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Of Ministering Angels 3 – Doug and Suzanne

Conifer_forestThis is part 3 of the story or our mini-vacation to Goodyear’s Bar in Sierra County, California. It is the story of 4 couples – 8 ministering angels – who live, each in their own way, by the light of Christ, and who touched each other’s hearts as only His angels can.

For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also. (Moroni 7:5)

Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God…(Moroni 7:12)

In a way, it is the story of Kate Wolf, whose spirit and music continues to bring joy to the hearts of her “fans”, and whose ministry, I am convinced, is blessed by the Lord himself.  Songs like “Eyes of a Painter”, “Emma Rose”, and “Picture Puzzle” continue to portray the best and most beautiful of mankind and nature, as well as the trials, joys, and heartbreaks that we all must face in our attempt to return to God.

It is also the story of a unique guitar, one not quite like the rest, which was given loving birth by a kind “old soul” luthier in an out-of-the way place, and then adopted into a loving home by a kind, “old soul” artist.  Furthermore, it is the story of how this guitar became an instrument in the hands of a loving God to bring these couples together, to provide an evening filled with love, with hope, and with faith that no matter how dark things get, there are many things to be thankful for, and that, truly, “…men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)

In the first two posts in this series, I told about our friends Mark and Tammy, and Mike and Katie.  At the end of the last post, Mike had told Diana to take the guitar back to the St Charles Inn for the night to see if she liked it well enough to buy it, and that he would “makes us a deal”.  Diana and I did take the guitar with us as he offered.  We practiced a few of our old songs, and the bond grew between the girl and her guitar.  After breakfast and a walk with Tammy, we went over to Mike and Katie’s to pay them for the guitar.  We came across Mike and his friend, Doug, in the garden (along with a matched pair of Katie’s “Garden Folk”).  Doug immediately impressed me as a person with 75 years’ worth of stories to tell.  He was dressed in worn trousers, a t-shirt, suspenders, and an old ascot cap.  His eyes twinkled as he removed the pipe from his mouth, shook our hands, and introduced himself.  I could tell immediately that he was a good man, but, like me, had likely grown to be that way.  In other words, he had known a bit of mischief in his life, but had learned along the way the true value of love, fidelity and faith.Downieville2

Mike needed to put a truss rod plate and strap pins on Diana’s new guitar, so I asked Doug if he would like to go inside and chat.  He said, “Sure, let’s go”.  We moseyed into Mike’s living room and began to swap stories.  We learned that Doug had been a veterinarian in Half-Moon Bay – just south of San Francisco – before it had become “Half-Moon Bay” – the ritzy resort area.  He had never graduated from High School, but had worked his way through veterinarian school – a fact that he shared with a touch of pride.  We learned that he had promised his wife, Suzanne, to be with her for 45 years.  35 of that had passed, so he still had 10 years to go, and he was determined to keep his promise.  I muttered something about Diana and me working on eternity, but I don’t think he heard, and I didn’t belabor the point.  I was more interested in hearing more about him.

We also learned that Doug was a gourmet cook, and that he and Suzanne divided their household duties accordingly – he cooks, she cleans.  His eyes, of course, were twinkling again.  He told us about their home – 20 acres or so with a 4 acre garden, a large, red classic barn, horses, goats, and 1500 foot forested peaks surrounding it.  Then we learned the rest of the story.  It seems that the resort whose property was between him and the river had sued him over a decades-old survey line, claiming two acres of Doug’s property as their own, and then driving him into bankruptcy when he lost the case and was forced to pay the resort’s attorney’s fees.  In other words, they were going to lose ALL of the property.  The more he told us about it, the clearer it became that he was putting up a brave front, because that’s what men do.  As he talked, I could feel that inside he was suppressing a cauldron of resentment, disbelief, and incredulity while nurturing a sincere desire not to let this experience ruin his life and happiness.  He was refusing to allow the cesspool of greed and materialism to pollute the values he had worked so hard all his life to develop.  I mentioned that obviously, in hind sight, he should have just surrendered the 2 acres, to which he responded, “Yeah, but I was in the right.  I couldn’t let them get away with it”.  Then he said, “I just take comfort knowing that, even though they can take away my property, there’s still one thing they can’t take away…”  He paused just long enough for me to know exactly what he was going to say: “…my integrity”.  I knew at that moment that we were going to become fast friends.

