Near the end of Jason's sixth grade year, his choral director called me and asked me to come in for a conference. When I arrived, she launched right into her reason for calling.
"Mr. Bedinger, I wanted to talk with you about Jason. I think he has quite a talent and needs to pursue it."
"Wow, Janet, thanks. But call me Dan, OK?"
"Sure. Now let's talk about Jason. You know he adores you don't you?"
"Well, I don't know if adore is the right word, but yes I know he's fond of me. Why?"
"No, fond is definitely NOT the right word. Jason and I have talked quite a bit this semester as he has gained confidence in himself and in his vocal abilities. I've encouraged him and told him what I think, but you're the one he gives the credit to. He tells me that you were the one who suggested he join the school choir, and that you continued to show interest in his progress, even before his folks died. He says you always stopped to talk to him and see how he was doing. Have you really invited him to join the adult choir?"
"Well, I told him we always had room for more tenors. He's probably a bit young for the adult choir, though. However, I did tell him once that I would love to sing a duet with him sometime, when he's ready. Maybe that's what he was thinking about."
"Dan, the boy is ready. He's a little bashful and may not have the guts to come to you himself, but he's ready. And what's more, it's something he really wants to do. Evidently he fell in love with your voice years ago and has followed your musical participation for several years. You just need to ask him, and he'll jump at the chance, I'm sure."
"Well, I sure will do that. But if that's all you had to discuss we could have handled it over the phone, don't you think?"
"Sure, but that's not it. Not at all. The reason I asked you to come in was to discuss his vocal talent and how you need to continue to develop it over the summer. If he ignores it for an extended period at this age, he could lose more ground than we've gained this year."
"Look, Jason is approaching puberty. Right now he has a beautiful boy soprano voice. That might last a year, maybe a year and a half. Or it might be gone in six months. We never really know because kids develop at such different speeds. But whenever his voice changes, it will be less traumatic on his vocal chords if he keeps them exercised, limber. He needs to continue to practice and to sing throughout the summer. I was hoping you could help with that, but I also have a voice coach I'd like to refer him to."
"Geez, he's that good, huh?"
"Yes, Dan, he's very good. What happens during puberty is an unknown, of course, but he'll always have a voice better than mine, whatever happens, as long as he continues to work through the voice change experience."
"Alright! Let's go for it. I can get him involved in the church's music program during the summer, and whatever the coaching thing costs, I'm sure we can handle it."
"Good. I took the liberty of calling the coach and making sure she had room for Jason in her schedule. She's actually looking forward to working with him. Here's her name, address and phone number. You can call her as soon as you've talked it over with Jason."
With that, we said our good-bye's and I left. When I got home, I cooked the boys' favorite meals - fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy and peas for Jason and all of Mitchell's favorite vegetables, corn, okra, green beans and spinach. Yuch! I hate to cook spinach. Just the smell of it makes me wanna puke! While dinner was cooking and the boys were doing their homework, I called the voice coach and made preliminary arrangements, pending Jason's schedule and cooperation, of course.
The guys wanted to know what the big deal was when they saw all the food. I teased them with nonsense until we were finished with dinner. While we were eating dessert I finally made the announcement. I thought I knew what their reactions would be, but I was still a little anxious about it. Would Jason be excited or scared? Would Mitchell be excited or envious?
"You're telling us that Ms. Baker thinks Jason can sing in public? What is she, a tone deaf music teacher?"
Mitchell laughed when he said it, but I could tell by the way he was looking at his little brother that he was impressed. Jason actually blushed, looking up at us out of the tops of his eyes, his face turned down somewhat in embarrassment.
"Aw stick a sock in it, Mitchell." he said with a grin. Then he looked at me and said something that just made my day.
"What do you think, Pop? You sing. And you're good! Do you think I should take lessons?"
I almost cried with love and pride. Here I had just told them what the professionals thought, and he wanted to know what I thought. And he thought I sang good, too. I didn't tell him I thought I was just mediocre.
"Well, Jason, I haven't heard you sing much around the house, but that little solo you did in the choir concert sure made me feel good. I'd take Janet's advice and meet with the voice coach. I already called her and set things up, just in case. You and the coach can decide where you want to go with it after you've worked together for a while. How about it?"
