Hearing voices

By Chuck Sigars | Jun 13, 2012

A piece of dried pasta flipped out of the boiling water, really an elegant flip, high in the air, reminding me that the Summer Olympics are coming. It stuck the landing, too, only the tiniest bounce when it hit the kitchen floor, this penne that dared to dream.

That’s what I was thinking, anyway. What my body was doing, though, was twitching, trying to decide whether to kick the noodle under the refrigerator, where it would bother nobody, or pick it up quickly before the dog ate it.

This was muscle memory, or something else involuntary. Just an old habit. We haven’t had a dog in this house since September, when we said goodbye to our 14-year-old Sheltie, but this is what we do. We take our time processing loss, and so we twitch before we remember.

For months after my father died in 2003, I twitched big time. Saturday nights, I would find myself reaching for the phone on my desk, wanting to call, knowing I couldn’t. Saturday nights were when we talked, mostly, my dad and I, sometimes long and rambling conversations, sometimes short and not sweet, depending on his mood.

But that was a long time ago. I don’t have a phone anymore, not one in the 2003 sense, one with a cradle and buttons to push. I don’t even have a desk, not really. The world has changed in tiny ways since my father left it, almost invisible ways until I stop to think.

We can Skype now, and text, stream movies and watch our television shows whenever we like. My father probably would have sneered at most of this, at high-definition TV and 4G phones, and I can hear these conversations in my head.

I can also hear the ice tinkling in his glass of Scotch, and the inhalation of his umpteenth cigarette of the day, but mostly I hear his voice.

I miss my father, of course, but particularly his voice. In fact, I miss the sound of men’s voices in general, not because I’ve been lodged in a convent but just the facts of life. I talk less these days, communicate more with little taps on my phone and keyboard, efficient and economic and completely sterile.

Information gets exchanged without music, without interludes of breath and misdirection. I should talk more, I think, but what I really mean is I should listen, and I find myself longing for the lower registers, the timbre and color of men’s voices.

Tenors or baritones, scratchy and broken, producing harmonics, overtones rumbling of years and weariness. I love to listen to men talk.

It was pleasure, then, to spend a few hours with Clark Clothern recently, just listening. Rev. Cothern, who lives now in Michigan, is a prolific writer, the author of several books that have been anthologized multiple times, and he recently released an audio book of his 1998 “At The Heart of Every Great Father,” just in time for Father’s Day.

I’ve known my share of ministers over the years. Men and women, they cover the spectrum of theology, ranging from passionately liberal to deeply conservative, but it’s what they share that interests me the most.

They are easily caricatured and stereotyped, but they’ve taken on the job, mostly coming with long hours and low pay, of nurturing the spiritual side of their flocks, and in doing this they often become society’s storytellers.

This certainly applies to Clark Cothern, and so now we will have some full disclosure: In one of his other books, “Detours,” the first chapter relates an incident from Clark’s days as a high school thespian, when during a production of “The Wizard of Oz” the boy playing the Tin Man injured his back by falling while wearing his heavy costume.

Clark, still dressed as the Scarecrow, loaded his tin friend into his pickup and rushed him to the emergency room, silver makeup and all. It’s a funny story.

And if you’re wondering how some 16-year-old could be klutzy enough to fall over while wearing sheet metal, well. You’ve probably figured out, then, that it was me.

So this was personal, and a pleasure. My old friend tells stories with depth, with poignancy and tremendous wit, personal anecdotes gleaned from a lifetime of listening and observing, in this case of men who were fortunate enough to become fathers.

But mostly it was just nice to hear his voice again, rich and animated, telling his stories. His audio book is available at Audible.com and Amazon.com, and I’m glad to have my copy. Good storytellers are rare and to be treasured, and Clark’s a good one.

I suspect he’s also a good father; I had one of those. I’ll miss him this Father’s Day, so it’s been a pleasure to be reminded, particularly by an old friend. As I say, music to my ears.

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