A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday night, I took several of trips. I traveled to Michigan, back to the kitchen of my childhood home. Everything was there—the yellow and white linoleum floor, the long wooden island painted white, the over-sized industrial sink where all kids under four years of age took a bath.
Vista House all lit up after an evening of singing.
My mom and I were doing dishes while belting out, “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen I know-oh-oh-oh, someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, strummin’ on the old banjo . . .” My mother had just taught me “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Thirty years later, I still know all the words. And every time I sing them, I go back to my childhood, back to that kitchen, back to my mom making “dish detail” fun.
Then I went back to Michigan again. Same area, different time. This visit to St. James Catholic Church—to the “new addition” constructed after the congregation outgrew the church.
The cathedral-like dome of Vista House as seen when laying back, listening to music.
We were all gathered there— family, friends, and churchgoers. Service was nearly over; last hymn, last words. As they closed my grandmother’s casket, the choir and congregation started in, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me . . .” And as we sang, the words reached out to my grandfather and swept him to knees, arms outstretched onto my grandmother’s casket. For the first time in my life, I saw my grandfather’s bright blue, dancing eyes fill with tears. And from that day forward, when I hear “Amazing Grace,” that moment flashes by, and my own eyes fill with tears.
Strangers brought together by song at a Vista House Song Circle event.
“This Land is Your Land” took me back to elementary school to music class. Flashes of ribbons and highways and skyways. The feeling that everything is bright and right and Disney happy.
The sun setting as visitors sing on during the July 10 Song Circle at Vista House.
“You Are My Sunshine” took me back to summertime in our little neighborhood. My best friend, Tony, singing to me as we walked up the gravel road on our way to climb the “Jungle Tree.”
Musicians from the Portland FolkMusic Society leading the group in songs of yesteryear . . . and tomorrow.
All the while, I am actually at Vista House at Crown Point, in the Columbia River Gorge. It is our second in a series of “Song Circles” in the Gorge. I am mostly surrounded by perfect strangers, who are surrounded by the same. But we’re all singing from the heart, smiling as if we’re with old friends. We sing songs we’ve all known for years, transporting us back in time and space. We sing new songs whose words when we hear them again will likely bring us back to Vista House . . . to a warm summer night, with a golden sunset, rich voices swirling around the rotunda, wrapping us in a blanket of fullness and contentment.
Voices rising as the sun was falling.
Join us for our next Song Circle on July 31 at Rooster Rock State Park from 7 to 9 PM. Bring a friend, your family, your favorite sing-along, and a chair! Parking permit ($5) or annual pass ($30) required.
For more information, contact Ranger Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser, 503-695-2261 x228
Future Song Circles:
July 31, 7-9 PM. Rooster Rock State Park.
August 28*, 7-9 PM. Vista House. *Special kids’ sing-along.
September 11, 7-9 PM. Vista House.