When Uncle Dwain passed away, he was found on the couch in his house on the farm. This farm had been Grandpa Alfred & Grandma Sarah's, where they lived since getting married. In the early 1900’s their Danish parents homesteaded less than two miles west, settling directly across the road from each other. Alfred had two brothers, Levi and Reuben, and one sister who had passed away as an infant. Her grave can be found in the Ebenezer Lutheran church cemetery on the gravel road near Dwain’s farm. The original church, before it burned down was located next to the cemetery. Sarah’s family included two boys and 7 girls, who were often referred to as the Pretty Anderson Girls. Sarah had twin sisters, Martha and Marie, and twin daughters, Marlys and Marlene.
I grew up less than a mile away and cherished my time with Grandma Larsen. I’d escape our busy, noisy family by peddling my bike to Grandma’s. She was that round soft grandma who made sugar cookies and devoted every minute just to me. It was Heaven.
After Alfred retired, they switched houses with Dwain and his family. Alfred and Sarah moved into Flaxton and Dwain moved to the farm. At some point the old farmhouse burned down and Dwain moved a new house to the farm. At that time Dwain was married to Diane and they had a son, Tracy. When I was in high school, I used to babysit Tracy Saturday nights when Dwain and Diane had their weekly bowling date.
Fast forward to the fall of 1997, my daughter was a year old and I was working at the Fargodome as marketing manager when I learned my uncle had passed away. Something possessed me to call my dad and say, "I'm going to sing "Just A Closer Walk" at Dwain's funeral.
Keep in mind that I had never sung a solo in my hometown nor had I ever sung a solo in front of my family. When I sang in the church choir in Minot, I did sing a short solo some program at church and when I opened my mouth to sing the first note, my voice came out in a croak. I still remember seeing heads pop up and look at me in surprise. I quickly recovered but these are the things you never forget. Plus, this was my uncle’s funeral. My dad, in the sweetest voice said, "That would be wonderful Honey." When I hung up the phone, I started to panic until I realized that if Ronnie accompanied me, it would be okay. Ronnie Nelson is the son of Amos, dad's cousin. Ronnie was a musical savant. He played songs on the piano before he was tall enough to see the keyboard. Later he would stand with his back to the piano and play songs with his hands behind him. When he was older, he had both a piano and an organ and he positioned them so he could play duets with himself. Then he traveled around the US playing for a gospel quartet. And of course, anytime he was near a piano and a group of people gathered, he would entertain everyone. He could play any song he had ever heard with such gusto and he would play for hours. I knew that if I had trouble singing, Ronnie would be able to cover for me.
So, I went to our church to get the choir music for "Just A Closer Walk", but it was gone. GONE. I needed music in a lower key, but I couldn't find the music. Why this song? I don't know, maybe because I knew it was a song I could sing. But I couldn't find the music. I called dad to explain I couldn't do it after all. I was still freaking out about singing a solo in front of my family in Flaxton. This was a good excuse. Dad answered the phone and before I could say anything, he told me again how glad he was that I was going to sing, that Ronnie was out of town, but our farm neighbor, Alice, would be accompanying me. Next I called Alice Ganskop. She explained she had lots of music and maybe 4 different versions of my song. She was sure she had the music I needed. We made plans for me to stop at her house for a quick practice on my way home the day before the funeral.
It's about a 7-hour drive from Fargo to Flaxton, so I went alone, leaving my husband, Michael and our two kids in Fargo. When I got to Alice's farm, she showed me the music she picked for "Just A Closer Walk", sure it would be in a key right for me, adding I should just sing the first two verses. We ran though the song a couple times, she told me it was going to be very nice. (I really needed that assurance.)
