^That there is one of the coolest pictures I will ever be in.

I have, by way of lifestyle and weirdness, met a good handful of musical icons in the past few years. I have learned to be cool, especially since the ones I tend to meet are Southern Gospel or country, and in these parts where I live, many of my friends don’t know who I am talking about (I am working on their education…)

That changed Saturday night. Meeting the Oak Ridge Boys got me props from everyone from my mom to my Broadway-taste friend to the ‘older’ lady working at Fanny May.

Meeting them is sort of a misnomer. I feel like we’d already met Mr. Joe Bonsall. Twitter does that to people. We write and read random bits of our days and in the telling – especially when said Tweeters have a way with words and when they are being sincere– we learn a lot about the passions, pet peeves, and personalities of each other.

So when we made plans for their Elgin concert, I set the surreality aside and just went along for the ride. When we went backstage before the show, I covered up my tongue-tied-ness with quiet (better to just give Golden a warm smile and a firm handshake then say some stupid stumbling thing). Plus, God help the Stars, some of the other folks backstage really wanted their posed pictures and their questions answered, and that was their privilege to do so.

But when ‘BanJoey’ came up to greet Rod and me, it felt like I was reuniting with my Uncle Larry (this is a compliment) or maybe a teacher I’d had in high school or someone I sang with in the choir. There were no airs and was no hesitancy. There were greetings by name and hugs and familiarity.

Awesome. I love when people are what I hope and expect them to be, and BanJoey was as kind and sincere as he could be.

But my night didn’t end there. From the 6th row of the Hemmens Cultural Center, I was taken on a ride I didn’t expect.

See, I was too transfixed by the cool Tweet-up-ness of it all to ponder beforehand how the Oak Ridge Boys were a huge part of the first music I listened to in life. Being, you know, a sensitive artist type, I’ve marked all of my memories by the sounds, sights, tastes, look, and feel of a particular time in life. And while prior to the concert I recalled a few nuggets from the Oak Ridge Boys soundtrack, I hadn’t counted on all of them –

American Made – was one of the first “contemporary” songs I’d ever heard. I remember hearing it in the car, analyzing the lyrics, and contemplating That Girl. Tight jeans? French perfume? I might have been a pre-pubescent, but to me that sounded like good stuff. And I did, after all, have silky long product free hair at that point in time.

Elvira – Well, everyone my age or older probably has a memory to go along with this one. I know this is one of the few songs my mom would get goofy on while singing along (Others including Donna Fargo’s “Funny Face” and Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning.” Sorry, Ma, but it’s true). Mine is kind of embarrassing. When I was an avid fan of Eddie & Joe-Bo on B96 in the morning, one of their best and funniest song spoofs was to Elviria, and it was “Flu Virus.” So when Richard Sterban does his thing on the chorus, I still hear in my mind, “Giddy up, a burp-cough, a burp-cough, a ow-ow.”

(Speaking of Richard Sterban, I always thought he was the cute one, and he is in person very, very nice to look at).

Thank God For Kids – Experiencing this song live was a mess for me. First of all, I could see the video to it, with the ORB running around with a bunch of kids and Sesame Street characters, very clearly in my mind, though I surely haven’t seen it in 25 years or so. I also distinctly remember watching it at my Gramma and Papa’s house, because they had cable and therefore the Good Channels. I have written exhaustively about the tragic outcome of my relationship with them, but for 25 years it was sweet and golden, and so that song took me back to their house, which was a safe and welcoming place for most of my life.

The song itself is all about safety, warmth, and of course, kids, and I am pretty sure I hadn’t really listened to it since having my own. I am a sap for all things but nothing like I am for my own sweet babies. So many specific lyrics of that song embody what we live right now: Big Bird, Mickey Mouse, Santa Clause, various things spilled on the couch, repeated questions beginning with ‘Why,’ and truly knowing the magic of a smile.

So, you know, I totally sobbed while listening to this. Thank God for MY kids, and yours. They are so awesome.

