Robert Haydon Jones
and Matthew Levine

River's Edge
Matthew Levine
“River’s Edge”

Sing Along
By Robert Haydon Jones
Inspiration piece

Jimmy O’Hara was 15 when he met Joy Levy, his counselor at the summer camp the town ran at the beach. Joy was a petite, raven-haired, big-breasted beauty in her second year at Nursing School. She was eight years older than Jimmy but at the end of the first day of camp, she offered him a ride home in her convertible. They were lovers before nightfall and then nearly every day throughout the summer.

Joy was a very experienced woman with a boundless sexual appetite. Jimmy enjoyed letting her take control. She was a ruthless, compassionate, tender, grateful teacher.

She often told Jimmy he was beautiful. She would hug him and kiss him on the neck and the lips and nuzzle his throat and his neck and his cheeks and say, “I love you Jimmy – you are such a beautiful boy.”

After a week or so, Jimmy believed he really was a beautiful boy. Joy seemed to be exactly the rare sort of woman who was qualified to make such a pronouncement. She had slept with men as old as his father. In time, she would go on to marry and divorce two doctors. The last Jimmy heard of her, nearly three decades later, she was living in Idaho with two Basque sheep ranchers and eight children.

The last time Jimmy saw Joy was at summer’s end, the night after Labor Day. They made love for hours and it was quite wonderful for her and for Jimmy and, of course, he took it for granted.

Next morning, he boarded the train and returned to prep school. When he came home for Thanksgiving, there was a letter from Joy inviting him to go with her to a concert at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve. He called Joy. Her mother told Jimmy that Joy was in California interviewing for a job as a nurse in a hospital in San Diego.  Jimmy asked the mother to tell Joy he had called and to tell her he couldn’t attend the concert.

The mother said she would. “Jimmy O’Hara – you’re one of the youngsters she was counseling at the Beach Camp. I know she’ll be glad you called.”

But Jimmy never talked to Joy again. A year or so later, he heard that Joy had married a Doctor who had been wounded serving as a Marine in the Pacific and then had done college and Medical School on the GI Bill. They were living in Del Mar near San Diego.

After graduation from prep school, when he came home for summer vacation, his mother handed him an LP record wrapped in white tissue paper. It was marked, “To Jimmy.” His mother said it had been left propped up against the front door.

The record was “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall.” It had been recorded live on Christmas Eve, 1955. Inside the album, underneath the record, there was a note on a yellow, blue-lined, paper, with a red stencil title, “Discharge Instructions.”

“Hello to Jimmy, the most beautiful boy in the world. Jimmy, I’m a real nurse. I’m married to a very nice doctor. I’m pregnant. I’m going to have a baby soon. Just think, I could have had your baby. Some times, I really wish I had. But that wouldn’t have been fair to you or the baby I guess.

Jimmy, I met my husband at the concert on this album. Remember, I got the tickets and asked you to come – but you had to do Christmas Eve with your family.

It was a wild night. I still wish you had been there.

Jimmy, when you play this, think of me.”

She had signed it with a large, scrawled J and four alternating rows of carefully rendered X’s and O’s.

Jimmy played the album and realized right away that not going with Joy to the Weavers Christmas Eve concert had been a foolish mistake.

Surprisingly, the music was very familiar. Jimmy had sung many of these songs with his family back just a few years when he was a child and family and friends would sing together – at family gatherings, in cars, or at picnics, or walking a country road whenever the occasion permitted. The custom had waned and then virtually ceased with the coming of TV to almost everyone’s home.

The Weavers sang with an abandon and joy that kindled Jimmy’s memories of suddenly being linked to others with spontaneous group singing. He felt an instantaneous connection – to the songs, to the Weavers, and to all the times he had sung like this with family and friends.

The audience at the concert was an important feature of the album. They were a noisy, merry, bunch. They knew the words. Their applause and cheers built to a sustained crescendo that was a group song itself. None of the people in the audience had opted to attend Christmas Eve services with their family. This was their service!

Jimmy liked their singing, but he definitely did not like the Weavers. Pete Seeger was a known Communist. Back in the thirties and forties, the Weavers had even been against America intervening against Hitler and the Nazis. To be fair, after Pearl Harbor, they had supported the war effort, but now with Korea, they had gone back over to the Communist Party Line.

But the Album was remarkable. There was a spirit of camaraderie in the singing that Jimmy longed for. And over the years and decades, wherever Jimmy went, he was careful to make sure “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall” came along.

They traveled with him in the Marines and to college and to the apartments and houses of his first marriage. After his divorce, Jimmy lived in a shack by the river – but there was room for his Gerard turntable and “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall.”

Jimmy played the album for a beautiful woman who visited him at the shack and she told him she liked it okay and that she loved him. It wasn’t all that long before they were married up and living in a grand house on the river.

Kennedy had come and gone. And Vietnam. And astronauts to the moon and back. And Medicare, crack, Iraq, Afghanistan and Barack. Children appeared and grew. Old folks and some young had vanished forever. Addiction bloomed in Jimmy and withered everyone who cared for him but his withered wife did not stop caring and kept on with the interventions until he blundered into a blessed, plain vanilla, Recovery.

