Kate, Lydia, and I drove up to Maine this weekend for my uncle Bob’s memorial service. Uncle Bob Baldwin was the oldest of my banjo-playing uncles. He died of a brain tumor this past year, and I miss him very much. His shape note group was there, and let me tell you, if you’re in an old Maine church with plaster walls among the trees, and this group of gray-haired, grim-faced*, suspender-wearing Mainers stands up, and they open their books and there’s just enough time to think “boy, this is probably going to be emotional” and WHAM they open their mouths and this haunting, ethereal, beautiful harmony just fills the space and I’m crying like a baby.
I’m writing in the flip tone of a blogger, here, but that shape-note singing is just SO UNBELIEVABLY METAPHORICAL and powerful. That crack on the O.C. about “This American Life” — “Is that that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?” is funny because it’s true, of course, but the reality is that there is no such thing as ordinary people, not really, and when you have a group of completely normal-looking grandparent-type people stand up and weave that kind of ethereal, powerful music that at the same time is grounded in community… well, damn, I can’t believe I didn’t bring a handkerchief.
I was very glad indeed to see my cousins, and Lydia got to visit her grandma, and Kate got to ride the Icthyopter in Belfast: