Leroy's death was pretty traumatic to all of us who were involved with him. What's fascinating is just how large a number that was. Leroy had touched literally thousands of people during his life. He was one of those incredible, rare people who really was close friends with thousands of people. Each individual became his personal project, to be loved on, corrected when necessary, doted upon, supported. Each one of us had an individual relationship with him.
This weekend, we all came together in San Antonio to celebrate his life. Leroy was cremated and has already been interred in First Presbyterian Church's columbarium, so this was literally the Celebration.
Many of us arrived Friday night and went to Mi Tierra's (Leroy's favourite Mexican restaurant in a town full of them.) Leroy loved him some Mi Tierra's. How he maintained his slender shape I'll never understand; the only explanation is the incredible amount of energy he had. He never sat still, he was always DOING something.
The pictures are on my facebook page and can be found in my Picasa albums here.
It's funny---when you really are truly close friends with people, you can go 35 years without seeing each other and pick up your conversations with the very words you left them off with (I know, grammar; sue me). That was certainly the story at Mi Tierra's as we all hugged, cried, told funny stories, laughed ourselves sick, ate ourselves sicker, and wound up (ONCE AGAIN! SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE!) getting kicked out of the restaurant for (a) being too loud (b) taking their tables for too long and (c) being general nuisances. I can proudly state that we have been kicked out of restaurants literally worldwide for these same offenses---we were just much younger.
I stayed with my lifelong friends the McCarty's, and can report that the couch sleeps as well now as it did when I was 16.
This morning, Robert and I picked up our old buddy Keith at the airport, ate lunch at EZ's (San Antonio institution), and headed down to First Pres.
I should probably explain that we all met in Leroy's youth choir, the Mainstream. There were other groups, the Majority and The Sound Foundation, but we were ALL in the Mainstream. We had 125 people in a church youth choir!
When we arrived at First Pres, there was a movement afoot for us to sing two of the songs Leroy wrote (well, wrote one and arranged one). Many of us were -very- apprehensive about this, having not sung together for 35 years and some having not sung SINCE we last sang together (I was in church choirs for 25 years). We were to sing at the reception (maybe). Rehearsal was, um, -GULP-.
On to the Celebration.
Simply, it was the best "funeral" I've ever attended. The music (carefully selected and planned by Leroy himself) was flawless, executed flawlessly. The speakers had many interesting things to say; one made a particularly good point: many ministers of music/choir directors/church musicians are in it for the beauty of the music, or the aggrandizement of themselves. Leroy was a MINISTER who USED music as the medium to touch other people's lives. The fact that he demanded excellence and gave excellence himself was a by-product.
We were touched when Mike Fanning (son of our old Pastor, Buckner Fanning)(Mike is our contemporary; knowing what I know about some of his dates, his Baylor experience, and some of the things we did while there, it's hard to think of him as DR. Michael B. Fanning, pastor of his own church now and well-known middle-east expert, fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and respected member of the community). In any event, we were especially touched when Mike gave his portion, stating that he stood there representing not only his father (who had emergency eye surgery yesterday or he'd have been the one standing there), but also US, Leroy's "kids".
We know Leroy loved all the choirs he had, and all the kids he taught---but we also know he loved us BEST (a la Tommy Smothers). Actually, Edy told me one time that that was literally true, that we were his favourites. Maybe she was just being nice...
Anyway, the Celebration was just that, a Celebration of his life. We laughed some more, cried some more. It was hard to get through "It is Well With My Soul" due to choking. The final congregational act: we stood, faced the choir (in the loft at the rear of the church) and sang (resoundingly) the Hallelujah Chorus, with brass and strings.
After the last Hallelujah, the family left and we stood to leave. The brass started up again. Leroy spent a signficant part of his life in New Orleans. We were delighted when the brass started up with "Just a closer walk with thee". I wish I'd a white handkerchief, I'd have waved it.
On to the reception. The string quartet played tastefully; there was a tremendous spread of food/snacks (all fattening and carby), and literally thousands of people. We all visited and enjoyed---until the quartet quit and packed up to leave. This was the big moment.
Amazingly, as soon as we formed up, and Lee Hinson (our ol buddy Lee, who married his sweetheart Jan James; who is now DR. G. Lee Hinson, Chairman of the Music Department of Oklahoma Baptist University) raised his baton, and the pianist hit the first notes---amazingly, amazingly, we immediately were transported 35 years back in time. It was as if we had had one of Leroy's legendary practices the day before. We were a bit worried about how Edy, Melody, and Gina would take it---till I looked over and saw them, and they were obviously delighted. When we stopped, there was a thunderous round of applause and the three Yarbrough ladies rushed over and started hugging us. So there was that.
Tonight, we went to the Barn Door, a well-known steak place here. Buckner, Martha, Edy, Melody, and Gina joined us and it was magical. Once again we told stories, some funny, some serious; we sang (again, at the request of the Fannings, who weren't able to be at the Celebration due to Buckner's eye condition), we laughed, we cried, we held hands and sang Amazing Grace.
None of us were really close to our High School crowd. Oh, we had friends at school, but our real friends were at church. We couldn't wait for the weekend so we could see all our friends again.
You know, lightning never strikes twice, but for one more weekend we felt it.
We didn't realize this growing up, but we had a MAGICAL experience. We thought this was "just how it was" (if we thought about it at all). We never knew this would be a truly magical, once-in-a-lifetime, wonderful time. We had no idea then (really) how much we loved each other.
We have realized that now. We all just wish it hadn't taken us 35 years and a death in the family to bring us all back together.
We were blessed.
It's true! It's true! The crown has made it clear. The climate must be perfect all the year.
A law was made a distant moon ago here: July and August cannot be too hot. And there's a legal limit to the snow here In Camelot. The winter is forbidden till December And exits March the second on the dot. By order, summer lingers through September In Camelot. Camelot! Camelot! I know it sounds a bit bizarre, But in Camelot, Camelot That's how conditions are. The rain may never fall till after sundown. By eight, the morning fog must disappear. In short, there's simply not A more congenial spot For happily-ever-aftering than here In Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot! I know it gives a person pause, But in Camelot, Camelot Those are the legal laws. The snow may never slush upon the hillside. By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear. In short, there's simply not A more congenial spot For happily-ever-aftering than here In Camelot.