In Colorado & Oklahoma : Some Downs, Some Ups - Bob Dorough

We’d anticipated a great time on April 22 at Bongo Billy’s in Salida , Colorado , out in the middle of the mountains.  I’d arrived in the afternoon, having just left my mother two and one-half hours earlier at the Bear Creek/Sunbridge Care Center nestled in the Red Rocks on the mountain side of Denver .  I’d played a lunchtime concert for the old folks there, as I’d done so many times before - lots of old songs you’d never dream of calling in hip circles – then arrived in Salida just in time to check into the Circle R Motel, gather up my gang and sashay over to the club for a sound check.  I held forth for a couple of sets that night on the borrowed electric piano and we had a great time. (Mydar Kroom and Joe Lilly can provide you with a full report, if you’re interested.)

Now it’s the morning of April 23.  I say goodbye to the gang and hit the road for the three-hour drive back to the Bear Creek/Sunbridge so I can play lunch again.  I'm hustling into the dining room just before noon when I pass room 108 and peek in to confirm that Mother’s already left for the noontime meal.  At that point, I receive a big shock when I see her still in bed wearing her night clothes, an oxygen tube in her nose, with nurse Kay standing by and, on Mother’s face, the pained and sallow look of death.  Just a day earlier, she’d been singing along and smiling as I said goodbye to her and all her housemates, adding: "I'll be back tomorrow to play for you again!"

I hovered around, hearing stories from the nurse and having a few words with my ever-patient, ever-sweet mother. There were phone consultations with Sis (six miles away) and the doctor (hours away). Finally, Nurse Kay said, "Why don't you do a few songs anyway?  She’ll be able to hear you."  I went to the little spinet in the dining room and played “Over the Rainbow,” a purported fave of hers, as loudly as I could, then a few other songs she liked, including “My Blue Heaven” and another she herself had requested earlier that week, “Maggie.”  When I returned to her bedside, she nodded and said yes when I asked if she could hear me. It was her last musical sense.

Alma Audrey (Lewis) Dorough died on April 24 at about 5:30 PM , Colorado time. My niece Julie and church friend Lloyl Matthews were with her in her final moments.  "She just slipped away," Lloyl said.  She had a little morphine in the last twelve hours of her life.  I hope it was good for her.

At that fateful moment, though, I was at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley , two hours away.  My sister AJ Hess, my brother Lewis and I had decided early that morning, after sitting with her from 4:00 AM , that I shouldn't cancel.  ("Maybe it’s only a little indigestion.") After a very busy day, traveling to Greeley (a University driver picked me up), rehearsing the trio and quartet, doing a clinic and finishing our sound check at 6:30 PM , there they were in Greeley for the concert, along with three of AJ's children, cousins, spouses and my nephew Jeff Hess, the clown, with his wife and baby from Berlin .  They’d had a lovely visit at the Care Center on Monday, showing off Mother's newest great grandson, Jakob Hess. There I stood in the lobby of the auditorium in my traveling clothes, needing a shave and a change for the 7:30 PM concert, when AJ and Lewis informed me of her passing.

Stunned, I walked five blocks to the motel, showered and dressed, while meditating on how to handle it.  In a daze, I walked back to the venue and soon the time for my 45-minute set arrived.  No one on stage knew but me.

The audience - a large roomful of high school (from-all-over) musicians and singers – was so with me that I didn't want to break the spell.  I’d  planned to do “Figure Eight” as my encore.  So I said, "I'd like to dedicate this ‘Multiplication Rock’ song to my mother.  I like to think of her ice skating up in heaven!" They loved it.  As I’ve always said, leave ‘em wantin' more!