"Sure. I guess. I mean, I never thought about my voice being good enough to have a coach. May I go tell Alex?"
"Sure. Clean the table first, though. And make sure you're home by 9. We still need to review your homework."
Jason cleaned off the table and set the dishes next to the sink, then ran over to Alex's house which was across the street and three doors down. Mitchell and I were cleaning the pots and putting the dishes in the dishwasher.
"Do you think Jason really has possibilities? Singing, I mean?"
"Yeah, I guess I do. Mrs. Baker certainly seems to think so, and she's trained to listen for talent as well as for mistakes."
"You know, Pop, it would be neat if Jason does do some public singing. If I tried my hand at writing some songs, do you suppose he'd sing 'em?"
"Hell, yes! I mean, heck, yes. Sure he would. Do you do that sort of thing? You never mentioned it before."
"I can't carry a tune in a bucket with this voice of mine, but I can hear 'em in my head. I've messed around a little with lyrics and some tunes I think would go with 'em. But it's all just up in my head."
"Well start putting some stuff down on paper. Do you know anyone that could help? I mean kids that play, like guitar, drums, stuff like that?"
"Yeah! There's this cool band at school. Four guys that really rock. I think they were all juniors this year. Joey plays guitar, Keith does drums, Nick plays base and Scott's a vocalist. They are so kewl! Maybe they'd help. Scotty might even give Jason some pointers on singing."
"Great idea. But let's not get too excited just yet. Jason has to decide how serious he wants to get with this first, and he hasn't even met with the coach yet."
Alex became a regular at our house. It was easy to see that he was Jason's best friend. With no pool of his own, he adopted ours and we adopted him. The naked swimming thing worked out OK, too. If it was just the three of us, we all went skinny dipping. But if Alex was there, Mitchell always wore his trunks. I rarely went skinny dipping with Alex there, although I had spoken with his parents about the boys swimming in the nude and had gotten their approval to be there with or without a suit as supervisor.
Jason and Alex both turned 12 that summer and were getting used to the idea of entering junior high school. Mitchell turned 15 and would be going into the 10th grade. His high school started with 9th grade, so the boys would be in different schools. This would work somewhat to my advantage because their athletic schedules wouldn't conflict to badly.
Mitchell was moving steadily into puberty with the normal bodily changes. His pubic bush was just as dark as the hair on his head, but still relatively thin. I suppose he was still too young to tell if he was going to have hair on his chest, and his armpits were still void of hair. We talked about shaving, and I encouraged him not to start until he absolutely had to. This was good enough for him, since he didn't seem overly keen on the idea.
Alex and Jason were progressing at about the same pace, and it was always fun to watch them frolic naked in the pool. Alex didn't seem to have any more inhibitions than Jason did, unless you happened to catch him by himself. As long as Jason was around he didn't have a care in the world about being naked. But if Jason was inside or left for any reason, Alex would blush if you even looked at him. He rarely put his trunks on at times like this, but he would hide his crotch with his hands until I looked away. Both of them were still as hairless as babes that summer. But I sensed the changes that were starting to occur, just by the way they behaved.
I suspected for a long time that Jason and Alex were finding out about their bodies by looking at and touching each other. I mean, I did as a kid their age, so I figured they were, too. I wasn't too sure about Mitchell, though. He was so much like my brother it was funny, and Bob never fooled around with boys. He just went straight for the girls. He even told me once, a few years ago that while I was getting into trouble with Joe (my best friend), he was getting into trouble with Cecilia, Joe's sister. By trouble, he meant getting caught fooling around. That was the first time I knew he was aware of what Joe and I did back then. I wondered if Mitchell was doing the same thing, though he gave no indication of it that summer.
As Jason's voice continued to develop, Mitchell began talking to his friends about maybe playing backup for him. The older boys thought it was a great idea. It would give them a chance to practice their skills and help a youngster at the same time. Throughout the summer I had the pleasure of getting to know these guys, and although my choice of music was a generation or two beyond theirs, I still enjoyed their talents.
I even talked Keith into giving me some private lessons on the drums. I hadn't been able to learn the piano as a child, but I was always drumming on something with my hands and fingers. We made the lessons private because I suspected I was never going to come close to being good. But the idea that was forming in my mind didn't require that I be good, just capable.
