From My Heart to Yours: A Collection of My Music Videos

In my last two posts I’ve shared how I came to learn how to play the piano and sing. But to those who haven’t actually heard me do either, it could come across as just a story. I could say I’ve learned how to play the accordion, too, but if I can’t prove it, again, it’s just a story.

(By the way, I did try playing the accordion once and was terrible at it. I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure the sounds that I had coming out of that accordion were rather similar to that of the mating call of a rhinoceros. I could picture myself playing it at the zoo and zookeepers getting furious at me and warning me to stop playing. “The rhinoceros is loose and headed your way! For God’s sake, stop playing! Put it down! Put it down!” And I would. Quickly. I like my backside just the way it is, thank you.)

Anyway, here, for your viewing pleasure, are a few video clips of me playing the piano and often times singing as I play. All recorded within the past few years, the video clips as well as the sound can come across as rather crude from time to time as I took them with my phone. At the time and presently, I simply can’t afford professional or even adequate recording equipment. If I could, I’d get all that as well as the proper lighting equipment, green screen for the background, and whatever I would need to make savvy videos. I’d also get a new keyboard so as to further enhance the music recordings I could make.

Recorded at such places as my home, Central United Methodist Church in Sedro-Woolley, Washington and Bay View United Methodist Church in Bay View, Washington, From My Heart To Yours tells a bit of my personal journey – my heritage and upbringing, what I have learned about myself, what I believe in today, and what I stand for both now and always.

I truly hope you enjoy them. If the songs bring you encouragement – if they are exactly what you needed to hear at this very moment for whatever reason – all the better.


Ugh… That face! I blame the finches in the other room. Hey… If you’re going to sing along, at least be on key! Lol
This is my Coming Out Story. As a musician, there are times when I don’t have the eloquent words to share what I feel in my heart. That’s when my music comes in and reveals not only what I feel in my heart. but the innermost depths of my soul.
Although I wish I had written the lyrics of “I Am a Child of God,” it is my responsibility to claim that I did not write it at all. The music embellishment of it however, it is of yours truly.
It’s without speaking that I lay no claim to “True Colours” as well either. (Yes, I know I spelt it differently. Lol)
There’s actually a true story to this. Several years after World War II, someone in a government facility in San Diego looked out the window and saw a person throwing away many pictures of the faces of United States veterans into a dumpster in an alley. That “someone” rushed down and retrieved every one of those pictures. Having done much research, it turned out that the pictures of those being tossed into the bin were those who were either gay, lesbian, or otherwise.
That became the inspiration of the first gay-themed song I had written after I had come out. “Come On Home” is, in my opinion, the greatest song I have ever written.
“We Shall Overcome.” Indeed, as one of countless people in the LGBTQ+ community, we shall. And I say that because even though things have gotten better for us throughout the years, the hatred, scrutinization and inequality toward us is still there.
(I have no claim to this song as I did not write it.)
One last time, I have no claim to this song. “Over the Rainbow” has become a tribute for the gay community for decades. I have been asked a few times to sing it for the local Trans Day of Remembrance services. Each time I perform this song, it’s a bit different. This, from what I understand and from what I’ve been told, is the most favorite rendition amongst many.

And there it is. You’ve seen and you’ve heard. If they have meant anything to you at all, please feel free to like this post and perhaps comment on it. If you feel the songs might mean something to someone else, let them know. My ambition is to make a positive difference in as many lives as possible. To not only make you or them smile, but to offer hope and light to those who are living in despair and darkness.

Today and always, From My Heart to Yours, I wish you the absolute best.

Until next time…

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Let Me Sing

“If I cannot fly, let me sing.” — Stephen Sondheim

Whilst Loanne taught me how to play the piano, it was my mother who taught me how to sing.

As a small child, she would have me stand next to her and sing as she sat at the piano and played selected sheet music from The Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, John Denver, Johnny Mathis, Barry Manilow and others. I remember singing Broadway show tunes as well, such as “Memory” from Cats, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, “Somewhere” from West Side Story, and “Where Is Love?” from Oliver!

