Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Arlo, Peter, and being a Grandparent

Grandma and I (who the grandchildren refer to as PopPop) endeavor to find effective ways to share our values with our four grandchildren. It's pretty easy with the two toddlers. Jacob, 2, and Noah, almost 2. With them it is about being warm, loving, and fun. Simply being with them and being consistent is enough. But the two oldest, Kaylyn, 13, and Brendan,11, are beginning to ask the right questions and make critical choices about who and what they believe. Being available and loving and accepting of them is critical; yet something more is necessary. We look for opportunities to share experiences and activities that reflect those values that we feel are important.
We had such an opportunity this past weekend when two folk music icons were performing in the area. You can imagine the kids confusion and reluctance when we said that we were taking them to see Arlo Guthrie and Peter Yarrow. Who? They asked. And what kind of music? But they trust us and besides they don't drive yet and besides that, I was paying. So on Friday evening we headed off to Proctor's Theatre for Arlo Guthrie's 40th Anniversary of Alice's Restaurant Massacree Tour. The theatre was packed with baby boomers and aging hippies with a few retro younger people thrown in. I watched the grandchildren as they searched in vain for other people their age and I watched in delight as Arlo's humor, music, and message captivated their spirits. Guthrie talked about raising funds for Hurricane Katrina victims and he sang a beautiful rendition of "St. James Infirmary". Of course he told the story of "Alice's Restaurant" and the "27 black and white photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one". The song was adopted 40 years ago as an anti-war song and the message is just as relevant today. I loved how the evening bounced back and forth between the silly and the profound. One minute we were singing along to the "Motorcycle Song", "I don't want a pickle, I just want to ride my motorcycle", and then we were a choir singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land". The most moving part of the evening came at the end when Arlo taught the audience a song titled "My Peace". He explained that his father had written over 3,000 songs on scraps of paper that were left all over the country. His sister has been collecting these lyrics and inviting different musicians to put music to them. In this way there are "new" Woody Guthrie songs popping up all over. "My Peace" was written in the '50s and Arlo had recently put music to it. One reviewer wrote the following, "The song is an instant classic and Guthrie should record it as quick as he can and give it to the world". It was as beautiful a benediction and blessing as I had ever experienced. The grandchildren left with smiles on their faces and singing the songs we had just heard. On Sunday, granddaughter Kaylyn, sang the "Peace Song" for the congregation and did so beautifully.
Sunday evening our church hosted Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame) and his daughter Bethany in a benefit concert for the EPES ministry our congregation supports in Chile.
Once again the children heard songs that lifted up messages of peace and justice. Songs that encouraged them to speak out against injustice and to live up to their potential. Peter gave a moving and sensitive reading of his song, "Don't Laugh at Me". His daughter Bethany "took us to church" with her souful and soaring melodies and once again we found ourselves singing along to the anthem, "This Land Is Your Land", and in that sanctuary it sounded like a prayer of gratitude. Peter invited all the children on stage, there were others this time, and they sang "Puff the Magic Dragon" together. Both Kaylyn and son, John had brief solo parts as Bethany shared the microphone. Peter emphasized that the "Magic Dragon" was the love and potential and future that each child held in his or her heart. A reception followed the concert and Peter took time to pose for photos and speak to everyone. I watched as he held Kaylyn's face in his hand and told her how beautiful she was and encouraged her to live out her dreams and make a difference. As we tiredly headed for home, both grandchildren thanked us for the weekend. John, Peter Yarrow, and I
At one point in the Sunday night concert, Peter reflected on how many call him "crazy" and he asked how many "crazy" people were there that night with him and we all raised our hands. On Friday evening Arlo referred to us in the crowd as "freaky, weird people". The implication in both cases was that to be a person who was interested in an event that focused on peace and justice issues was to be crazy, freaky, and weird. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share those values with our grandchildren.