Scott was able to help both Jason and Mitchell. As it turned out, he was a pretty good lyricist and a great vocalist, so he worked with Mitchell on some of the tunes Mitchell was writing, and with Jason on vocal techniques that kids their ages seemed to like. Since all the sound and musical equipment was out at Scott's farm, all of the sessions were there. But about once a month, we had the whole group over to the house for a pool party and cookout.
Every time we had one of these shindigs, I was in stink city, what with my own two boys, well almost my own, and the other four guys, all clowning around and having fun. And of course, Alex was always there. He couldn't play an instrument or carry a tune, but he listened good.
Just before school started, our church presented its annual talent show. Most of it was the same old stuff, a few songs, some jokes, a swing band set that one of the choir members put together with some other guys from the city band. We had them put Jason and the group on last so they could do more than one number if the crowd liked 'em well enough. I was as nervous as a whore in church, but felt pretty confident that the guys would get asked to do more than one. So I had it all worked out with Keith that I'd slip into the drummer's seat for the second number.
Most of the people who attended that night were church members, so they knew us pretty well already. And a lot of them had been exposed to my brand of off-the-cuff humor, always popping up with something funny to say about whatever was being discussed. This was especially true in church council meetings. Like the night the youth director was presenting the plan for the Halloween carnival. He said they would need plenty of pumpkins for decorations and everybody who brought one would get 5 raffle tickets. Of course, someone had to ask what they were raffling off, and I answered "Pumpkins!" Ok, so don't laugh. It was funny at the time.
Anyway, things went along real kewl and sure enough the kids were asked to do a second number. Jason had introduced everybody before their first song and thanked the group for supporting him. So as soon as Keith got them started by tapping the beat on the edge of his snare drum, I slipped into the seat and took over. Like I said, I was capable, but I wasn't Keith and the other guys knew it right away. One by one, they turned to see who was playing drums. Jason smiled at me even as he was singing. It was my night to shine.
Just as Jason started the verse before the final refrain, I managed to accidently flip a drum stick into the air and let it come crashing down on cymbals, drums and floor. I even managed to hit a few extra licks with my hand trying to catch it. I thought Jason was going to SHIT! He looked back at me with this shocked and stricken look on his face, but he kept on singing. He missed a few notes, but he did OK. Keith handed me the recovered stick just in time for me to repeat my accident in the middle of the last refrain. By the time I was finished knocking over practically the entire drum set trying to recover my stick, the entire audience was laughing.
Jason looked first at Joey and Nick, then at the audience, then at me. By the time he got to me, I was sitting on the floor with drums, cymbals and stands all over the place and a shit eatin' grin on my face. Even Jason started laughing. When the laughter finally died down, he turned to the audience and announced in that beautiful 12 year old boy's voice of his, "And the little kid playing with his sticks over here is Pop!"
I'm sure his attitude and his announcement got more laughter and applause than my antics.
The group didn't perform often, for several reasons. First of all, the fab four wouldn't accept any payment for playing with us, and they had gigs of their own. Scott even refused money when he sang with Jason, which he did any time Jason asked him to. A couple of times, Jason just called him up out the audience and the two would do a song they'd worked on together out at the farm. It was kewl. But the more important reason was Jason.
Jason had a love of music, and he loved to sing. But he knew almost at the beginning that singing wasn't what he wanted to do for a living. Singing was for fun. Work was for living. He was good, very good. But he'd never be great. He just wasn't committed to it. And I loved him for that. I loved him because he was willing to use a gift God had given him and work on making it a talent he could share. But I also loved him because he was mature enough (for a 12 year old) to decide for himself what he didn't want to do as a career.
Throughout that school year Mitchell wrote, Jason sang, and if the audience was one that knew me for the jokester that I was, I acted the fool. We had a lot of fun and kept busy. Jason always made a point of telling the crowd which songs Mitchell had written, which made me proud and Mitchell happy. It also got Mitchell the attention of girls his age, which he obviously enjoyed. Jason? Well, he got lots of attention from the girls, but he didn't seem to be much interested. But that was normal. He was only 12, going on 25 and had Alex as a best friend. They didn't need girls at that age.
... to be continued
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