And just like Loanne taught me how to play with expression, mum taught me how to sing with expression. One day she called me into the music room. She had a Barry Manilow record with the song “Could It Be Magic” on it and instructed me to stand in the middle of the room as she went to the record player to cue it up. The song started to play as she handed me the sheet music. I had heard the song as well as other songs by Barry Manilow several times because mum always played it whilst doing chores around the house. (She also played music from Barbra Streisand, Johhny Mathis, John Denver, and so on… her obvious favourites.)

Anyway, the song started and as Barry was singing, so was I right along with him. My mum stopped the song and said, “Willy,” (my parents always called me Willy). “You can’t smile when you sing this.” “Why not?”, I asked. She told me, “Because it’s a sad song. Barry is singing about his girlfriend, Melissa, who died in a car accident. He’s sad because he can’t be with her anymore and he misses her. So don’t smile.” I learned later that that was nonsense. When “Melissa” was mentioned, it was a reference to Melissa Manchester who, at this time, is still very much alive. But mum had that story in mind and, as a gullible kid who didn’t know any better, I believed her. She had a point to make. She wanted me to learn to not only show the expression of sadness on my face, but to let it be heard with my voice as I sang the song.

I would come to learn from that moment on and with a collection of several other songs that held within them a wide variety of feelings that if the listener can’t feel what I’m expressing emotionally as I sing, I’ll lose their interest. If the song was exciting and fired up, I needed to sound exciting and fired up. If the song was sad and mournful, I needed to sound sad and mournful. If the song was happy and hopeful, I needed to sound happy and hopeful.

It’s without saying that the expressions didn’t just stop with the sound of my voice or with the look on my face. Body movement was essential as well. She taught me how to show excitement whilst singing, but to not go overboard. She taught me that though a song might be sad, I still needed to be heard. There was a difference between projecting and blaring. It was about control. The volume of my voice, the sound of my voice, the expression on my face, the movement of my body and where to move to, when and why… it was all preparation for the inevitable: Musical Theater.

I won’t bore you with all the details of every theatre production I’ve been in as there have been many. But I will share with you bits of the most memorable. Oddly enough, with the exception of one performance in 1994, they mostly took place before I was 12 years old and after I was 40.

I was 8 years old when I had the lead role in a school play. It was “Rumpelstiltskin” of which I played the leading role. I remember wearing short green shorts with a square cut pattern one the cuff of the shorts and a red felt hat on my head with a yellow feather sticking out. A picture lost long ago showed me facing the audience with my right hand on my right hip and my left arm outstretched and finger pointing at a black girl with loosely braided pig tails laying on the floor as though she were in grief.

A year later my parents learned that children were wanted for a scene or two in Puccini’s “La Boheme” which would be performed with the Portland Metropolitan Opera in Portland, Oregon. I don’t remember if there were auditions or not. My parents simply took me where I needed to go, I showed up where I needed to be, and did what I was directed to do. The scene took place outdoors and my role was that of a child selling apples out of a basket for his parent vendors. There were at least twenty of us kids performing various roles as we all sang for a scene in Act 2 where we besiege a toy peddler named Parpignol. One day two men in suits belonging to the production (I assume one was the director) saw us performing the scene during a rehearsal and chose two of us to be in another scene. A black boy and I were the ones selected to bring firewood into the artist’s studio in Act 1. After the scenes of which I was in were finished, I was to wait backstage for my parents to come pick me up and take me home. For whatever reason, they never saw me perform my scenes.

Not long after that my mother heard that auditions were taking place for a high school production of “The Sound of Music” and that children were needed to play the roles of four of the six Von Trapp kids (two of the Von Trapp kids would have already been high school age). The audition song was to be “Do-Re-Mi” of which I already knew. My mother came up with the idea of certain gestures to do during the song. For example, pointing at myself with my thumb when singing, “Me, a name I call myself,” running in place for the “Far, a long, long way to run” bit, looking like I’m sewing for “Sew, a needle pulling thread,” and pantomiming drinking tea and spreading jam on bread whilst singing, “Tea, a drink with jam and bread.” During audition, those movement went so well that not only did I get the part of Kurt, but the movements my mother came up with were implemented in the show as we sang the song.

