My how things were different then. 10 years ago, Christmas season of 2003 into 2004.
I got a call from my friend Helyn and she was inviting me over to try to cheer up her husband Rich, who was just starting to feel the effects of Huntingtons Disease, by celebrating our birthdays together.
Since Danny Gallagher’s birthday was also in January, she invited him over also.
At the time Danny had a small folk ensemble together that had been performing at the Berkeley in Asbury Park, among other places. This consisted of Lee Hefter and a singer from Pennsylvania whose name escapes me.
We all piled into Helyn’s home, which as usually was full of food, and still decorated for the Christmas of a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t seen Danny much, although I had heard his folk ensemble a few times (they also played at the Clearwater Festival, which Helyn and I were still in charge of booking).
As they broke into song I was moved by their tight, fluid harmononies. Danny never sounded better, and having a female voice to sing against brought out the rich fullness of his voice. He was playing his National dobro that he had played so many times with me way back when, and though he was using a cane to get around, he had lost none of the fire that I had enjoyed so much back when I was in his band.
Richie even managed to sing a few songs with us, though he stayed in bed a lot of the time. This was an omen of things to come, as he would spend the last few years of his life in that bed, getting up only to eat or when his caregiver arrived.
At one point we broke into “Four Strong Winds” and I was nearly moved to tears by the full four-part harmonies we were creating. Last week I sang this same song at a holiday party and I WAS moved to tears by the words:
“Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change come what may
If the good times are all gone, then I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way”
Sadly, this was the last time we all were together. Helyn would spend the last years of her life in and out of nursing homes. Danny moved out west, where he perished of pneumonia in early 2007. Rich’s last years were spent in a semi-comatose state, initiated not only by the Huntington’s that was ravishing his body and mind, but also by the medicine he had to take to control it.
But I am left with 20+ years of memories of the good times, and left with the knowledge that I had the honor and privilege of knowing these great people. Friends, I am only 5’4″ but I have truly walked amongst giants in my life. Giants who made me feel like I was one of them, who held me up on their shoulders high above life’s pettiness and small-minded worries and showed me that something better was to be had. And not to be paid for with money, these people, including Danny, were only rich with each other’s love and company. And a greater treasure this world will never know.
I write this not out of some desire to live in the past (though at my age that has a tendency to become a highly contagious disease in itself), but to let you know that no matter how bad life gets, and how much you win and lose, there is one thing no one can ever take from you, and that is the love and comfort we share with our family and friends.
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag”
Walt Disney said that 48 years ago in Mary Poppins. How inexpensive are the real treasures. A little kindness here, a little generosity, a little forgiveness there, shared memories, shared songs. Costs us nothing, yet we fill our lives with Plasma TVs and expensive cars and McMansions, which can be gone in a flash.
These memories of Danny and Helyn’s and Rich’s friendship and music and love will stay with me forever, recession or depression be damned. Those “good times” will never be gone as long as we remember to cherish them and find room in our hearts to create more.
My New Year’s resolution will be just that, feed the birds. Costs so little. Lasts forever.
I performed in bands with Big Danny Gallagher from 1987 until about 1990. I worked with Helyn and Rich with the Clearwater Festival from 1989 onwards.
For more on Big Danny visit http://www.BigDannyGallagher.Com, see my regular web site http://www.AlvisRocks.com, pictures on FaceBook.com/AlvisRocksMusic and Facebook.com/pages/Four-Decades/323943720984102; and my YouTube/Alvis1515 site.