What Christmas Does for the Soul & Jerry Jeff Walker
Today I went to church and sang Christmas songs, served breakfast and chatted with the homeless. This is an annual event our church does to honor our neighbors who are living on the streets. I sat with two wonderful Larrys and we talked about the dangers of being homeless, we talked about names, we talked about music. Everyone who came was given brand new blankets, socks, amenities (toothbrushes, shaving cream, etc.) and bags of homemade cookies. We need to stock up on tampons. All of us were scampering around, emptying our purses, giving away whatever we had. I’m not sure why we didn’t have a stock pile of feminine needs. The church also serves free breakfast every Tuesday and Thursday morning, year round, to those in need. I’m astounded how many volunteers and good people there are in the world. You hear a lot about the bad ones; I’m hear to tell you….there are good ones everywhere, too. Don’t lose hope. People are working hard to eradicate homelessness. It isn’t an easy row to hoe, but we are out there. I see how frustrated people without homes can get, and I can only imagine the bullshit they have to endure, the freezing temperatures they survive, the lack of care and understanding. The weight of being invisible in a world gone mad. But, there are the moments when there is a connection, and the love is shared. One of the Larry’s and I were talking about Michael Langdon and the last episode of “Little House on the Prarie,” and he just lost it. His tears started flowing and he couldn’t say another word. I just wrapped my arms around him and wept, too. It makes me want to sell everything I have and give it all away. It makes me want to run out into the streets and confront people and say WAKE UP NOW! And then I realize: I can only give what I am giving and speak out when I have an ear ready to hear and write songs and letters and do all that I can and have faith because it takes an army of us to create change. And so I step out into each day and give away what I can with love.
I was so honored to receive a call from Marcia Ball the other day. She invited me to join her at Jerry Jeff Walker’s house for the annual Christmas sing-a-long party he and his fantastic wife, Susan, host. The group rides around on two Dillo buses and visits hospitals, ending up at the Zilker Christmas tree for a sing-a-long outdoors with whomever wants to endure the nice, 65 degree weather.
Wow! I was laughing so hard within the first fifteen minutes of arriving…so many friendly, musical people…what a true BLAST this was!
Entering Jerry Jeff’s house was like entering a Dicken’s novel: a white stone English tudor castle with dark wood paneling on the interior, complete with full blown Christmas decorations: thick, red candles on heavy, twisted wooden pillars and antique books on display turned to Christmas lore and illustrations; the scent of fresh pine and wreaths and white blown glass decorations sparkling from gigantic trees.
Mix this with mantles and room after room of collected Christmas stuff and a small terrier trying not to get stepped on by the likes of Red Voelkert and Shawn Colvin and Jimmy Dale & Janet Gilmore (and Collin, too…what a sweetheart!) and Bill Oliver and Bob Livingston and Carolyn Wonderland and Karen Kuykendahl, the great actress, and Marcia herself (with accordian in hand) and Mitch Watkins and Dale Watson….and then Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison appeared with their sweet, red headed children in tow and we’re all eating fresh tamales off the grill and dipping chips into yummy queso and practicing “Joy to the World” and Jerry Jeff’s saying, “No, no, no!” and stopping five guitarists and an autoharp and me on tambo and we wait as passing chords are discussed and every song seems to end up in the key of G but we’re all back to laughing and chatting, the Studebaker women in three part harmony with swell, wide brimmed velvet hats and curls of grey and smiles of splendor. I hop over the sofa to stand next to them and four part harmonies jump into the fray. The room is packed with Austin musicians, all of good cheer.