One last tidbit I’ll share about this memory… If you remember the movie version when the theme song, “The Sound of Music” is sung by the children rather solemnly, you’ll hear the children sing, “The hills are alive,” and then Liesl singing four high notes, going down just the four notes of a simple scale. Well, one day during music rehearsal as we were learning our parts for that song, I, without even thinking and possibly just kidding about, sang those four high notes. The music director, a well-dressed lady, halted everything and, with a sense of emergence in her voice, asked, “Who sang that?!” It felt like all eyes were on me as I, red in the face with embarrassment, raised my hand and said, “I did, ma’am.” I knew for sure I was in trouble. But then she replied, saying, “Well done! We’re keeping it!” I recall a few others around me congratulating me in their own way. Just now I got goosebumps recalling that memory.

Jump ahead to 1994. I was 26 years old when I was asked to play the role of Scrooge in the musical of the same name. It was to be a regular church production of Calvary Church in Richland, Washington. I was well into my ministry years, mainly music evangelism, and everyone in the church and in the surrounding area knew I was heavily involved with ministry. If you didn’t know already, Richland is part of the Tri-Cities there in Washington, the other two cities being Kennewick and Pasco which is where I lived. So, this “Scrooge” production would reach a lot of people, especially since Calvary Church could easily seat at least up to 350 people at a time. There were serious as well as a few comedic scenes to this musical, so I studied Scrooge performances from three different sources: Albert Finney’s portrayal in “Scrooge,” Sir Reginald Owen’s portrayal in “A Christmas Carol” from 1938 (my personal favorite version of the Christmas Carol story), and Michael Caine’s portrayal in “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” For some reason, the director opted out of having an intermission which meant I was pretty much onstage for the entire two-and-a-half-hour production. I think there were a total of 8 performances which drew in very large crowds. I can’t recollect whether or not we were completely sold out, but I do believe the sanctuary was, on most nights, 80% full, if not more. It was the role of a lifetime which, although I enjoyed tremendously, exhausted me and of which I never performed again.

Well over twenty years later, I’d return to the stage in Mount Vernon, Washington to play the roles of Sir in “Side Show,” Harry in “Mamma Mia,” of which I thoroughly enjoyed for several reasons, and the role of the Narrator and Satan for an original musical production titled, “Pray the Gay Away.” Being in “Pray the Gay Away” meant the world to me because it spoke to my very soul. The gist of the story was about a teenage boy who comes to understand that he might be gay. When his parents find out about it, they send him to attend gay conversion therapy sessions with a doctor who thinks he’s a specialist. The musical written by the amazingly talented Conrad Askland has humorous moments as it should because it deals with a very serious topic, but then the show gets very realistic as the audience not only sees the rivalry between the church and the LGBTQ community, but the traumatic toll gay conversion therapy can have on teenagers.

“Pray the Gay Away” was the last production I was in. I’ve been in many theatre productions and hope to be in some again someday as I still have dream roles I’d like to perform, one being the role of Fagin in “Oliver!” But “Pray the Gay Away”… it was as if Conrad was telling my story. You see, although I’d never been through gay conversion therapy myself, I knew since I was a little boy that I was “different” than other boys my age. Growing up in a strict Christian home and being told that being a homosexual was wrong and that it was a sin… that conflicting war in my heart, mind and soul went on day after day after day for many, many years.

Did my mother make me gay? Of course not. My mother made me a singer. God made me gay. Who knows… maybe, in a certain way, God used Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis and Barry Manilow as tools in my mother’s hands at just the right time to help nudge me in the direction of what would become a whirlwind of a life full of awakening, wonder, delight, fear, shame, rejection, and eventually bravery, pride, and, most importantly, sheer fabulousness and brilliance which would affect the lives, hearts, and souls of countless people who have come in and out of my life thus far.

