I came upon Rawhide Justice. It reveals that my great grandfather, Joel Sylvanus Wallace, 1844-1920(?), had white robes hidden in a chest in his attic, discovered by his young son who is curious as to their nature. Apparently the robes were used when justice needed to be given to passing horse thieves. I am grateful there are no racial references in the poem, but the conclusion is inevitable. Did I really want to know that? Is that part of my heritage? I must conclude it is.
I ask again, are the poems of Father Said about real events, or a son desperately creating a story, a myth, about his own father who was old already when he was born and with whom he felt little connection? My grandfather gives a hint:
My great-grandfather seemed so far remote.
Too vague to fancy him a life-like man.
He was some mystic figure, always old,
And never young, or given to the ways
Of life as you and I, until at length
My Father pointed out a huge pecan,
Which he had planted in his passing year
As though he wished to live, defeating Death.