Gifts of my Magi...

'Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.'
~Garrison Keillor

Once, long ago now, on an east Texas Indian summer afternoon, my parents took a trip to one of those pre-Walmart discount stores, maybe Howard's or Gibson's. They returned home with whatever items necessitated their trip, but they also came bearing gifts, two things not on my mother's list. One seemed from my mother's heart, something needed, warm, true, while the other came from the vagaries of my father. Together those gifts were kneaded into the impressionable dough of a boy I was and have risen like yeast into the man I've become - a plaid, flannel shirt and Rod McKuen's Greatest Hits Vol. 1.

Based on its point of origin, I'm willing to bet the flannel patterns didn't match up across buttons and seams and being pre-button-down-days, the collar points were no doubt sharp and wide. The shirt probably cost $4. We lived, in those days, on the loaves and fish of a Baptist preacher's salary. As I think about it now, here in my 40s, I am humbled by my mother's miracles of blessing and breaking and having leftovers enough for the extravagance of $4 flannel. I am often in the presence of believers, God's people, who pooh-pooh on the things of this earth, things that will pass away or be consumed as wood, hay, stubble or grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. I am often uncomfortable around such people for I don't know exactly what they believe in; some unmediated, disembodied grace I guess. I probably make such people uncomfortable as well, for I believe in the icons of a mother's love and flannel.

I'd never heard of Rod McKuen until that day my father brought home a two-album set of his greatest hits. I've only met one other person along my way who likes McKuen -  My southern Baptist preacher father bringing home a Rod McKuen album of love songs is evidence that the man will always have facets of mystery to his life that will elude my grasp. I'll never know him, not all of him. From the moment the needle dropped into the vinyl groove that day, I was taken.  Songs like 'I've Saved the Summer' and 'Love's Been Good to Me' and 'Seasons in the Sun' and 'People Change' and 'The Lonely Things' were listened to with the same regularity of wearing that flannel shirt...over and over and over again. Its hard to say exactly what it was about McKuen's voice and lyrics that wooed me so; all I know is that they did, and they still do to this day, especially on crisp prelude days of fall. I wonder sometimes, here in my 40s, if the music my father introduced to our home, such as McKuen's songs of love and melancholy, was his way of tempering the hymns of certainty and conviction we'd stand and sing each Sunday in nice neat rows. I don't recall a single hymn extolling the sensuality of a stranger's eyes or the prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I am often in the presence of believers, God's people, who have no place in their lives for music unless it specifically mentions the name of Jesus or works the crowd up to some hands-raised-hallelujah-climax. I am always lonely around such people for the hills are ablaze with the morn's yellow haze but they seem to have never noticed. I probably make such people lonely too, for I was raised on my father's music, and I can't recall your name but the street...was Channing Way.