We saunter outside, me with my bag of shakers and tamborines and jingle bells to share and we ride the Dillo buses, singing all the way (Beatles and The Band and assorted songs that have nothing to do with Christmas but fill us with good cheer), fiddles cranking up the solo sections and we visit the Austin Children’s Hospital (we all walk up the stairs…too many of us for the elevators!) and I spot a small boy who is staying here in the hospital; he has come out in a red wagon with his IV attached in his little hand…
and I have a very small wooden instrument that has bottle caps on the end (it makes a shaky-tinkly sound…very sweet) and his mother and I help him to hold it and he plays along and a young girl has tears in her eyes and I take her a maraca and she smiles and everywhere, everywhere, all the good folks are singing about Santa and Rudolph. We stay here for an hour and then back down the stairs, the closeness deepening for all….the spirit of good will shining…
Next stop: St. David’s Hospital, and we visit a ward with the elderly in different stages of rehabilatation….They are enjoying a meal and we come down the hallway, whispers and nervousness, and find our place against a far wall, and the music starts up and I find
the patients who need the love; I walk around hugging and holding; stroking cheeks lightly with fingers and kisses; talking in quiet
ways that open the heart and conversations begin and tears flow and the songs are bringing forth sadness and hope and wishes for
so many different things and hands are being held and I run to find tissues and sing a man to sleep and then a young woman comes to me as I leave another and asks if a few of us can come to her grandmother’s room: her grandmother has popped her hip and is in intense pain…yes yes I say no problem and I grab Bill Oliver and Shawn C. and we head down the hallway, asking what would be appropriate and we sing “Silent Night” and the grandmother is touched and asks for another and we ask if she would like something peppy…so then “Frosty the Snowman” comes bursting out of our mouths and Shawn and I are bouncing up and down like a pipe organ and we are in three part harmony (most of the time!), thumpety thump thump thumping and giggling and Bill is so fun and the granddaughter smiles and as we leave I talk, briefly, with another woman who is bedridden about an author we both like and she insists I need to read the new John Grisham, I will like it, she says. I will and we kiss and now we are catching up with the others, heading down in elevators (this hospital has big ones) and on the ground floor Bill and I think Django Walker and three or four more of us stop and sing to a woman in a wheelchair, she is clapping and smiling and her daughter behind starts to tear up and I hold her close and we sing, we sing as we stare in each other’s eyes and we are grateful to have each other to hold. There is so much love among us, strangers who are no longer strangers because of the christmas, because of what it does to the soul.
Last stop: Christopher House, a hospice and the very place my care partner passed away this summer, and I am feeling many feelings as we approach this spiritual, peaceful and loving environment. We all gather in the halls, we will not see these patients who are so close to death, but they will hear us and hopefully hear our care, hear our hearts reaching out to them at the end of their journeys. As we all sing, I gaze around at all these good people and my heart is bursting with love for each and everyone of them, and most especially for Jerry Jeff (who is in intense pain from lower back pain and is smiling the widest of all) and my eyes mist up again and the words can not leave my mouth, and I just relish the love and enjoy more tears and stand close to dear Janet who is kindly worried about whether I will get my wedding jingle bells back from a little boy and I am saying, “No worries…it’s all good!” and the bells are far from my mind….when we notice they are behind her and laugh because it is all good.
Out with reverence to the Dillo. We board and head on down to ZIlker park, to sing with all the Austin folks who’ve come to twirl under the tree….There were so many people waiting, I had no idea! We sing and laugh and Shawn ends every song with “Ho ho ho!” and
all is merry and bright as Bob is shouting out solos and I sing into the upright bass player’s ear that I’ll be home for Christmas and then the evening is done and we all head back to Jerry Jeff’s for more chuckles and snacks but I give hugs good bye at the driveway and walk to my car as my phone rings and my mother and I talk about writing a song together about Martha (from the Bible) and by the time I hang up I have shared a chorus idea and my mom says she’ll get to work on the verses and I get into my car and think what a blessing to be able to have music and stillness, all in one night. And I am looking forward to being home, really home, for Christmas with my family and soon…Santa will be here!
And so, merry christmas to all. I must go to bed, I must be with my husband who is patiently waiting on this Christmas eve, wondering what I could be typing up with such fury (in my effort to type quickly, to be with you, to be with him….) To sign off on this Christmas eve with the steadfast faith that human beings have the capacity to create great love and I will cling to this as I drift off into a good night’s sleep (I will, I will!!!) and wake to the magic of Santa Claus.
Dear ones, I send my love to you…Oh, do know this.