Every living person owns regrets, and I hold many deep in my heart. Jesus's blood trickles from my head down to unmanicured toes, so I lay regrets to rest each night with forgiveness. Even so, there is one regret I will always carry: I did not sing with Papaw.
Always a trace of hymns on his breath. He sang love ballads in Spanish to waitresses as we dined over enchiladas. He serenaded me, beautiful, beautiful brown eyes, I'll never love blue eyes again. He surprised my wide-eyed Aunt in Church proclaiming, "Now my daughter Pat will join me in a duet!" Her honey-warm alto blended with his tenor bringing tears to my strong Dad's hazel eyes. Papaw reached for his Omnichord and kindly issued a demand, "Jim, pick up your guitar." They played and harmonized for hours, comforting the whole house. And in my childhood Papaw gently gazed into my timid chocolate eyes, "Jenni, won't you sing with me?"
God knows why he kept asking. My Aunt, Dad, Mom, and brother all have natural, lovely voices, but mine is not their equal, though there must be a pleasant quality. Nina told me I sang like an angel (she eavesdropped in Church!), and in high school Mrs. Crenshaw tried to pull solos and voice lessons out of me to no avail. My parents tucked me and my brother into bed, guitar strapped over Dad's shoulder, while we all sang hymns and lullabies, and he closed with a cheerful, Goodnight Jenni, goodnight Jody, goodnight kids, we'll see you in the morning! We chimed in around the clinquant Christmas tree, not forgetting Jody's favorite, "Silent Night."
In my Pepto pink bedroom I memorized the Annie soundtrack so diligently that my parents purchased a second copy to replace the worn-out cassette. I loved to sing hidden in choir, and Mrs. Crenshaw did manage to place me in a madrigal ensemble. In a second grade school play - brave enough to dress up in a black leotard, tights, and a big gold-glittered yellow star framing my first face of make-up - I sang and learned speaking parts representing one of the stars over Bethlehem, Jesus lying in a manger. Yet after Mrs. Barrera's scolding for talking in class (never mind others were talking) and punishment of copying my spelling homework seven times over, from third grade onward I claimed a shy persona that stuck. I do not like to be the center of attention. The facts are I'm not a soloist, and I am fearful. Fear is never positive. In Herbert's Dune it is a mind-killer. In Bible pages thin as butterfly wings, God patiently, lovingly, repeats to dolts like me, "Do not fear, for I am with you."
I would have done anything under the flaming sun for Papaw, anything but sing. Partially from insecurity, and partially from intimidation of his talent. What if my voice was not as he expected? Silly me; he just wanted to sing a simple duet. My Strother stubbornness held on a few more years before Papaw quit asking. I never sensed anger or disappointment, but I'm sure he was inwardly perplexed. In my relief, and a kid's attempt to remedy misbehavior, I bent over backwards to please him.
Except when his car broke down and I refused to pee by the side of the road. I mean, my Mom, born and bred in Dallas, would never makeshift a dirt road to a powder room! That is the only time he ever showed displeasure. He said in controlled irritation, "Why not? Don't you have to go?" I kept whining, Yes I do! He rolled his eyes, forgave me, and we walked to a stranger's house. He knocked on the door, I used their pristine toilet, and sheepishly walked back to the car holding Papaw's hand, grateful. I think he grinned when we were back on the road.
Hearing of his death in June, I hung up the phone and first thought, I did not sing with Papaw.
In my 30's I am slowly but surely expanding my repertoire. I will never step on stage or participate in karaoke (not even in Japan), but I am trying to enjoy merely singing my childlike voice. I sing most often protected in my car or while tending to housework. At times I hear a hint of what Nina heard, but I mostly just pretend I sound like Karen Peris or Ane Brun. I love to sing John Michael Talbot songs in Church, and I'm certain I will sing in hushed tones to our babies and teach them Papaw's songs later while tucking sheets under their chins.
The other night I traipsed on my laptop and landed on "I Surrender All." All the sudden I belted out harmony; to my ears it sounded good. I asked Johnny an objective opinion and he said 'twas pretty. That's a good sign I married the right man - not because he compliments, but I felt secure enough to sing aloud in his presence, not an anxious care in the world.
I imagine (I hope) Papaw heard me from Heaven singing one of his favorite songs. My regret is peaceful; all is forgiven and I have a second chance. I often walk around our home humming and singing a song with which Johnny and June Carter Cash reminded each other:
I'll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I'll be waiting drawing pictures of the sand
And when I see you coming
I will rise up with a shout
And come running through the shallow water
reaching for your hand.
I bet you a cup of coffee Papaw will do the same, grab my hand, and we'll sing duets wading our feet in living water.