***

OK, April 28, 2003 .  Back in Pennsylvania .  Gotta send the first portion of this narrative to Mydar Kroom in Saguache, so he can rush it to press.  It's Monday morning – garbage day in Mount Bethel – and I'm out in my car, heading for the P.0. to get Kroom's report in the mail before 7:00 AM .  (They say it gets an early start if you drop it before seven at the outdoor box at the Mt. B. Post Office).  I do the one-mile trip from my house to Highway 611.  The folks along that stretch have hideously voluminous piles of garbage in cans out on the roadside in front of their houses along both sides of the slightly residential block before I reach the highway.  Today is the every-other-Monday when recycling can be done. Now I'm heading back and the garbage men is bullying everyone with their lane-wide monster truck, two cats hanging from the sides, out on two-lane 611, stopping and backing into the stores' driveways, taking their sweet time, forcing desperate morning commuters to break the law and cross the double line in an effort to get around them and proceed to their destinations.  Besides that, the yellow school buses are flashing their yellow warning lights and adding to the confusion, which I find amusing.  

Now I'm back on Potomac, still two-lane but quieter, at my embarrassing garage, where the door opens and closes with the touch of a button,  I park inside and check out my modest deposit for the day:  one blue can for recycling and one gray one for what I call "garbage".  I add the small plastic bag from last night’s dinner and two banana peels generated this AM  and now.......

F#&%@$ litterbugs!  I'm walkin' up the hill a city block, 
My property on one side,   
Pickin' up all kinds of garbage with my gloved hands, 
To get it back into the system, 
Cussin' a little under my breath, 
Breathin' the great morning-fresh air and rather enjoying it.  
Is it a feeling of superiority?    
Am I back in the Army, policin' the area?  
Cars rush by as I stoop to pick up a plastic cup or somethin'.   
Are they laughing?  Or holding back their scuttle? 
Will my weekly or occasional diligence make them change their ways? 
F#&%@$ litterbugs!.... (under my breath) 
Mother wouldn't like that kind of talk. 
But then, she didn’t watch TV.

from a work in progress........ Seattle Slam...... © 2003 Bob Dorough

Sally and I have to fly to today. We'll come back on Thursday.  Meanwhile, my sibs are driving from Denver (the Virginian Doroughs had flown out soon after hearing the bad news) where they had a memorial for the local church folk – without me, but with brother Greg officiating.  The remains are in the air as we speak.  She’ll be buried next to my Dad there.  At the time he died in 1994, they were Oklahoma City residents and I’d gotten to know that town a bit during my visits with them, although I never did run into Barney Kessel. The  interment is April 29, tomorrow, which also happens to be Corin's third birthday (Mary Liz' as well; and Emma's is the following day).  

After Dad's death, sister Alma Jean, a true Denverite, talked Mother into moving to Denver . There will be more church people in Oklahoma City and cousin Pam (Holzberger) is there, she being my local jazz contact.  Pam can also sing a great version of “Over the Rainbow” when given the chance.

Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty.  (Troup, circa 1950)  Sally says, "Are those actually oil wells?"  Little pumping things that look kinda dinosaurish, going up and down in a steady rhythm as we drive out of the airport in the rental car.  "Yes," I said, and as far as I know, they are.  I thought of Indians getting rich, of Cadillacs parked in front of teepees, etc., etc.

The LaQuinta Motel checked us in with much confusion, as my brother Greg, father of six, said we have two Gregs, two Roberts, and two Neldas.  He was prepaying the rooms for his children and the interesting part of the message was that they had all repaired to The Lone Star for early supper and we were to join them.  The clerk, Janie, said one Robert has long hair and one Robert has short, or no hair.  One is from Pennsylvania and one from Texas . Well, I must have missed a line, because when I offered my credit card she said, "Your room is taken care of.”  "No way," I insist, "My brother just meant to guarantee the room.”  There was more with her sayin' that if I wanted, I could pay again but my room was taken care of.  

Without visiting the room, we walked a few doors to the Lone Star and had a big meal.  Sure enough, short-haired Robert from Texas showed up and I told him I had his room keys in my pocket.  It all worked out, later at the motel, but there were about eighteen of us around the table, cousin Pam of Oklahoma having joined up at the last minute, and I decided that the old man - that's me, long-haired Robert from Pennsylvania – should pay the check.