Thanks, mum. And thank you, Heavenly Father. Cheers to ya both!

My 50 Year Journey As A Pianist: Part 2.

Piano lessons were over. And that sucked because at age 11 I had already been playing piano for most of my life. By now, other boys my age played sports, were boy scouts, were hanging out with their friends at the playground or roller skate rink. Me, I was at home.

Not going to piano lessons anymore… that was a huge chunk taken out of my regular routine. No more piano lessons meant no more practicing the piano. There was a void and no one told me how to fill it. My parents didn’t say, “Do this instead.” I was bored. I didn’t have a lot of toys to play with. I remember having Matchbox cars and two action figures: G.I. Joe and Stretch Armstrong. Why they didn’t have certain anatomical parts like me when I took their pants off confused me. I mean, how were the two supposed to…

Never mind. I’ll save that for another day.

Anyway, Matchbox cars, G.I. Joe and Stretch Armstrong… what? Was I supposed to play with them for longer periods of time to fill the gap of my no longer playing the piano? Hell no. Playing the piano was joy for me! It was the way I could express feelings that, up to now, I didn’t know needed to be released. The only way I knew how to express myself was through playing the piano. Taking that away from me was problematic because I didn’t know how else to let my feelings and emotions show. I had developed a skill that I had spent eight years developing.

Some parents have their kids playing sports at age 3. After sticking with it and being devoted to it for several years, those kids have the potential of growing up to become incredible athletes. Me, I was a pianist. I, too, stuck with it and was devoted to it for several years. Would I grow up to become incredible? Maybe. Maybe not like kids my age eventually becoming famous athletes. But the similarity between those kids and me was obvious: We had passion for what we did. We didn’t want to stop. We didn’t want to stop because we loved what we were doing. Even if progressing became impossible because of unforeseen circumstances that seemed to be out of our control simply because we were kids, still… we charged on ahead and there was no telling us to stop.

Taking piano lessons had stopped. And I hated that. From time to time, I would still go to the piano and play sheet music that had been attained through the years. Whether they were purchased for me or for my mother, I was playing them. She had music of popular songs heard on the radio from Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Carole King, John Denver and so on. Me, I had the classics: Schubert, Chopin, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Beethoven and the like. Playing these songs taught me how to emit feeling into the notes being played, whether with vigorous fire or with heartfelt sentiment. It was all in how I played the keys. When I wasn’t hitting the keys with my fingers aggressively, I was touching them delicately as though I was touching the pedal of a rose, not wanting to bruise it. I recall Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and “Moonlight Sonata” being fovourites of mine. Both songs expressed both feelings and I was good at playing them.

Often times I would stray away from the classics and play selections my mother had, including “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller. Playing classical music meant playing with expression. But when playing secular music – sheet music of my mother’s – expression was important there as well. There weren’t words to the classical music I was playing. Of course not. That’s why paying attention to detail and to the theory of the music was extremely important. But that doesn’t mean secular music shouldn’t have the same expression.

At 11 years old, I learned this. And it changed everything.

Within a year of my last piano lesson, I had grown tired of playing my mother’s music and my classical music over and over and over again. During that time, two things happened: Unfortunately, my sightreading skills had plateaued. Today, if I were at the piano and someone were to place music in front of me, I should be able to play the music either perfectly or with only a few mistakes. No. I’d be learning how to play the treble clef of the first page with a whole lot of head bobbing going on… up, down, up, down, up, down, do I have the right fingers on the right keys. Great! Now the bass clef. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to play both hands at the same time with less than ten mistakes, depending on the piece of music. Really, that shouldn’t have been the case. It’s all about practicing, right? But my mother wasn’t pushing me to practice like she had when I was taking lessons. So what happened was this: I taught myself how to play by ear.

