A PURPOSEFUL LIFE--STORIES ABOUT LOCAL LIFE IN THE HAMPTONS--PART II
Here is a "slice" of life in The Hamptons---Many locals are around and yet not really accessible to others. So, my stories about Fred, a local farmers son, may give one a sense about this beautiful part of the country. This is the 2nd in a series about life here. Complicated lives make us all a little more distant with our neighbors; our engagement with them can be a cursory "Hello, how are you?" and then move on. But then there are times when there is more--this is one of those times:
I find the word, "purposeful" so new sounding yet so ancient in it's meaning. I love to use it but find it is one of the more difficult words to just plop into a sentence.
I discovered the word and it's usefulness through a dear friend, Fred.
Fred is someone who I have been friends with over the years; we talk but we rarely sit down to do that--it's always on the fly when we do spend time talking. Like an exchange of quick thoughts and ideas that flit through the air like dandelion whirly gigs.
At one time Fred and I had been more than just friends; those were the times that I kept in the back of my mind. Tucked away like an old treasure in my store-house of the unforgotten. My thoughts and feelings about him were so under control now! Fred never spoke of it nor did I...It was just a part of the patchwork of our lives; never fulfilled completely yet stitched into the story and made permanent as a turning point for both of us.
One day after I had moved to my new residence in Southampton Village I did have an encounter with Fred that was quite something. He walked up behind my house to the back deck and waved at me through the window....
It was late November and it was still warm; we have just had the most beautiful Indian summer here.
Fred did not have to yell for me to hear him--he was right at the open window and he called out my name in his deep, full throat-ed voice. "Hey-Hey Paula" he said using the same tune as the famous 60's song...He always made me laugh with his sudden bursts into tunes long forgotten. One time he even started to sing an Aria from La Boheme' out of the clear blue--he did have a good voice, but it was just a snippit of the original aria and I did not fully recognize his range!
Fred was walking better now since his fall from a stepladder earlier in the Fall. His bruises were gone from the side of his face and head and he didn't limp quite as severely as he had.
Fred was quite the busy "handy" man. He wasn't really a handy man, just an available person when needed. He loved to help all kinds of people here in the Village and he was always up on something and always had a hammer or wrench in his hand it seemed.
I walked out onto the porch and pulled u p a chair to the table and pointed to another one for him to sit down--never thinking he would--but he did!...eventually.
"I thought I would try to fix that lounge chair for you before you put it away in the garage for the winter--that way you can start using it as soon as Spring comes--you won't have to come looking for me if I'm still around!"
He pulled at the chair as if he wanted to sit but he was too busy to sit. He leaned forward, hands resting on the ladder back of the chair and I could see the fatigue in his form--his shoulders were more forward and his legs crossed one behind the other as he leaned heavily on the chair.
"What?" I said in a loud voice...."What is that supposed to mean? 'if I am still around'" I was taken aback because Fred was never a man to denigrate himself or to make an issue of his health or frequent accidents. He always just moved on and lived as full a life as he always had, as long as I can remember.
"Well, you know, you never know what is ahead. I never think about what's ahead for me but now I think I need to start thinking about it because I may want to retire soon and what will I tell everybody here if I were to suddenly just disappear!"
I was shocked at his comments. I never thought of him as retirement age and I don't think he is anywhere near that age but there he was sharing something with me that we had never ever mentioned before. "If you retire before me, I will take it personally" I said in a laugh.
Then he did sit down and he looked at me from across the table and said in his low voice: "I have never planned on retiring. My Father never retired--he worked right up to the day he died...He was a farmer you know--a damn good one too. Raised cattle, chickens and ducks, you know."
"Yes, I always knew you had a farm, Fred" I said. "I guessed it was a family farm originally. (I didn't know it was always a working farm--I heard that he did a lot to bring it into 'organically grown' status), We had never discussed his early years. He was extremely private about his early life. "Well, not really. I was away at school most of my life"...He shared this huge bit of his life with me as if it were an after-thought!
"AWAY at school?" I said in disbelief...He was still looking right at me. "Yes" he said and then he did look away--he looked as far away as I have ever seen him look. "You know when I was a boy, my Mother was very sick. She had something called Lupus and then she developed a form of cancer that no one could figure out but they treated her for many years for this form of cancer before she finally up and died."
He turned back to me and said "I never really knew her because they put me in a school in Connecticut so that I wouldn't be underfoot as she fought her battles. My Dad couldn't care for me and the cattle. I did a lot of work round the farm but Dad was always upset with me because I couldn't do things as well as he could--says he always just had to do it all over after I did it---waste of time!" "So I didn't see her after I left--she died 2 years after I left the house and I never saw her again!" I saw his whole frame shudder a bit. It was obviously a heavy burden he still carried.
His Mother was a stranger to him and then she died...He never really knew her. I had no idea of this tremendous loss that he suffered--so young too!
"What do you think she thought about you going away while she was so sick?" I asked this thinking it would not get an answer but feeling like he wanted to talk about her. He mentioned that he never knew her; twice he said that but he was surely not going to want to talk about her.
Then he looked up at me and said the most surprising thing: "I never knew her and it really bothers me--somehow I think that had a lot to do with me never marrying. Growing up I only knew a woman who was so sick she had nothing to do with me. That left a mark" He said that with an emphasis and look of deep concern came over his face. "I guess I feel like I ran away from her; but I didn't run away from her! There was no place for me on the farm--with my Dad!"
