Thursday, May 23, 2013

RED RIVER VALLEY

AND THE ANGELS SANG

Nearly 30 years ago, I came back from my first trip to Turkey and self-consciously told my experiences to world-traveller Peter John Vickers Worthington.
After all Editor Worthington had been in all of the landmarks of the world before I even arrived at the Tely where his star was rising, and rising, until it turned into the Sun.
I told him of a marvelous blue day on the eastern Mediterranean near the islands off Izmir where a wealthy Turkish publisher took me on a day's cruise on his boat, a converted channel steamer.
One of those lovely days where the shrimps were the size of lobsters, the drinks were nectar from the gods, the steaks were bigger than an editorial writer's ego, and the talk was like the aroma of a Cohiba.
For those who argue that the heaven of the Bible may actually occur after the Rapture right here on earth, I felt I was already sailing around an ante room. I hoped the day would be eternal.
Then over the horizon sailed a boat that was just large enough to handle a sea. The publisher and I appreciated the scene as if it were a painting.
Figures waved from the sailboat as it slipped by, and then surprises happened. From the stern floated a majestic Maple Leaf flag, blazing against the deep blue. An expensive stereo surrounded us with the haunting tune of Red River Valley. "...come sit by my side if you love me/ Do not hasten to bid me Adieu."
I sang those lines to a startled publisher, then explained it was an old Canadian song,  at least 130 years old. I said it had had various names, including Cowboy Love Song, but the valley was not cow country, so it was really more a folk song. A song I loved.
Editor Worthington dropped that lazy half smile as he listened to my story a week or so later. Then he told me he loved the valley song too.
All this had slipped to a corner of my memory until that quiet moment in Editor Worthington's funeral
when John McDermott, the troubadour of a vanished Toronto Sun era, sang with a haunting soft melancholy Pete's favourite song.
And I know that somewhere he smiled. Thank heavens John didn't sing Danny Boy then or the church would have dissolved in tears.
McDermott, who blossomed from a humble circulation job thanks to the support of people like the founding Sun publisher Doug Creighton and the loyalty of Pete and others, took time out from the recording studio where he is working on a CD of old rebellion songs to sing of the valley, and finally,  Amazing Grace, the prayer anthem of sinners.
Thank God he came. There seems a point in funerals where silence and then a favourite song speaks more elegantly of the departed than eulogies. It helps each of us to remember why we came. And then we can return, renewed,  to words after we've listened to the notes of angels.
It was a funeral for the ages, filled with nostalgia and anecdotes and some unruly tales typical of the news business.
I will never forget it when I hear Red River Valley. By John, of course.

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