From age 12 and well into my teen years I was paying attention to songs radio stations were playing. Even though my parents would have preferred my sticking to the classics, I had emerged from there and I had newfound favourites: Elton John, Billy Joel, Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, REO Speedwagon, Cyndi Lauper, Foreigner, Madonna, Tina Turner, and Survivor just to name a few. Back then I had one of those portable stereos or “boom boxes” that consisted of both an AM/FM radio and a cassette recorder. I also had 60 and 90 minute blank cassette tapes. Whenever I heard a song that I really liked being played on the radio, I would quickly hit the record button on the tape deck and record the song until it was completed. After filling the tape up with favourites, I would play the song from the tape and, at the same time with my right hand, play the melody line or singing part with my right hand whilst the song was being played. After doing that a few times, I would play the fill-ins or the bass line with my left hand. At the beginning, this usually consisted of me playing octaves. Everything else was filler with both hands as close I as could get to the original track.

So, although one ability became stagnant, another ability was born. Decades later, that ability tied into the ability to play with expression helped me become the pianist I am today.

I hate the fact that I don’t read music as well I should. But that’s okay because learning never stops even though the lessons do. Ever since that last lesson, not only had I taught myself how to play by ear, but I taught myself how to read chords and even write music of my own.

Much of my piano playing and singing took place in churches. (My mother taught me how to sing around the time I started playing the piano; I’ll get into that another time.) Throughout my life I’ve played for countless church services, crusades, revivals, camp meetings, camps, and the like. When I was 16, I had written my very first song, “Where Have All the Children Gone” which was a sad song about children being neglected by families. I’m not sure why such an ominous song had to be my first, but after playing and singing it in front of my peers one night during a youth group service, all of a sudden, I was thought of differently. The youth pastor as well as others in the church saw something in me that I hadn’t seen: A gift. As a teenager, I was simply doing what I knew how to do. I played the piano and I sang. Sometimes I’d write a song. I looked at it as a hobby. But, since then, I’ve learned that it was always much more than that.

Learning how to play by ear became valuable to the church, especially when I was on the worship team and even more so when a visiting pastor would come preach, and, in the middle of his message, feel a song stirring that he’d start singing. That’s when I’d be “cued” to going to the piano and start playing the piano, plucking a few notes and chords as the pastor sung his song. Granted, more times than naught I hadn’t heard the song before, but that was okay. Two or three times into it, I had it down.

Yes, I’ve done a lot with piano playing and singing for over fifty years now. I’ve played for various functions and gatherings, for weddings and funerals, I even recorded a couple of independent records and have had a couple of original songs played on independent radio stations. But I was never limited to just the church. I’ve also played and sang at bars, fireside rooms, and even at senior citizen homes during their supper times.

There was a time when I, in my late thirties, was the music director for a couple of musical productions for a children’s school, one of which was “The Wizard of Oz.” The entire musical score was given to me, but did I play it? Of course not! I mean, hello! It was the “Wizard of Oz”! (I’ll share that story for another day, too.)

There have also been times when I would simply sit at the piano and just play. No music in front of me. Nothing rehearsed. I would just sit myself down, take a few breaths, figure out what key I’d play in, and then let my heart be expressed through my fingers. My soul bared for the listening ears. I call it “Off the Cuff” because that’s exactly what it was: Me creating music as I played. And that which I played could never be duplicated.

Of all the concerts I’ve performed, performing an “Off the Cuff” concert was always my fovourite because it would never be the same concert twice. In fact, many times I’d see a few of the same faces at those concerts because they knew they wouldn’t be hearing the same songs. That’s what made it them so special.

Today, I still play the piano and I still sing. I still play “Off the Cuff” and I still compose and write lyrics for my own music. From time to time, I play for church services and for special occasions. Do I regret not being able to sightread music like I used to? Not really, because it helped shaped me into becoming the gifted pianist, singer, and song writer that I am today.

That’s right. I said, “gifted.” Because being a pianist and singer is a huge part of who I am. And I will always be grateful for that.

My 50 Year Journey As A Pianist: Part One.

It was during the spring of 1971 that I started playing piano. Or maybe it was during the fall. Even now I scratch the top of my head as I ponder which season it might have been. One can’t really blame me for not remembering which season it was. All I know is it was late afternoon and the sun was out as I stood with my mother on the covered porch of my godparent’s enormous home located in the west side of Portland, Oregon. I was three years old.

