The Stone Bench At Five Islands

short stories

Doug Alt

 


A recent email interchange with some musician friends brought up the topic of  how a musician can occasionally be fortunate enough to be part of, or to create, a very powerful experience for others who might be part of that particular moment in time.

One very memorable occasion, in which I played a key part, came immediately to my mind.

_____________


The scene was Peter Bacon’s family home in Five Islands, Maine.
(Peter and I were on the Springfield College Gymnastics Team together.)


Peter’s grand-parents and parents had owned the home that is situated on a little rocky rise overlooking the very quaint and picturesque fishing harbor at Five Islands. Peter and his two brothers, along with their families, had been spending summer and holiday weeks at the old family homestead for their entire lives. After Peter’s dad died, his Mom had assumed firm control of the reins in managing the home, its maintenance and the organization of scheduling all the visits of relatives and descendants. A big Labor Day weekend lobster/clam bake had evolved over the years into “The” major event of each summer.

The first year I was there, Peter’s mother had died during the previous winter. This was the first summer that the responsibility of the home and the events had fallen to the 3 Bacon brothers. There was some strife as they had to work through how the command and control processes were to distributed amongst the three siblings, but they were committed to making the Labor Day Weekend a memorable success.

There were tons of food and musical performances, both improvised and seriously organized, by various family members and friends. Neighbors from the town, as well as total stranger tourists, would drop in and partake of the festivities. There would often be 150-200 people in their front yard and overflowing into the little street that ran down to the docks.

I became involved, at Peter’s invitation, to be part of the music scene, ultimately spending 4 or 5 Labor Day weekends in a row at “The Baconfest”. There were lots of musicians who would take turns performing on the deck off the Bacon House kitchen that overlooked the harbor. The live music started around 11:00 AM, and went on continuously until around midnight. One year we were still going strong at 2:00 AM!

In preparing to go to Five Islands for my 2nd Labor Day weekend there, Peter mentioned on the phone that they were going to have a memorial service for his parents at some point during the long day, and he asked if I might think of some background music that I could have prepared for it.

The brothers had made a very thoughtful decision to NOT purchase a memorial stone to be placed over their parents’ graves. Rather, they had had a stone cutter craft a beautifully done marble bench, with memorial inscriptions carved into it. The bench was being placed under a tree in the front yard of the house, right where the parents had often sat looking over the harbor during nice summer evenings. The bench was just wide enough for two people to sit on.

The service was to be the dedication of the memorial bench.

I told Peter that I had a song that was exactly right for the service. I would not tell him in advance what the song was, but it had to be a featured part of the service, not just background music. He trusted my judgment, and agreed.

The service took place in the early afternoon, amidst the hustle and bustle of a fairly busy, beautifully sunny, tourist day at the harbor. However, I have a fairly dramatic orchestral backing arrangement for the featured song, which starts out with a very haunting bagpipe-style introduction. As the music flowed down the hill and out over the harbor, the area became very quiet and still as I began singing the Josh Grobin song, “You Raise Me Up”.

All the elements fell into place to create one of those “magic moments”:

The setting was “picture post card” perfect;
My voice was in fine shape at that moment to give a powerful rendition of the song;
The appropriateness of the bench, along with its setting, as a permanent memorial to the parents impressed all who were there;
And, the WORDS of the song fit the occasion precisely.


When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;

When troubles come and my heart burdened be;

Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,

Until you come and sit awhile with me.


You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;

You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;

I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;

You raise me up... To more than I can be.


There was not a dry eye in sight, and I had to work VERY hard at not being overcome by emotion myself and cracking in the middle of the song!

_________


I felt very fortunate that day to be able to contribute musically to a moment that no one who was there will ever forget.