We had become well acquainted by the time Mike came back with the guitar.  He handed it to Diana and said, “Why don’t you play something for us?”  He handed me another of his guitars, and Diana and I played our signature song, the one we always open performances with, “Welcome Home”.  Despite our being a tad rusty, we managed a credible performance.   As Diana’s last harmonic chord faded away, Doug literally leapt off the couch, gleefully clapping his hands and yelling, “Wonderful!  That was wonderful!”  Diana and I had received our first ever standing ovation!  We played another song – this one a Kate Wolf tune, after which Doug suggested that the 6 of us – Mike and Katie, he and Suzanne, and Diana and I, come to their house for dinner.  We accepted his invitation, worked out the logistics, and parted until evening.

Oh – I almost forgot the guitar.  Yes, this little guitar that had captured Diana’s heart and was soon to capture mine, although in an entirely different way, was sold to us for half of what I would have paid for it!   I would remind my readers that this was a solid wood, hand-made, one-of-a-kind guitar, so it could have easily been worth twice as much.  Yet, as I’ve said, this was not the biggest bargain of the day.  Not yet.

Mike and Katie picked us up for our 6:00 dinner appointment.  We found the turnoff, crossed the bridge over the river, and wound our way up to their home.  There were several switchbacks and a gate that required one of us to get out and open it.  As we continued up the road, we passed out of the trees into a clearing, past the large red barn, a couple of corrals, some old mining equipment, and up to the house.   When we arrived, Suzanne was on the small landing outside the entrance to their home, and we were greeted simultaneously by her and “noodle-head” – the less intelligent, according to her, of their two border collies.  She welcomed us warmly and led us into a home already filled with the unmistakable smell of garlic sautéing in olive oil.  Doug was hard at work – in his element.

While Doug cooked, the rest of us, including the dogs, went onto the back deck where we could fully take in the scenery and majesty of this property that they were about to lose.  The view from the deck showed a pastoral view of the hollow, with the red barn, corrals, fields, etc. surrounded by the afore-mentioned peaks.  One could count the trees that had to be removed before the house could be built, because the stumps were still there.  Overlooking the property just made me feel even worse, even angry, about their plight, and about the mechanisms – legal, psychological, and temporal – that brought about such an unjust tragedy.

lure2After we had talked for about 45 minutes, dinner was ready – breaded & sautéed chicken over fettuccini with salad, steamed garden vegetables and fresh home-made sourdough.   Doug’s reputation as a gourmet cook suffered no damage as the result of his offering!  Dinner conversation was stimulating, gentle, and thoughtful, as you would expect from half a dozen people who had all lived good lives and had as many stories to tell, philosophies to share, and truths to expound as we did.

After about an hour, Suzanne suggested that we go listen to some music – meaning our music.  I need to share at this point something that is highly pertinent to this tale…Diana and I are “hams”.  We love playing in front of people – perhaps me more than Diana, but she is certainly not innocent of this charge.  So, it’s not like we felt we were performing some great service by playing for our new friends.  We love performing, and there was not an ounce of altruism involved.

We performed 6 songs that night in the very place where Kate Wolf herself had played some 30 years before.  It should be understood that, prior to the night before, Diana and I had not played together in almost 2 years.  We should have been sloppy, but we weren’t.  It was as if our fingers were guided.  Our second song was a Kate Wolf song, “Carolina Pines”, and when they all started singing the chorus along with us, I felt like Kate herself must have been there.  Then, on our fifth song, “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” by Rodney Crowell and Donivan Cowart, Doug jumped up, grabbed Suzanne by the hand, and they began swing dancing.  Here was a 75-year-old man who had recently had heart surgery dancing with his wife of 35 years!  This was at least a temporary release of 2 years of legal, emotional and spiritual burdens.  For this short time, they were able to let go.  This, my friends, was a moment of pure joy for the little company sitting in Doug and Suzanne’s living room – a moment that will not soon be forgotten, at least not by Diana and me.