My grandmother on my mother’s side played several instruments including saxophone, trombone, the accordion, organ and piano. My mother would, of course, follow in her footsteps a bit by learning how to play the piano, organ, and accordion. As for me, it was the piano that ended up becoming my passion. Eventually, both my mum and grandmother tried to get me to learn how to play the organ and accordion, but that was too much work for me. Getting your left hand to be on this keyboard whilst your right hand was on that keyboard, your shoeless feet to be down there pushing on keys of yet another keyboard, pulling this knob, pushing that knob, and don’t forget the crescendo pedal! Oi, I’m getting frantic and working up a sweat just thinking about it! I dabbled with the accordion in my early thirties, but that interest lasted about five minutes. And accordions are so heavy! Therefore, it was to be the piano and only the piano.

How Don and Loanne became my godparents is beyond me. All I know is they were a couple from church that my parents became good friends with. Loanne would become my piano teacher and Don would, in time, be my mother’s more advanced instructor for the sake of learning theory and composition as Don was a professor of music at a local college.

I do believe my lessons were once a week, either on Tuesday afternoons or Thursday afternoons, depending on the season. My mother would drive me to and from or my father would, depending on who was more available. I remember the journey was a long one, especially during the time my parents and I lived just outside Vancouver, Washington. Still, my parents were faithful in getting me to rehearsals on time and I was, in turn, faithful at rehearsing at the piano for anywhere between half an hour to an hour four to five days a week.

I practiced on a very old upright piano. The model of the piano was a Clarendon made out of Chicago, Illinois. I remember the white keys were made out of real ivory because two pieces of plated ivory were on each of them, some edges chipped from wear.

For eight years I would be taking lessons from my godmother. I was classically trained. During the hour-long piano lesson, whichever parent brought me would wait in the living room which set across from the welcoming area just past the front door. The room immediately to the right of the front door as you stepped in was the music room. It was lavish and elegant, the black grand piano placed in front of the bay windows.

Twice a year Loanne would hold recitals for her students and each recital, to me, as a young lad, were grand events indeed. The recitals took place in the early evening. Several chairs were set in rows to accommodate the students and their families. Each student would play one or two pieces, depending on the age of the student. At a few recitals, Don and Loanne’s teenage son, Nicholas, would be the last student to play. When the recitals were over, everyone would gather to the dining room just down the hall. Atop the satin and lace clad long dining table was the most incredible spread of desserts, snacks, pastries and candies amongst lit white candlesticks placed in two silver candelabras. Being a child with the usual cravings, I set out to make sure my cravings were satisfied. My parents, however, were set out to make sure not all of my cravings were satisfied at once.

Ah, eight years of that, with the summers off for obvious reasons. During that eighth year when I was eleven years old, something happened that brought about the end of my piano lessons. An appointment was made for me by either Loanne, my mother, or both. My parents drove me, on a particular evening, to a particular place on the west side of Portland — a certain advanced, posh school or college, I think. There, I was to play a piece selected by Loanne in front of an absolute stranger in a very large and mostly empty room. The stranger was a man. A specialist, I assume, or perhaps he who would most likely become my next piano instructor. It seemed Loanne and my mother hoped so, anyway.

Looking back, no one told me this was going to happen. No one said, “Willy,” (derived from William, my middle name, Willy was my nickname everyone called me whether I liked it or not), “next week you’re going to have an audition that will determine your fate as a pianist.” Nobody said that. Not Lianne, not my mother, nobody.

Did Loanne believe she taught me all she could? Was this to be Phase 2 of my piano tutelage? All I remember was that I was very nervous and didn’t play well in front of him whatsoever. I fumbled quite a bit and was embarrassed. At the end of this appointment, at eleven years old, I learned for the first time what it felt like to be a failure.