Fast forward to the funeral, and I saw my dad wipe a tear while I sang my solo. I guess it went okay, all my worries were for nothing. A week after I returned to Fargo, my mom and aunts (Marlys and Marlene) had been cleaning out Dwain’s house when they found sheet music for "Just A Closer Walk". It was the only sheet music found in the whole house, which was odd giving his musical background. It had a faint smoke stain meaning it probably survived the fire from years ago and maybe once belonged to my grandmother. Mom mailed the music to me and the artist, Red Foley, was printed on the page. Apparently, he had sung this song for a record. Back then performers often sold sheet music for songs they recorded. This particular sheet music included only the two verses that Alice suggested I sing for the funeral. Out of 4 verses in the red hymnal, the two I sang were the same two on Red Foley's sheet music. The only music found in Dwain’s house.
On Wednesday, the day the music arrived in the mail, there was an event that night at the Fargodome. Normally I don't go home for lunch, but that day I did which means I opened the mail and saw what Mom had sent me. On that particular day, my husband was going to be out of town (traveling salesman), and because I had to work that night our two kids would be spending the night with their daycare. (Bob and Gloria loved our kids and were always there for us.)
Now the event is over, it’s nearly midnight and the two promoters wanted a ride to their hotel. I volunteered. After the two fellas left the car, I pushed the button on my radio for my favorite talk station and instead of hearing familiar voices discuss the politics of the day. I heard the announcer say, "...and now this old favorite from Red Foley and I heard him sing, "Just A Closer Walk", on the radio. This song. On the radio. AND, it's the same two verses that I sang at my uncle's funeral. I start crying, and I can't stop.
It was miracle enough that I sang for my dad at my uncle's funeral and it wasn't a disaster. I don't have perfect pitch so hitting the correct notes every time doesn't come easy for me. My singing lessons came from the choir directors at the different churches I belonged to over the years, from Williston, to Minot, to Fargo. Normally I would find a strong alto to stand next to and then hitting the notes was easier. And here I am, days after singing at my beloved uncles funeral, exhausted from a long workday, still in awe that this music was the only music found in Dwain’s house, and now the radio station is playing this music in my car. It's too much.
Earlier that year, my fabulous, loving mother-in-law passed away from cancer. When my babies were little, I would often sing them to sleep and the song I usually sang was "Just A Closer Walk". I knew all the words and it was a favorite of mine when we sang it in choir. At the funeral, I remember going to Alice’s casket to quietly sing this song, just for her. It was something I needed to do. Then three months later, her husband Mike also passed away from cancer. They were inseparable in life, so none of us were surprised he passed so quickly after her death. I then did the same for Mike and sang my favorite song, connecting Grandpa Mike to Grandma Alice in heaven. Thinking back, now I know why I had to sing this song for Dwain, wanting to connect him to my Grandma Sarah (his mother) in heaven. By the way, my in-laws were Catholic and of course my family was Lutheran. Singing to them, I think, was my last gift for them.
The next day, I am still rehashing all the freaky things that have happened regarding this song. As I am driving back to the Fargodome, I hear only static on the radio. Static. So I push, again, the button for Talk Radio, and this time, the correct station comes alive, as normal. That means when I heard Red Foley sing “Just A Closer Walk” the night before, I assumed it was some crazy out of this world coincidence. Well it was out of this world alright, I realized my radio had been tuned into Heaven. Is this even possible?
I can't explain it. But I promise you, this story is the absolute truth. Every bit of it is complete truth.
Days later, I still can't shake what has happened. I would think of it every minute, every day. I would often tell Heaven/God , "I get it. Dwain liked my song. Grandma Sarah liked my song. I get it. Just finding the sheet music would have been enough. So why have the radio station tune into Heaven's Choir Loft playing this song, by Red Foley, singing only these two verses. Why?”
Then one day, it all made perfect sense. My dear Mother-in-law, Alice, was one of those persons who connected with me all day long. She'd call and say, "I want to get new carpet in the living room. What do you think?" The next call would be, "Jeanette thinks I should get new carpet too." Next something like, "I'm going shopping for new carpet." Then, "They are coming to measure for carpet." and so on and so on. That was life with Alice. And now I finally understand. Alice, who is Catholic, is in Heaven with my Grandma Sarah and uncle Dwain, both Lutherans. They are all hanging out together. How cool is that?