Thursday, January 7, 2016
God moves in mysterious ways, it is said. And God knows that I'm not a big fan of surprises, but that doesn't stop Him from messing with me from time to time. God knows when I need a messing with. A sharp elbow in the side.
I was doing some cleaning up and cleaning out, and, believe me, that's a rare thing for me, when I ran across something that I wrote on August 3, 2010. I know the date from the content, just as I know I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas when I wrote it because it was scribbled on stationery from the Inn at Carnall Hall, the hotel that sits at the University of Arkansas. (Pig, Sooie, y'all.)
Here's what it said:
The text message read: "Bobby Hebb died today in Nashville." It was from my wife and it took me a minute to recall who Bobby Hebb was. Then I remembered. He was the "Sunny" writer and singer, the son of blind musicians and from my home state of Tennessee. What a song! And I was instantly transported back to 1966, a 17 year old in the passenger seat of a 1959 gold Cadillac, squinting into the early morning southern California sun assaulting the windshield. I know the skies are a blue that is ubiquitous to that part of the country just as the Pall Mall being balanced between an index finger and middle finger is ubiquitous to my dad's hand. The right hand that sits atop the steering wheel, guiding us to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino. Our jobs await, my dad's permanent and my temporary, filling the gap between high school and my first year of college. KHJ out of Los Angeles was tuned on the radio. Probably the Real Don Steele spinning the wax.
"Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain.
Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain."
I spent three months that summer of '66 copying, over and over, a blueprint of something. I don't remember what design I labored over, the job being less important than was having a purpose in one of the most difficult transitions of life. That shaky suspension bridge between high school and real school. My employers thought they were prepping a future engineer while in reality they were boring a future English Lit major.
But, in those uncertain, awkward times, Mr. Bobby Hebb made things a little easier, a little less trepidatious. A little more copacetic.
"The dark days are gone, and the bright days are here,
My Sunny one shines so sincere,
Sunny one so true, I love you."
There was war and rumors of war in Southeast Asia, and the British rock community had slipped in while Paul Revere slept. It wasn't by land or by sea, actually. They arrived by jetliner. In droves. In fact, old Paul gathered up a bunch of chaps and called them the Raiders and bolstered the invasion by one more Beatle wannabe band.
Maybe every 17 year old boy believed in those days that everything was on the brink, but I was pretty certain we had reached what we would one day call the tipping point.
"Sunny, thank you for the truth you let me see,
Sunny, thank you for the facts from A to Z."
But, singlehandedly, Bobby Hebb wrote a prescription to treat the angst of hormonal disharmony, long before the pharmaceutical companies manufactured dozens of smart pills to combat stress and anxiety. Because in "Sunny," we found the perfect woman, a combination of mother, lover, and friend. In "Sunny," we found optimism of a color that blended perfectly with the yellow southern California sun, the icy blue of the southern California sky, and the kaleidoscope of teenage existence.
We found hope.
"You're the spark of nature's fire, you're my sweet complete desire,
Sunny one so true, I love you."
Little did I know at the time that Sunny was written just hours following a surreal time for this nation as well as a double whammy of heartbreak for Bobby Hebb. It was November 22, 1963. A few hours after Lee Harvey Oswald snuffed the light of John F. Kennedy, someone stabbed Bobby Hebb's brother to death outside a nightclub in Nashville, Tennessee. It was from the deepest of darkness that "Sunny" was born.
So thank you, Bobby Hebb. Your desire to see a silver lining in your darkest days brought light hearts and smiles to a generation of young people preparing to enter the fray of adulthood. Thank you for an anthem accompanying a generation marching into a different kind of war, a war euphemized to a conflict. Thank you for a feel-good song in an act-bad world.
And most of all, thank you for the lesson that rain soaks us only as long as we are dumb enough to stand in it. You truly did, Mr. Hebb, "ease the pain." I hope and pray yours was eased as well. Rest in peace, Bobby.
I needed to find that little scrap of writing today. I was glad that I misplaced it over five years ago. There have been many changes in my life during those five years, including another shaky suspension bridge, this one between professional life and retirement. I also lost my mother and my brother. And my wife and I are facing the dilemma of aging, ailing pets, all of them hitting the ten and twelve year mark at the same time. It's overcast today with a still, cold pallor over everything. Winter glowers with leafless trees, brown grass, and a chill in the air.
But guess what? Twenty seconds to download "Sunny" and for three and a half minutes I'm back in the passenger seat of that gold Cadillac, the smoke from Dad's Pall Mall getting sucked out of his open window, to disappear like the ghost of troubles past in the rearview mirror. His Old Spice tickles my nose as my sunburned hand reaches over to turn the radio up just a little more. Bobby is thanking Sunny for "the gleam that shows its grace."
Dad smiles, and, when I lean back, through the spotless windshield there's nothing but excitement and hope. Blue skies diffused by bright yellow rays. Check that out, young man, that's the future that sits down the road, just over that hill and around that curve. That's your future. And a future, then as now, that is best left to God.
My gleaming, gracious God of surprises. My God with the sharp elbows.