The long drive home late that evening was a quiet one. The end result was that I was to never have another piano lesson from that moment on, whether from Loanne or even my mother. I was told piano lessons were getting to be too expensive. Back then, I believed that. But today, deep down, I believe there was something more to it than just that. There had to have been. If there was another reason or maybe a few reasons why I never took piano lessons again, I’ll never know. What I do know is this… I didn’t want to stop playing the piano!

God plugged His ears.

To say music ran on my father’s side of the family would be incredibly inaccurate. Music flowed majestically through my mother’s side of the family. That is for certain (you’ll learn of that later). But music flowed through my father’s blood about as easily as mushroom gravy flowed from its pitcher held six inches from the mashed potatoes: It hits the target, but it’s a bit messy and all over the place. Yes. That would be more accurate indeed.

Don’t get me wrong. He could sing. Sort of. Most of the notes he bellowed were spot on. The other notes, not so much. Looking back, I don’t think there was one time when dad sang softly. Even in church.

My parents were devoted Christians. I think my mother was pregnant with me when she and my father sang in the choir at one or two Billy Graham crusades. Growing up, I recall the three of us attending church almost every Sunday.

Ah, the drives to church on Sunday mornings. Da always drove, mum always sat in the passenger seat across from him, and I always sat in the back. Unfortunately, the only drives to church on Sunday mornings that I remember were the ones when mum would get out her white, fine linen handkerchief, lick the wadded center portion of it, and then turn around and wipe the corners of my mouth and cheeks. Yuck! God, I hated that! Going to church smelling like my mother’s spit was never part of my plan!

Anyway, I digress. This particular recollection took place on a Sunday morning at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon in the mid 70s. I was at least 8 or 9 years old at the time.

My father and his… “singing.” During a congregational singing of a hymn at the close of the service, I remember the organist started off playing boisterously and triumphantly as though ushering in Christ’s return, but then quieted just in time as those in attendance sang the familiar verses. I would later learn that that was an act of perfection and mastery for an organ player. Within moments, however, what started out as and what should have been a beautiful close of a service became a memory of which I will never forget. Unfortunately.

For whatever reason, my father, evidently forgetting that he was not singing in a choir at a Billy Graham crusade, sang so loudly over other congregants that a few heads turned including that of my mother’s. The looks on their faces… some smiled as if they were thinking, “Oh! Listen to how much he loves Jesus!” But some weren’t smiling at all as if they were thinking, “Oh! Must he love Jesus that much?”

As for me, I was easily embarrassed, to say the least. I knew I was because I could feel the heat all over my face as one would feel when turning red. When the hymn was over (which I was extremely thankful for), I looked up at him and he looked back at me with a beaming smile of pride on his face. But that smile slowly disappeared as he looked at mum. The scowl on her face said it all. He asked, “What’s wrong?” “Making a joyful noise unto the Lord is one thing, dear,” she replied. “But that noise coming from you just then… I think even God plugged His ears.”

He never sang that loudly again, with the exception of every Easter and every Christmas. But, then again, so did many others, including myself. And I wasn’t embarrassed by that at all. (Probably because I was a much better singer. Thanks, mum.)

Let’s start from the very beginning.

A very good place to start.  Sound familiar?  Picture Maria (Julie Andrews) seated on a grassy hill playing her guitar and singing in front of seven mischievous children dressed in bits of drapes.  A scene from one of my most favorite musicals, “The Sound of Music.” Even now I can hear her guitar plucking two notes, each an octave apart as her silky, smooth voice sings, “Let’s start from the very beginning.  A very good place to start.”  Yes, yes.  You know the one.

And that’s where I’ll begin.  The day I was born. 

But before I go any further, I must make it clear that the glimpses into my life that I intend to share weekly will not be in chronological order.  After all I certainly don’t remember what happened to me when I was six months old, a year old, or even three years old.  In fact, I can, at this very moment, recall only one or two memories I’ve had before the age of five.  Therefore, that which I share regularly will be glimpses of my life from different times of my, at this moment, fifty plus years.  But for now, the day I was born.  A very good place to start. Indeed.