My heart stopped for a moment as I thought he was going to break down--his chin even quivered a bit and he swallowed hard. Then he said "You know, I was a child prodigy of sorts. I was a Choir Boy in the church and I was looked upon as the one person in the church who would amount to something someday--with my voice and all" "That's why they shipped me off to a private school so that I could use my voice for a higher purpose". He leaned back and broke into a long, low hummm...then he began to sing in his deep rich voice a piece of music I recognized from many years ago. It is called Rienzi's Prayer from a very famous Wagnerian opera "Reinzi".
Fred stopped his beautiful solo of this unfinished aria. ("Reinzi" was an early Wagnerian opera, his 3rd opera that he never completed --the original score was burned in the fires of the bombing of Dresden during World War II ...an unfinished opera with an exquisite aria--a prayer to the Almighty to ease the pain of an overwhelming loss in battle.) Fred turned away and I knew that he had just done something that I could not comprehend the meaning of.
"Where did you learn to sing so beautifully?" I asked, moved beyond all other words--he had just sung something so hauntingly beautiful that I was "struck" by it---as if a bolt of lightening had just struck me. I had never heard him sing before; surprisingly I had no idea of his ability and his grace.
"I was a part of the Trinity Men and Boys Choir in New Haven Connecticut. I sang with them, traveled all over the world really; much time spent in UK--all over the UK. My Aunt Vivian lived in New Haven and I was sent to live with her at the age of 8."
"My music learning began in the little church here in Southampton Village, over near the train"..."Oh, you mean Our Lady of Poland Church, right?"...he nodded then he drifted away from me; deep in thought he nodded again as if he were seeing something from a long distance.
His whole countenance changed again as he sat forward on the chair, elbows on his knees and head bowed over his clasped hands "It really was a calling you know. I could not live without my music. Don't know how much longer I can do it--I am getting to an age now where I can't perform like I used to. That is about all there is to it--Never thought it would happen so fast. I want to sing as often as I can now; thinking it will prolong my abilities, my vocal cords...."
He could not sit any longer and he moved toward getting up. "Here, Fred...Have some lemonade, I forgot to ask you if you wanted some". I made a gesture toward the pitcher and he shook his head no. "I want to go now. I have spent much too much time on myself here. I need to go to Fowler's to get some shrubs for the back yard--I have to make sure they go in now so that come spring they will be strong and thick to cover the house behind mine." With that he got up and took a huge step off the porch and disappeared around the corner of the house---Gone! He was shy, embarrassed that he had shared so much with me--I felt as though I had just met him. He was like another person, like a distant yet constant acquaintance before today and now what was I to do with this new person?
As the days moved into one of the coldest and snowiest winters in memory, I found that there were so many stories about this man called Fred. I had no idea of his talent; he was like someone else now. To me he had just solidified his entire personality--he went from a farmer who does handy work for those who need it; a helpful and caring man, to a man of many facets who just revealed himself to me for the first time!
He was known in the Village as a man of great faith, a religious man of great depth and devotion to the church. He sang in many choral groups and he led prayer gatherings at the little Catholic church near the train. I had never taken the time to go to hear him sing--and didn't even realize what an enormous presence he was to all who knew him.
I still to this day can not believe what I heard in my back yard; it seems he did break into song on many occasions. The Village knows him for his moments of great song--in the park on a windy Wednesday night he sang the complete aria from the Pearl Fishers duet, a Georges Bizet opera--another favorite of mine. He shared the duet with a much younger version of himself, another local talent. I heard about his singing from Judith, a friend of mine from long ago. She was in Agawam Park the night he sang with his fellow tenor--she was blown away by it and could not believe she had never heard who they were!
"You would not believe what I heard last night!" Judith was on the phone with me and she sounded so excited about the "Concert in the Park" which happens every Wednesday in Agawam Park in the Village. I had missed the concert and she was filling me in. "I never heard such beautiful voices--don't know who they were but they are a couple of local singers who just let loose as they stood near the bandstand--all impromptu...gorgeous!" I heard much later that it was Fred and his friend, a former classmate from Connecticut.
Many times, I hear, he was invited to sing at the Dune Church, on the ocean (the oldest church on the East End) for special services, some weddings too.
This day, I discovered a man of complete and total purpose. He was singing from his heart at any unexpected moment--He would take a song from the day and make it entirely his own--a masterpiece by the end of it and he had a way of making a message in his song that needed to be heard by someone--someone who needed to hear it.
An angel? Perhaps; I never had anyone sing to me before, especially an aria that I remember from my youth--a song that no one else knows! A prayer to the almighty; a prayer of great loss! A song so obscure that only an opera buff would know it, and he sang it to perfection.
This was the last time I saw Fred, until that day in the back yard with his homemade sled. Dead of winter and it was freezing! Fred has cancer I hear, and now I wonder when I will see him again.
Always on the run, this man of purpose--doing things for others, always!...And the voice of an angel!
I re-discovered Fred that day; a re-discovery of someone who came into my life so long ago and who still made an unforgettable impact!
Now, that is a quiet man; a purposeful man with a purposeful life!!