Thursday, July 19, 2007

You never know what a day will bring...

This morning, the kids were still dragging on with their breakfast at 8:30 a.m. (they had been up since 5:45). We had already mopped up almost a quart of homemade hummingbird nectar (sugar liquid) that the Banana pulled off the counter, spilled all over herself, slipped, & fell in. I had showered the Banana & started a load of laundry. Papaya Daddy had spent a good hour pulling spent sunflower plants from our yard, shaking out the seeds on the barren areas of our property, & throwing them into the desert behind our yard. He had run off, late, for work, and I was sitting with the kids in a grungy T-shirt & pair of sweat pants, alternately interacting with them and working on a Sudoku puzzle before tackling the dirty breakfast dishes. In other words, it was a pretty normal morning.

Then I got a phone call from our pastor's wife. "They need a piano player at a K-town funeral at 10:00 this morning!" she said. "Can you do it?"

A little background: we don't go to the K-town church, nor do I know anybody connected with the funeral (they don't know me, either). I'm not that excellent a piano player, and not that great a sightreader. I never practice these days, although I occasionally play on Sunday mornings at our church. K-town is about a 20 or 25 minute drive away, it's already 8:40, & I have two small children who can't just take care of themselves during a possible 2 hour funeral service. The songs requested are all from the Hopi hymnal, & there's only one that I know I've encountered before.

So I say, "Sure! I think I can get there on time! Can you guys help with the kids?"

I jump into hyperdrive - I call the Hopi man in charge of the service to let him know I'll be there, dress the Banana, stick the kids in front of a video, shower & dress myself & try to look presentable as a funeral pianist, get the diaper bag & water ready, sunscreen the kids, get the Papaya to the bathroom, buckle them in the car, and head off with time to spare. I hope I'll have a chance to try a couple of the hymns on the church piano before the service begins.

Lest you feel overly impressed by (or shocked at) my alacrity at accepting such an invitation, know that I've done this once before - when the Banana was exactly 6 days old. My mother was there to help with the preparation & child care, which made that instance a little easier - but at least this time, I don't have to squeeze a freshly post-partum body into appropriate non-maternity funeral attire, or cross my arms over my chest to avoid let-down midservice when I hear the Banana crying in the back of the church. I also have a little less stage fright at facing around 100 mourners & knowing that I'm completely unprepared and will probably make mistakes.

Once I arrive at K-town church, I do have about five or ten minutes to look at the songs & practice before the service starts. I practice in fits & starts, as family members begin to trickle in & my kids pound on the treble & bass regions of the piano. It turns out that from the four songs selected for the service, I am familiar with two, slightly familiar with one (translation of "Oh, Happy Day!" with some difference in the rhythm & a line or two of Hopi musical addition thrown into the middle of each verse - I end up accompanying the church choir for this during the service), and have a hard time feeling like I "get" the meter & rhythm of the final song, which I have never heard before. I end up having some serious problems with this in the actual service, since it appears that the way it is actually sung differs from the way it is written (i.e. long pauses over several of the notes, an actual meter change from 3/4 to 4/4 for a couple of bars.) By the time we get to the last stanza, I am basically on the same wavelength as those singing. It's a pity it was the final song!

During the long service (it turned out to be almost 2 hours with spontaneous eulogies in the middle & the viewing at the end), the kids have a wonderful time with the 20 year old pastor's son & a pre-teen girl (a member of another family living & helping at the church) who show up to babysit. Such a good time that I start to tense up as the kids' squeals of enjoyment from the Sunday School room attached to the sanctuary threaten to distract from the eulogies. I finally stick my head in & they end up moving the operation outside, to my immense relief.

After the less-than-successful final song & a prayer, the service leader coordinates the viewing - something like a receiving line at a wedding, except the open coffin takes the place of the wedding party. As people begin to line up, I sit awkwardly on the piano stool and wonder if I can sneak away. But no - one of the organizers leans over to me and says, "Can you play something?" This is very awkward - I don't know many songs from the Hopi hymnal, have no idea how to find the songs I do know (because I don't remember their Hopi names), & definitely don't want to pick one at random and struggle through sightreading it during the viewing. After some quick anguished reflection, I start to play through the songs we have already sung (except for the last one). By the time I get through those, I feel a little calmer, find a Hopi song I know from church, & start to play it. Unfortunately, the melody ends up sounding a little too upbeat and I get the uncomfortable feeling that the Hopi words are expressing how happy the singer is (by this time, people are crying pretty hard as they look into the coffin only about ten feet away from me). I quickly finish that, play what had been announced as the deceased man's favorite song again (ironically, the Hopi version of "Oh, Happy Day"), and search for new inspiration. By this time, people are wailing & throwing themselves on top of the coffin & I am really feeling awkward. I pick up the English hymnal & look up "Amazing Grace", because at least I know it well, then work on from there. Finally, it looks as if things are winding down, so I ask the orgainizer if he needs more music. He says no, so I thankfully slip out, pack up the kids, and drive home while heaving large sighs of relief. I haven't felt so much displacement in a while!

At least it was a break from the ordinary!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rain at last! (Photo essay)

The kids rush out joyously to greet the first real rain of the season (no thunder). Rain dance time!

As the rain lessens, the kids venture past the safety of the driveway and the garage shelter to the alluring gutter puddles.

The Banana removes her shoes for maximum gutter puddle enjoyment.

Ready to join the gang!

Making big splashes. A kid's life during an Arizona summer doesn't get much better than this.

A brisk wind picks up & the Banana heads, shivering, to the shelter of the garage...

...but ventures out again (sans wet skirt) to check out the Papaya's stationary gutter bike riding.

"Okay, this is it - I'm cold & I want inside!"

Warm & clean at last

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A hot holiday

Arizona is experiencing a heat wave. Near record temperatures. An Arizona heat wave in July is pretty brutal, let me tell you. We've been having temperatures over 100 degrees for the past few days, coupled with an intense sun, no clouds, and a burning, dry wind. It hasn't rained in a month.

We recently planted some grass & wildflower seed in our front yard. Every evening, we water the area we planted until it is sitting in a pool of water. By noon of the next day, the ground that held a puddle the night before looks like this:

At least there's some green there - a near miracle, in this weather!

Papaya Daddy is off today, but it's too hot to do much. Understandably, Independence Day is not a huge holiday among the Hopi Indians (although it is more popular than Columbus Day). They do seem to love fireworks, though, so we might see a few of those if we sit out in our yard tonight. Hopefully, the pyrotechnics won't spawn any real fires in this crispy environment.

Here's hoping that the summer monsoons begin soon! Even a few clouds would be welcome!