2 May, 1968. Did you notice it? The date. I’m not sure why Americans put the month before the day when the entire planet goes through a day before going through a month. But, as much as possible or as the instance should arise, I will always put the day before the month in my posts. Anyway, I digress. I’m not sure how my parents knew of my sex before I was born, but before my birth my name was supposed to have been William Clarence Wash in honour of my father’s father who died when he was the age of 9. His name was William. But a month before I was born, my mother’s father, Clarence, died. So that’s how my name came about: Clarence William Wash. That being said, I was named after both of my grandfathers who died before I was born.

I was born on a Thursday. Several years later, well into my teen years, I would learn that I was born with, as I understood it to be, Highland Membrane Syndrome. It is a breathing disorder in newborns caused by immature lungs. What I learned later is that it was called Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome or, in my case, NRDS (no, it’s not a cute assumption that I’d grow to become a NERD). NRDS (Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome) is more common in premature infants born six weeks or more before their due dates. I guess that means I was born a preemie.

NRDS is rare. Today, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are fewer than 200,000 cases per year (I assume that number is based on national data). But in 1968, the cases were even more rare. A case of HMD (Hyaline Membrane Disease which was the actual name instead of, as my younger years heard, highland membrane syndrome) was so incredibly rare and untreatable that not even the doctor or doctors of former President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, could do anything about back in 1963 when their son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy died from it only 2 days after his birth.

When I was born, I was told that the doctors gave my mum and da the worst news expecting parents could ever receive: “Your child has only an hour to live.”

It is now that I should tell you that the Christian religion runs very deep with my family. As I recall, growing up, it seemed deeper than the Grand Canyon. But I’ll save that for another day. I’m not sure how far the Christian religion runs with my da’s side of the family, but for my mum’s side, I know full well that her mum and da were extremely loyal when it came to their relationships with Jesus Christ. Grandpa Clarence was a school music teacher and his wife, my grandmother, Violet, was a stay-at-home wife. I don’t know if it was a sheer case of boredom or passion or vision or what (maybe a combination of all of the above), but there were many, many occasions that Violet boldly broadened her wings and decided to let her voice be heard by way of becoming a Christian evangelist.

Violet had many talents. She played the piano, the organ, the accordion, and even a saxophone. And when she wasn’t preaching and making his demons run (oh yes, though I obviously wasn’t on the scene at that time, that’s a story to that for another day), she was singing songs of praise from within the depths of her heart and soul. Her travels as a Christian evangelist which started in the early 30s (an act of extreme bravery at that time for a woman, beings that, according to the traditional Christian beliefs, women were to be silent) were quite extensive and had her ministering at several church services and for several crusades and revivals that sometimes her travels required hours of driving time throughout the land. Back in the day, funds for such activity were so extremely scarce that that which didn’t cover for gas or lodgings, the attending church would provide even if it meant staying the night at the home of the hosting church pastor or the home of one of his parishioners.

Anyway, the doctor’s spoke of my rare disease to my parents. I’d like to think that Violet was in the room during that revelation, but I don’t know that for certain. What I do know is that I was told my grandmother prayed. The parishioners of her church prayed. My father prayed. And my mum prayed.

What I am about to tell you is that which I was told by my mum herself and that which I will always remember. Upon hearing the news that I had only an hour to live at the most, my mum prayed, “God, let my son live and I will dedicate him to your service.” Honest. That is word for word.

I don’t know if you believe in prayer or in Jesus or in God or in Christianity. I don’t know if you believe in any religion. And that’s fine. Today, I honestly can’t blame you if you don’t. Maybe you think my existence today is based on fate or perhaps science. Maybe the odds were in my favour. Maybe I got the lucky roll of the dice. Maybe countless hours of research within the time span of Patrick’s death and my birth were so successful that such a tragedy wouldn’t be as likely to happen again. As for me, I like to think of it as a miracle.

What I do know is this: I’m alive. Whether God answered prayer or the research of doctors and scientists prevailed, I’m here. I am alive and well.

And this is where my life began.