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Pauline Lerner

October 18, 2005 at 1:08 AM

This weekend I saw C, a friend and musician I like and respect a lot. I hadn’t seen him in two years, so I asked him where he’s been and what’s happened. He told me that his father died last year. His father was terminally ill and knew that he had only a few months to live, so he did what was important to him. He went back to his homeland, Ireland, with his two sons. C said that it was a wonderful experience, seeing the place where his father grew up. More important, though, was the talking they did. They said to each other everything that needed to be said. When I heard this, gave C a hug.

We were joined by a bunch of friends, and we sat around singing and playing music. After a while, we played and sang Mary Ellen Carter . I can’t paraphrase it, so I won’t even try. It is a song that has saved many people in danger physically and/or emotionally, inspiring us to “rise again.” C told us about a time that this song had saved him. He was lying in bed in a Veterans’ Hospital, nearly out of his mind in pain. His hip had been shattered when his jeep was hit by enemy fire in Vietnam. (It took some serious surgery to replace most of his hip with plastic.) The hospital staff wasn’t paying much attention to him. They acted like he was a drug addict when he asked for painkillers. C thought of Mary Ellen Carter and raised hell until the staff took care of him. They gave him painkillers and they performed surgery. After hearing this, I hugged C again.

We played and sang some more, and someone started playing Ashokan Farewell. I normally don’t like this song, but after C talked about it, I did. C told us that his father was buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery near Washington DC. This cemetery arouses great pride and respect in so many Americans. Many of our national heroes, from JFK to the Unknown Soldier, are buried there. C was a pallbearer and so was his grandson. During the procession, music was provided by one fiddler playing Ashokan Farewell. Everyone was so moved. They were used to hearing Taps and other honorific songs played by brass instruments, but no one – certainly not a fiddler – had played Ashokan Farewell. The troops were teary-eyed, and the officer in charge told them to slacken. When C finished his story, someone said, “Let’s play that again, this time with just the string section.” The string section consisted of one violist and two fiddlers, including me. We played it, and, I must say, we sounded good. Then I got up and hugged C again.

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