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day 65: he left yesterday behind him/ you might say he was born again…

April 6, 2011

On my commute to work on Day 65, I heard this story on NPR’s’ Morning Edition.  Unbelievably, John Denver’s quintessential bucolic ode,”Take Me Home, Country Roads,” turned 40 this year.  From Day 65’s radio snapshot, I learned several fun factoids about this pretty little song:

  • Denver didn’t write “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”  It was penned by songwriter Bill Danoff, who composed it with Johnny Cash in mind.
  • Danoff had never been to West Virginia when he wrote the lyrics to what is now West Virginia University’s official song.  On the Morning Edition interview, he said something like, “I’m from Massachusetts.  ‘Almost heaven, Massachusetts…’ fit the music, but I thought it sounded dorky.  West Virginia worked better.”
  • When discussing his original plans for the song, Danoff said he was not disappointed that it didn’t become a hit on the country music charts.  He said, “One thing I learned in this business is that things turn out other than you planned them to, no matter what it is. And you can’t predict what’s going to happen.”

Danoff’s acknowledgment that we can’t predict what the future holds, that sometimes God hands us gifts we neither want nor expect, got me thinking about the biggest John Denver fan I know:  my father-in-law.

“Rocky Mountain High” is both the official anthem of the state of Colorado and the unofficial anthem of my husband’s Dad.  Like John Denver, my father-in-law fell in love with the majesty of Cathedral Mountain and was born again in Aspen.  He proposed to his wife on a sunlit mountain hike.   First he climbed the Rockies with his infant son on his back, and later they ran side by side in the Aspen Times 5.

Every time a John Denver song floats through my radio, I think of a photo of my father-in-law taken in Aspen in the 1970’s.  In it, he’s tall and tanned, a surreal mountain backdrop holding him upright, wearing a cowboy hat and a confident smile that says, “I’m home.”

I don’t know about the hat, but my father-in-law still wears that smile.  He still loves John Denver and reminisces about Aspen, but by the time I met him in the late 1990’s he’d been diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder that compromised his mobility.  In the years since, his condition — which is similar to but slower in progression than Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — has advanced.  He uses a wheelchair to get around and writes his thoughts instead of speaking them.  The disease requires of him a deliberateness that most of us will never know.

He has more than defied the expectations of his exquisitely-trained doctors.  Many in his family are convinced that the same ferocity that propelled him through marathons and professional accomplishments has bitten back his encroaching disease.  My father-in-law is many things to many people — a supportive father, an adoring husband, a driven attorney, a generous friend — but he is universally powerful.  In a wheel chair, without a voice, he is undiminished.

You can’t predict what’s going to happen, songwriter Bill Danoff said, and things turn out other than how you planned them.

At my sister-in-law’s wedding a few years ago, I observed a sight I didn’t predict:  there was my husband’s Dad,  wheeling around the dance floor with the glowing bride on one arm and a pretty granddaughter on the other, dancing at his daughter’s wedding to “Rocky Mountain High.”  John sang, “I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly…” as the trio spun each other around the floor.  A beautiful, unpredictable gift of grace, I’m richer for having witnessed it.

My gift on Day 65 is to my father-in-law.  An under-construction collage of Aspen family pictures surrounding one of the golden-voiced JD, I promise to let you know how it turns out.

Today, I wish you poems, prayers, promises, and unpredictable grace.  Thank you, as always, for showing up.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Dawn permalink
    April 7, 2011 8:50 am

    What a sweet, touching tribute to a special man. Your recollection of the wedding dance brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this (and for all your posts).

    This blog is supposedly about you giving “things” away, but really your daily offering comes to all of us through your words. Your blog is such a gift, and I want you to know that it’s appreciated. It makes us think, feel, laugh and more. Thank you for sharing yourself and your journey.

    • April 8, 2011 4:53 am

      Dawn, thank you so much for your comment. It absolutely made my day.

  2. April 7, 2011 9:50 am

    Anne, what an awesome post! It’s amazing how time really seems like nothing when we’re in that moment, but suddenly we take a second and think about the relativity of things. FORTY years! Wow!

    Now, I’m way too young to remember “Country Roads” first on the AM/FM, but coincidentally, we were talking just last night as we were listening to Under the Table and Dreaming and K asked, “Can you believe this album is TWENTY years old?” I mean, that was the 90’s! I can still remember it so vividly!

    And, yes, I think it’s safe to say that John Denver was put on this Earth solely to make Dad a happy Aspen camper. Great gift idea!

    PS – You were close on the cowboy hat, but I’m pretty sure in the pic you’re thinking of, he’s sporting a navy blue Aspen baseball hat. That thing is still in his closet and no one is allowed to take it out no matter how musty it gets.

    • April 8, 2011 4:55 am

      Thanks for your comment, Mark. I absolutely cannot believe that Under the Table and Dreaming is 20 years old… how is that possible when I am only 25? 🙂 Where does the time go?

  3. Kris McL. permalink
    April 7, 2011 2:04 pm

    Wow~ I just told S that my sister’s boss’s daughter is married to John Denver’s son. And I agree with Dawn above – your blog is a little gift I get to unwrap each day. I look forward to it.

    • April 8, 2011 4:56 am

      Thank you, Kris — and I love the 6 degrees of separation with JD. Steve’s dad would be impressed for sure!


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