As I’ve mentioned previously, I grew up in rural and small town environs. Upon reaching full growth and maturity — for the male of the human species, that’s means past 40 at least, if ever — I’ve become most grateful to that clime for learning to be a responsible citizen.
Rural east central Texas in the 1940s-50s was a great place to raise children. There wasn’t much you could do there without someone calling your mother and reporting any misbehavior.
Since my family’s roots were entirely rural farmranch oriented, there were some out-in-the-country things we didn’t give up. A one-room church, affiliated with the North American Baptist Association, was one of those things to which we clung.
We attended the rural church on its first- and third-Sunday services, the only times available when you had to share a pastor/ preacher with a similar church 20 miles away for the second and fourth Sundays.
Southern gospel was the music style and my mother loved that music immensely. As I may have pointed out, she was basically a very shy, introverted person except among family and very close friends. She sang, because, with an average attendance of 20 or so, every voice was needed. Additionally, all those farmranch bred and raised folks loved the music and chimed in.
Mother always referred to herself as a timid alto.
I never knew for sure that anyone in the church could read music except whoever played the piano during the services. As much as Mother wanted me to be able to play piano, we couldn’t afford lessons. Thus, I never learned to read music. In high school, I spent three semesters in choir — as soon as it was organized — but I just listened and guessed at the notes.
Several of the guys who played football decided to join choir because we heard it was going to be fun and it’d be an easy grade and credit. And, we all had a great time because it was enjoyable even though the work was harder than we expected.
I managed to sit next to Douglas Aycock, one of my best buddies. His near blindness required thicklens glasses, so since he couldn’t play football, he took piano and was quite accomplished. On top of which, he was the smartest student in the entire school.
To my great dismay, I was assigned to sing tenor rather than “he-man” bass. But, I decided to make the best of it and learn from Doug. He kept me on key most of the time, as long as I kept an ear cocked toward him with the other on the choir teacher and the pianist.
College introduced me to a number of things including my very first try at smoking. In the mid- 1950s, it was the “he-man” thing to do. Little did we know.
So smoking Kent cigarettes, with the baby blue micronite filter, was way cool and ultimately deepened my voice. But, there weren’t many opportunities to test that for years, what with finishing college, beginning a career, family and all those things “responsible” small town boys are taught.
But, I listened to good Southern Gospel music every chance I could. And, I’d kind of sing along in a muffled bass, the heman tone I’d longed for all those years.
About 30 or so years into “real life,” I saw an advertisement for a performance by a very good Southern Gospel quartet in a neighboring town. So, I bought a ticket and went to hear them.
Their bass singer was magnificent and I was enthralled.
After the concert, I made a beeline for him and engaged him in conversation, telling him how I’d enjoyed his singing. I told him about my mom and her being a self-described “timid alto,” and added that I guessed I’d been a closet bass.
He looked at me with this funny expression and said, “Well, I don’t think I’d put in the manner of ‘coming out of the closet.’”
So, now I refer to myself as a bashful bass, but I still can’t read music.
WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper publisher of more than 55 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.