(And thank God Joe has a good sense of humor about rocking the Mr. Kotter hair in that eternalized great video!)

Two other songs during the first set that made me lose my cool and my mascara:

Mama’s Table – this is a new song from the ORB, all about the family memories made around the kitchen. And while my family does not have an heirloom that exists in this form, it again conjures some vivid and sweet visions of Gramma and Papa’s, where tea and toast was both breakfast and late night snack, Thanksgiving dinners were matched only by those on St. Patrick’s Day, and the news or, God help us, the Cubs game was always on in the background.  There are also memories of my Gramma Capriotti’s kitchen, where I ate some of the best cooking I will taste, including homemade, hand-cut pasta, and had countless hours of fun with my brother and my cousins, sneaking bits of salad into each other’s cups and, in occasion, wine into our own.

Now I see my parents creating those memories for our kids, and Lord knows I work to make them, too. Why just last night, as we were Educating our son about some rough times, I dusted out my inner Martha to bake apple bread and cranberry bread, because surely the smells of these things make a tough life lesson go down more smoothly. I love cooking for my family, and lately, being that we’re home so little, I don’t even mind the clean up. I hope when my children are grown and on their own, they will cherish memories of ‘fancy breakfast,’ of homemade pizza, of chili-cheese burrito night, of getting their own little taste of coffee, and mostly, of the talks and laughs and plans we share there.

G.I. Joe and Lillie – with all the bustle of the holidays, and my bustle has been bustled to the point of my own surrender this time around, it’s easy to just look in our own circle and measure stress and hardship by what we see. I know some families who are really struggling this year with the loss of jobs, or health issues, or in some cases, serious relationship damage. But most of the people I know are not being forced to spend Christmas apart from those they love most. Our soldiers and their families, however, are. That is not what this beautiful song is about. It is about a son’s honor to his parent’s love story – their dedication to country and to each other. Most people I know have no idea what it means to give up what people in the military give up. I am up in arms today about my hallway being dirty from work being done on our bathroom. Please.  Truth is, I don’t really know what sacrifice is.

Then came the Christmas set, which for the most part, really was a soundtrack for my childhood Christmases. Early on, my mom had checked out the ORB first Christmas recording from the library and dubbed it (sorry!). We fell in love with the new songs on there and they became classics for our holiday season; in fact, it was always the first recording we played while putting up the Christmas decorations. (PS: I just bought the CD from Amazon, which will hopefully make up somewhere for our 80s-dub theft!)

So I was kind of giddy singing along to “Christmas Carol” and “Christmas is Painting the Town,” but I about came out of my skin when I heard, “Jesus is Born Today.” (In fact, I got so excited I think I scared the older and much quieter little couple next to me. Rod and I seemed to do that a few times during the evening…)

One last specific song I will mention has much to do with the movie I saw and the blog I wanted to write last week. We finally saw The Blind Side, and as expected, I not only loved it but felt it as one more medium gliding us along to the child we will inevitably adopt. I look around at our home and our family sometimes and can’t believe what we have. I didn’t grow up this way, having access to so much, and while I am grateful for it, in some ways, I’m sick of it because I know there are people who live just minutes from us, students I’ve had even, who live without much. So when I heard “Beneath the Christmas Tree,” which features Duane Allen singing – like he means it! –  the story of an orphan boy waiting for Santa beneath a tree and the benevolent man who wraps him in his coat and takes him home, well, you know, Rod had to practically hold me steady.

This doesn’t make me a good person. I’m sure I look at the situation naively – I know adopting any child will mean bringing unknown sets of issues and challenges into all our lives. Doesn’t matter though. I know it will happen. And I know if that child is found on the playground near our home or under a tree somewhere or on a website we happen to be browsing, my heart is ready for him (I think it might be him now, but that doesn’t matter either). I want to give these types of memories, stirred by music and filled with love, to my all my kids, wherever they happen to be.

So make your heart a Bethlehem, a humble place where life begins, where Christ the Savior once again is born. – William Dodd

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