After we had finished, Doug thanked us and said, “You cannot possibly understand how much this has meant to us.  You have taken us back to that happier time, a time of good friends and good music; a time when Kate and her husband, Don, had sat here in this very room and played very much like you just did.  You have helped us forget our troubles, even if for just this short while.  Thank you so much”.

The next day, as we were driving home, we stopped in Sierra City to visit an art gallery where Katie’s paintings were featured.  We also hoped to see a quilt that was on display from the Mountain Harvest co-op, where we had met Peggy, whom I mentioned in the second post.  We spoke with Lynn, who was minding the gallery, for a few minutes and told her about our experience the night before.  When I told her that Doug and Suzanne were dancing together, she visibly “clouded up”.  Her eyes began to water, and she said, “You don’t have any idea how happy that makes me.  They have been under such a burden, and you gave them just one evening when they could forget this whole mess, and remember what life is all about”.

It probably wasn’t until that moment that I began to understand what had truly happened the night before.  Here was a complete stranger, who obviously hadn’t been at Doug and Suzanne’s home with us, repeating essentially what Doug himself had said.  It was then that I also realized how close-knit this community was, how good were the people we had met, and how they loved and cared about each other.  It was then that I realized that all of us, all 8 of us, had served as ministering angels in the Lord’s hands.  We were all just going about being ourselves, living the lives we had developed over the years – loving, enjoying and respecting each other for those very lives lived – yet the Lord, seeing us through His eyes, took the best in each of us and brought us together to create this magical moment of joy, Heaven-style.  Using us, He poured out His love and compassion as if to say, “This is the way it’s supposed to be.  This is how I want you to live.  This is what I meant when I said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

Diana's GuitarSo, this little “red-headed step-child” of a guitar became an instrument in the Lord’s hands for doing His work – the work of love.  This inanimate object of wood, glue, bronze, and stainless steel, assembled with love by an old-soul artisan, and valued as priceless by an old-soul artist, came alive that Friday night in July, 2014.  It brought people together in a way that only the Lord Himself could have orchestrated.  It was the central prop in a 3-act play illustrating His unconditional love for his beloved children.  It will forever have a place in my heart.  It will forever remind me that perhaps, on occasion, love can be bought – in this case for the price of lovely little hand-made guitar.

Post Script:

I talked to Doug and Suzanne yesterday.  It took me a while, but I found their phone number through the internet.  We discussed how the community was changing – how people were coming into the area from the big cities of California with a “big fish in a small pond” attitude, looking for money, making life more difficult for the people around them, and basically missing the whole point of living in such a place. We discussed how, in a city, you can survive on the city – on the infrastructure, on the legal system, on the commerce, on the entertainment.  You can survive quite nicely while being totally alone.  You really don’t need relationships.  In a small community like this, though, people need each other.  It’s a different world, and it is the relationships that hold it together.  Mark and Tammy spent Friday manually unloading cement bags for a neighbor who needed to pour a concrete slab.  They got paid, yes – but there was no concrete contractor who was going to do it for them.  If they didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.  Doug said, “When the water supply goes out, we have to fix it.  There’s no water company to call.  We have to help each other – because we all depend on each other.  Our lives are all intertwined, and none of us can survive alone.”  Lynn cried when I told her about Doug and Suzanne’s dance.  The newcomers don’t get this, and it threatens to destroy what is so special about the community.Downieville2

I think this is an example of the tension that exists between Zion and babylon.  In Zion, people exist on relationships.  In babylon, people exist on the structure, and when that is gone, to whom will they turn – to the Lord?  No, they will turn to either greed and/or force – which is what the infrastructure is based on today.  The individual is unnecessary and of no value, except as the fuel on which the structure survives.  In Zion, the individual is everything.  The love and the experiences that we shared with the people of Goodyear’s Bar was a type for Zion – a place for the pure in heart.

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