Aralee and Corin and Colin arrived next day, April 29, and took a taxi from the airport to the funeral home where the service was about to take place. Brother Rooker from the church in Oklahoma City or thereabouts spoke and preached some on the goodness of my late mother, who’d been a member of his congregation during those long years when she and Dad lived in OKC. My brother, Greg, an ordained minister in the church, also spoke and led the singing.  Quite well, too.  We prayed, and they covered and uncovered and covered the casket and the pallbearers (my two brothers and me plus nephews Nicholas, Matthew, and Benjamin) carried it out to the hearse. One limo was to convey the three brothers and their spouses.  But we decided that Sally would drive the rental car with A & C & c so that we wouldn't have to return to the funeral house from the cemetery.

The cemetery is a broad park out in the middle of nowhere. The burial crew was waiting.  You have to marvel at their techniques and labor-saving apparatus.  Once us p'bearers had struggled to move the casket from hearse to gravesite, our labors were over.  With some more singing and praying, Mother was interred next to her late husband, Robert Lee Dorough of Arkansas .  Then we all went to Pam's house for a big feed enriched by her hospitality and that of Peter Schaffer, a friend and fan who happens to own an OKC deli.  Although Peter couldn’t make it, his employee soon arrived with a double tray piled with classy sandwiches. Pam, hubby Ed, son Byron and friend Sandi catered to the family and the backyard was great, complete with dog and badminton. Corin got into it pretty good, I'd say.

Pam has a good old piano and some old songbooks, so we had a round robin sing-out with everybody joining in on lots of Mother's favorites.  Since everyone was weary, we broke it up early and fell back to the motel.

It’s well known that the Doroughs love to play cards. Again that night in the La Quinta lobby, the tables on which breakfast is served every AM were drawn together to form an enormous playing space and four or five decks of cards appeared.  Mostly heavily involved this time were Greg's, Lew’s and Linda’s families. Me and mine stayed on the sidelines, fetching snacks and kibitzing.  Corin played with his balloon and toys and then about fifteen people kicked off a game called "65." Aralee gave away copies of her upright flute recording and I passed out a few of my own “Too Much Coffee Man” CDs.

Next morning I drove A & C & c to the airport for their early departure back to Houston and the families generally checked out around noon , some driving to Texas and Colorado , and some flying.  So it's all over, I think to myself. She's gone, man.  Since Sally and I had one more night in town, we decided take the bad with the bad and spent several hours going through the Oklahoma Memorial to the sad event of 1995.  It is an impressive installation if you want to relive the pain.

We're home now.  I forgot to say our Denver sister AJ didn’t come to OKC. Over the years, since Mother moved to Denver , she’s done more than her share and was exhausted by the week's events. One surprise was that Mom and Dad’s good neighbor Loreta Hagstrom came to the funeral service,  Loreta and her late husband Ted lived next door to Mother and Dad in Oklahoma City , after my folks moved there from Amarillo . They adored Bob and Alma and offered all kinds of neighborly love and favors.  Daughter Diana came, too.  Also attending were jazz singer Sally Jones (who'd met Mother) and her drummer hub drummer John Fort.  I’d known them years ago in NYC.  There were also many friends from the OKC church, ladies and couples both.  The Elders and the McCormacks remembered attending my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary, where Aralee had played the flute and Pam had sung.  I'd sung, too, doing songs from my autobiographical musical. They remembered that.

Now, when I say "the church" I mean Mother's church, which is Primitive Baptist. My brother Greg can tell you all you want to know about the church, which has branches all over and was part our family life even back in our Arkansas days. They study the King James Bible and music during their services is strictly a capella, although my Aunt Nell Conn was a great gospel-piano player and accompanied some great singing quartets.  Yet for some reason, the Church uses no musical instruments during their service – just voices praising Jesus.

Sad days?  Yes, in many ways they were.  But in some respects, I see the series of events I’ve been describing as healing in nature.  RIP.

© Bob Dorough (September 2003)

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