My parents should’ve known better than to go on vacation for two weeks and leave me behind to watch the house. I might have been eighteen years old at that time, living at home, and now I was going to have it all to myself. Days before they left, I was already planning the party.
I didn’t see any harm in bringing a couple hundred high school kids together, planting a few kegs of beer on their back patio, and putting a nine piece ska band in their living room. As a courtesy, I notified the neighbors, hoping they’d let me know if it got to loud. And out of respect for my parents and their belongings, their furniture specifically, I had a couple of buddies move it all outside onto the back lawn and cover it up with tarps. And that made more room for dancing in the house.
Jeniffer and Katie lived next door. They were friends with my kid sister and still are. I think it was their dad that had our good-times shut down, phoning the police after he walked in to the party, unannounced, just after ten at night. He must not like reggae music or the sight of the keg stands us minors were doing.
That wasn’t the last time I hosted a party either. In my early twenties, I was living on the west side of Fresno, out in the country on five acres. I invited four hundred and fifty of my closest friends over to my place for dinner. I staged a live rock band, a DJ, a no-host bar and an all you can eat tri-tip buffet in my yard. We were celebrating our freedom and independence. It was the Fourth of July. But the sheriff didn’t care about any of that, making his presence in the neighborhood known, and eventually handing me a list of consequences I would face if I didn’t reduce the noise level.
Fast forward to the summer of 2011, I was living in Bend, connecting with the local music scene, and making some live music of my own. I approached a nonprofit bar and restaurant in downtown. I asked if I could host a concert series there, perhaps bringing in some more business to support their mission and bringing the community together at the same time. I had the privilege of organizing two summers worth of parties at their venue. Every Friday night, another group of talented musicians assembled and performed; a band filling the room with music, another group of happy smiling faces having a good time.
Two years ago I came up with the idea to produce an event called, The Twelve Bands of Christmas. I asked some of the musicians that I knew to contribute a set, making music for an audience that was gathered to show their support for Operation Elf Box and help spread some cheer. It’s a FREE Christmas party for all of Central Oregon and one of my favorite days of the year.
Everyone shows up to McMenamins in downtown on one day in December, writing their names on Santa’s List as they enter the Father Luke Room where the party is held. Bands rotate on stage for twelve hours beginning at noon. Santa shows up for a few so that children, young and old, can sit on him. A dozen or so local businesses contribute raffle items, supporting the cause, and at the same time, they’re sending folks home with some really amazing presents. None of this would even be possible if it weren’t for the generosity and kindness of all of those who come together to make it possible. The sound engineer, every single one of the musicians, the venue, the volunteers, all of them donating their time and space, their gifts, all of it coming from a place of love, doing their part to help create a brighter Christmas for children.
As a matter of fact, you should plan on being in Bend, Oregon on Sunday, December 20th, 2015. It’s confirmed, the entire town is going to be at McMenamins for the third annual, Twelve Bands of Christmas.
Keeping with the topic here, love, I should probably mention a few things about yesterday.
I pedaled along the jungle lined Florida highway that borders a National Wildlife Refuge. People visit the area for a chance to see alligators, moccasins, bears, bobcats, the 300 species of birds and the 14 active bald eagle nests. I ran over two dead snakes on the shoulder of the highway, steered around one frog that didn’t make it, and watched a hawk soar overhead looking for his next meal.
The town of Perry is poor, from an economical standpoint, but if we are measuring love, they are beyond rich. At least that was my experience.
I covered the forty five (s)miles late in the afternoon, not arriving until dusk. I passed the Oyster House on the right, and another house that was leaning to the left but a man was living in it. He was on the front porch, sitting on the couch, James Brown blasting from his boombox. We smiled and waived at each other as I rolled by.
I pulled into one of the first parking lots, glancing at my phone that was about to die, beginning to search for a motel. There didn’t appear to be any signage on the building that I was standing in front of but they were open so I walked inside to plug my phone in. I had just stepped foot into Whisky Bent Saloon. I didn’t know that Heather owned the place when I sat down beside her, striking up a conversation. She had been doing some cooking and pointed me to to the pork chops and the mashed-potatoes she had made for everyone, including Shoeless Jo. Heather walked one of her tasty chops outside to him where he stood guard of the bike and his wagon that I had chained to a post.
Back inside, the barkeep asked me about my long bike ride and what inspired me. I shared with her and the half a dozen others that were listening about Operation Elf Box. Robert walked over, asking me about my route, saying that if I was going to Saint Augustine, that I was in the wrong place. I smiled at him and told him that it felt like I was in the right place.
He was the first to reach in his pocket, pulling out a five dollar bill, saying, “take this with you”. Papa Tazz, (that’s what his friends call him), leaned over and whispered in my ear, wanting to support my mission, handing me a crisp twenty, giving me a half hug. And then the humble Heather, the kind woman who fed me, slipped me another forty as I walked out the door, the folks standing behind her offering me well wishes and reminding me to be safe.
In my eyes, these were random acts of love, angels providing for us. And online, several friends, one I’ve known for nearly two decades were doing the same, making a contribution, sending love notes to me and Jo along with them.
The Hamilton and The Gandy sit next to each other. I chose the latter, a motor lodge. Parking under the awning, I walked inside and exchanged forty six dollars for a shower and a bed, a room with a/c, and wifi.
It’s the kind of place where people drag their chairs out and sit on the front porch in the evening just outside of their rooms. Some people are living here. Next door to me was a man who told me he had just been released from jail after serving his two year sentence. He choked up a little when he talked about it. Apparently he needed someone to listen, and I was grateful to be standing there with him, hearing his story, sharing with him some of mine as well.
We stood there for an hour, discussing topics like survival, the color of our skin, letting go of our past, working at accomplishing our dreams, faith, and we elaborated on love.