Ramblin Christian Gypsy
Literary whimsy. Dedicated poetic observer.
Literary whimsy. Dedicated poetic observer.
Without question it was the suicide of Freddie Prinze in January of 1977 that stole my solo singing voice from me. I was 11 and up until then quite content to rival my Father for the title of “Biggest Showoff Belter” of the family.
We were Baptist missionaries to Hawaii. If God has to call you anywhere, let it be Hawaii. It sucketh not.
When we weren’t serving in the mission field, running the church of 200 in Kaneohe, Hawaii, we were visiting all our supporting churches, constituents with check books if you will, on the mainland and giving them updates on our ministry by way of slide shows, Hawaiian songs, and stories. Perfectly charming set against our thick Texas accents.
So here we were, traveling from one meeting to the next in our Dodge Rambler, when this impossibly grievous news hit the talk radio airwaves. There was no escaping it really as secular music was not an option in our family. So here it was that I realized two things at the age of 11. One, that life has a very real beginning, middle and an end. And then two, that I had been hopelessly in love with Freddie Prinze. When exactly that happened I didn’t even know.
I was looking out the window at the gray Tennessee landscape with its signs on every barn extolling us to “SEE ROCK CITY” when my Mom sighed, “What’s sad is that he’s probably in hell.”
Sitting in the back seat I’m quite sure an anvil fell on my head. I knew better than to plead his case or defend his honor. There wasn’t much wiggle room with Fundamentalist Baptists.
It was about here in the story where a gaping yaw in my heart flopped open and a cold clutch came to live in my throat as if invited and made himself quite at home.
Cut to: The next church and the next platform that the Singing Warren Family took to and if I was able to make it through one song without sobbing I was lucky. My eyes would pool and threaten dripping riverlets at the same time my throat would say, “This is bull crap…we’re outta here.” But we had like nine songs in the set to get through. And here I suffered in the tension of that disparity.
Did I tell you I had solos? Because I did.
My Mom would play the intro after I missed my first cue, again but in the higher treble cleff keys making it a softer place for me to fall. Still no me. Here she came again with my intro. This time with an encouraging pursed lip smile from behind the piano but with eyes that looked positively flummoxed.
Heidi, older than me, forgot herself for a moment and the fact that the microphone was mere inches from her mouth barked in her bossy boots best and went, “Knock it off.” Which of course everyone heard and were now clued into our little drama.
Everyone craned their necks to get a look at this little missionary girl dying on stage with a Cindy Brady (remember the game show episode) stroke going on in her eyes.
What would the girl in the orange muu muu do? Okay, I managed through but with that choked up, near tears way that always renders it highly uncomfortable for the audience.
I remember Miranda Ching would always sing like that. Like a musical nervous breakdown. Humiliated, I would run to the bathroom and only after making sure I was completely alone would have myself a little cry then talk myself down out of this emotional tree with a song. Elvis has a version. “Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine, we’ll understand it all by and by.” Then as a mantra prayer I would add “Please don’t be in hell, please don’t be in hell, please dont…be…in hell.”
From there the service was usually over and I would smile and sign our album and people’s Bible’s like a pop star. “1 Peter 5:7 God bless.” Then my name. Was what I always wrote. Then when the box of records was empty and my Dad had received the white envelope with our “love gift” in it we’d button Winter coat over Aloha wear and head out to the nearest Denny’s or McDonalds or whatever shined brightest off the freeway.
Here, before eating, my Dad would pray a little too loudly and way too long for my sister and I to get too comfortable. Inevitably there was always an embarrassed waitress not knowing what to do with her arm full of dinners while this devout family thanked their God for dinner.
It has to be said that had my Father not grown up in an Iowan farming community but in a big city, dollars to donuts, he’d have been one of the great tenors to take a turn on an operatic stage and command everyone’s awe.
But what was to be done with this daughter who’d lost her song? Was very Little Mermaid of me thinking back on it.
My affliction afflicted, and affected me for months. I have no idea how I made it through. Or how many tween tears I shed. No idea of the exact date I stopped mourning my Freddie Prinze. All I know is that it set into motion the notion of saving just one big eyed, beautiful Latin man. And for him I would be up to task of singing hymns all the freaking time. And I do.
See? By and by. You do understand. And the choke in your throat softens into a story of pulped anguish that you swallow and store in the sweet thumping chambers of your heart to visit with again and again, whenever tender needs remembering.