Now Pete Seeger was singing about the Hudson River just as passionately as he had sung about poverty and bosses and love and war. He had built a schooner and become a river-keeper. Now Jimmy had eight grown grandchildren and the Hudson River was cleaner than it had been in a hundred years.

Then suddenly Jimmy was sitting three feet away from Pete Seeger. Jimmy and the wife were at an invitation-only party of writers, artists, musicians and actors in honor of the singer, Judy Collins. Pete Seeger was at the next table, banjo in hand, with his wife and a cluster of friends.

No one was talking to Pete Seeger. Jimmy caught his eye and he smiled pleasantly. Now was the time for Jimmy to thank Pete Seeger for all the songs. For keeping on.

Jimmy had the urge to start the conversation by telling Pete Seeger he had attended “The Weavers Christmas Concert at Carnegie Hall” way back in 1955. Why did he want to start with a lie! He should have been there but he wasn’t! Actually, because Jimmy wasn’t there, Joy found a doctor and had his baby!

Jimmy wasn’t at Carnegie Hall in 1955! But Jimmy had taken the Weavers Christmas Concert album with him everywhere for sixty-three years. Should he start with that?

Just as Jimmy was about to speak, Pete Seeger brought his banjo to the ready and began to strum it softly. The elegant, special-events banquet room was crowded with elegant, special people, many of them famous enough to draw a crowd on their own.  The bar had been open for more than an hour. It was very noisy. Pete Seeger strummed on.

Very gradually the banjo edged along side of the hubbub. The strumming stayed dead even with everyone’s conversation for a minute or so and then it pulled off and the other sounds were gone and the banjo was all by its lonesome.

Pete Seeger strummed on for a good three minutes after that. Not the one more minute you might expect from a maestro. Or the two due you for being so noisy and so friggin slow. No, it was three, because now that Pete Seeger had his arms around you, he went and helped himself to an extra minute or so for the squeeze.

Then he talked very quietly over the banjo to the crowd. He said he was going to sing a few songs and that he was absolutely counting on everyone joining in when he asked them to join in because when it came down to it, unless everyone was singing with him, he was just a bleating voice.

The crowd did as he asked. By the time he was finished, everyone had joined in the choruses and performed. Other celebrity singers came on for the sing along. Then it was Judy Collins’s turn. Forty minutes on, the party was over.

A crowd clustered around Pete Seeger’s table and his family escorted him out. Jimmy followed along with his wife but Pete Seeger was away in a car before Jimmy could get close enough to say anything. So near and yet so far!

Did that make a difference?

The next day, Jimmy asked Mike Molloy, the Irish actor, who had brought Jimmy to the Collins party what he thought.

Mike said he wasn’t sure. He told Jimmy that a few years back, a young producer had pressed Pete Seeger and Molloy to meet and have an extended conversation. Both men had full calendars, but the kid producer kept pressing and finally Mike traveled up to Pete Seeger’s house in upstate New York and they sat by the river’s edge and talked for more than three hours.

Mike said it had been an utterly delightful conversation. That it meandered along at its own pace and direction. He said even the pauses were pleasurable.

Jimmy told Mike Molloy that he couldn’t wait to hear the recording of his 3-hour  conversation with Pete Seeger. Molloy told him there was no tape. He said he had assumed the young producer was recording them – but he wasn’t.

“All the trouble, he went to,” said Molloy. “And all he wanted was for us to talk.”


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  1. Posted December 14, 2015 at 9:21 am | #

    A warm and delightful piece of nostalgia punctuated by a lost moment to share in. Mr. Jones has a knack for “stirring us up”

  2. Posted December 14, 2015 at 11:30 am | #

    It just carries the reader pleasantly along in the stream of memory and reminds us of all the special moments we had and carry in our hearts as we age.

  3. Posted December 14, 2015 at 12:40 pm | #

    Over the years Robert has never let us down–only brought us up with his great stories! If this doesn’t bring back memories for the readers nothing will–it sends your mind back to long ago–and for me that’s great. Don’t ever stop Robert–look forward to your writings next year, and for years to come! Merry Christmas & Semper Fi–Jack Orth

  4. Posted December 14, 2015 at 2:44 pm | #

    This has just the right amount of slow warmth, that wraps gently around you and lets you lean back into familiar memory…..nice!

  5. Posted December 15, 2015 at 2:45 pm | #

    Beautiful art and a beautiful journey down the river with Bob. It all rings true and I’m there.

  6. Posted December 17, 2015 at 6:09 pm | #

    What a leap it is here from teenage hormone action to an imagined Carnegie Hall with the Weavers and thence to a lost chance to chat with Pete Seeger. Beautifully woven with an “you are there” motif.well done

  7. Posted December 19, 2015 at 4:16 pm | #

    Close your eyes and breathe in Carnegie Hall, 1955. A nice mix of reverie and reality, the world in a clanging banjo breakdown.

  8. Posted December 28, 2015 at 11:55 am | #

    Memory of a lost love and one night that could have changed a lifetime carried for years. But the ending points out — maybe the point is to be where we are when we’re there and soak it up. Love the painting…