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Wednesday, 05 February 2014

Pete Seeger - Thanks for the Memories

By Joyce Benedict

Years ago I used to listen to seniors' conversations and oft heard the following: “It gets increasingly harder to remember where my glasses are or what I had for lunch yesterday but I find memories of the distant past surfacing more and more.”

I am that senior now and experiencing the same. The death of Pete Seeger, learned yesterday, opened a can of memories and worms. I admired his activism. With singing simple songs on his banjo, lives were changed, the Hudson River was cleaned up, thousands awakened to positive actions and that we are stewards for the Earth.

I was reminded of my own dreams to be a singer. Not just to be a performer and make money but like Eleanor Roosevelt, we shared the same zodiac sign, Libra, we wanted to sing to bring happiness to others.

Unfortunately, Eleanor had no singing voice and my dream was channeled by what my mother oft exclaimed was ”the fickle-finger of fate.”

I sang in choral groups during high school and college followed by membership in community choruses. I could not bring myself to try out for solo work. I had discovered I was crippled with a great shyness, reserve and fear.

I had polio in right arm as a child. I didn’t want to do anything to draw attention to me. I buried my dream of singing happy songs.

The great tsunami of life takes over, doesn’t it? I was like a canoe that struggles to stay afloat while the strength of the water’s twists and turns carries one along out of control.

Marriages, children, raising kids alone, a deep love with an alcoholic which ended badly followed. In a blink, it has seemed, the senior years rolled in like a heavy fog.

Working to survive on my own took precedence. Was it destiny? My low self-esteem? That “fickle-finger of fate?”

At age 53, still grieving the loss of the man I loved deeply, I knew finally I had to do something for myself. I joined a theater group in the town I lived. At first I did the publicity.

Auditions were announced for The King And I. I always loved that music. Where the courage came from I do not know, but I tried out. I got the part of Lady Thiang and received very good reviews for my performance of the beautiful Asian woman.

Finally, a long hidden dream had come true. Later, I sang in a small chorus of Carousel. Had a crystal ball revealed in earlier years I was to do this, I would never have dreamed it possible.

I went on to sing solos in church. As I continued to recover from the loss of “the great love of my life,” I was encouraged to send in a piece I had written on how I began a rewarding career as an astrologer. It was accepted.

I wrote other pieces that eventually went into a newspaper, a few magazines. Again, had a crystal ball reading in college told this was to occur, I would have thought the person “out of her mind.”

In later years years I wrote about the struggles of living with the alcoholic - the deep belief I could heal, help if only I loved enough. Sadly, this was not to be. It was years learning about addiction, the depths of the human condition, the power of the human spirit. I began to recover. Sadly, he never did.

Now, how did Peter Seeger bring me to this? Listening to the eulogies, I realized how powerful words set to music are. People recall Bob Dylan’s, Joan Baez's, Peter, Paul and Mary’s songs far more than the words of writers of anytime though some writers might debate this.

I had dreamed of being a singer to impact people’s lives as Pete Seeger, as did the others. I came to realize my own personal growth has been more than I could ever have imagined. I know now the songs I had sung had touched lives too, though in a smaller way.

We simply never know what is around the corner or what is “written in the stars.” We must never give up our dreams. Never stop trying to discover the many gifts we are born with.

A Native American asserted once, “If only human beings realized how spiritually powerful they were and what one person with a good heart can do in the world.”

Pete Seeger was one of these.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Thanks for the memories of Pete Seeger....and your own life story.

I am thankful to Pete for reviving and saving a lot of old timey folk and blues music. He helped bring people like Mississippi John Hurt, Leadbelly, and others to younger audiences.

Excellent post. Thanks for reminding me of the promise and hope Pete Seeger gave us with his simple songs on his banjo. Can relate to your story. In my case, I was the alcoholic I was trying to save and who kept me back from achieving my dream to be a writer.

Yes, the lyrics from those artists (and I believe Dylan will be recognized as the great poet of the 20th century) and the emotions (and much, much more) they elicited speaks for a whole generation who came of age in the 60s. Thanks for a good read, and good, for you, for surviving, for thriving.


I loved Pete Seeger,too and I loved your story....

Pete profoundly touched the lives and hearts of so many people, all across the world.
We knew we couldn't keep him forever, but it was still a great sadness to let him go. Almost everyone I know in the Hudson Valley has some little personal anecdote to tell about Pete, because, despite his late-and-hard-won fame, he was always approachable.

Thanks for writing about him, and for your interesting story.

I think I read this in Reader's Digest. It was a story about Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie getting ready to do a concert together. Pete turned to Arlo and said, "My voice ain't what it used to be." Arlo replied, "Don't worry. Neither is their hearing."

I love this. All of us getting older and still doing what we love, singers and listeners alike.

Joyce, A great story,and I liked Pete Seeger also.He was a great person with the biggest heart.Loved all his songs and they truly did touch the heart.Thanks for writing about him,A friend Verna

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