I’ve been George’s sidekick for nearly seven years. We have ridden the entire range of church music together from the high mountains of Mozart to the dusty valleys of Old Time Religion. I have followed him on some winding improvisational roads, but last Sunday we came to the musical trail’s end when George bid adios to our church congregation as he left for new adventures on the far horizon.
Back in those early days, shortly after George took the job as our church’s director of music, I played a song on my guitar during a service. A few days later, he wondered if I would want to accompany him on Sunday as he played piano and organ. I agreed thinking it would be an occasional guest appearance. That guest appearance became an every Sunday morning guitar-playing role. (Now that I think about it, that is also how I became a permanent member of the bell choir. “Just sit in temporarily,” they said. Same thing with the singing choir.)
On the final Sunday, the pastor and congregation would recognize and celebrate George’s contributions to our church. A few days before, Becky had said, “Remember that song you made up when Pastor Wade left? You should do something similar for George.” Realizing the futility of arguing with my wife and, quite honestly, happy that I might be able to contribute to the celebratory occasion, I set to work.
I hadn’t really written a song back then, I had merely made up some new lyrics and set them to an old tune. I decided to do the same with George’s song. I considered “Hey, George” to the tune of “Hey, Jude,” but that went nowhere. Then I thought of an old song from my childhood which George, who is about my age, would surely remember, “Happy Trails to You.” The sentiment was already there in the title; we were wishing him good fortune as he left for his new beginnings. “This just might work,” I thought.
Anyone who is familiar with the song probably remembers the “Happy trails to you until we meet again…” chorus of the song. After all, didn’t every kid in America sit in his or her pajamas in front of the TV on Saturday mornings eating a bowl of cereal as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Queen of the Cowgirls,” (she also wrote the song) closed their TV show by harmonizing “…until we meet again”?
But I vaguely remembered a short interlude verse in the song. I would need to familiarize myself with it because that would be where I would change the lyrics. I searched a little bit and found it. Do you little buckaroos remember this part? “Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?/Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.”
I played around with some words trying to incorporate specific personality traits and behaviors that are pure George and eventually came up with four verses. Here’s one: “To sing with you is our distinct pleasure/ Your smiles and bear hugs we will always treasure.” OK, it’s not Ira Gershwin, but it would have to do. We wanted to surprise George, so the choir members and I went into a little side room to work on it before the first service.
After the end of the regular service, Pastor Mary provided a time to recognize George’s work with the church, and that is when we sang our tribute. From the look on his face, I’m pretty sure he was surprised. I think I can also say with confidence that his heart was touched by the outpouring of goodwill the congregation showered upon him.
I’ll miss riding the musical range with George, but I have faith something good will come from our new situations.
Happy trails, George, until we meet again.