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  • Writer's pictureEileen Markland

A Pandemic, the Little Church that Could, and My Friend Patty

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

This story is not about me but I should say that I am a musician. I started singing as a toddler and in 1975 I first picked up a violin. My path in life was revealed. Teaching, chamber and orchestral performances, fiddle and folk gigs, a Celtic Band, a little jazz here and there. These days the music is a mix of it all plus the Windsor Congregational Church Music directorship and a position organizing activities in a nursing home.

That is where I met Patty. Our journey together began in March, when the school where I teach shut its doors for a “two week” break. With time to spare, I offered to spend more time at the nursing home.

With outside activities and entertainment banned for residents, my suggestion was warmly welcomed and I began spending a few days a week helping residents pass these long, lonely and difficult pandemic days -- mostly singing and playing guitar (while wearing a mask and staying at least 12 feet away from residents). I can now sing for hours while masked! I have also learned two absolute truths: music has the power to ease sorrow, cure loneliness and inspire happiness; and Patty is a BRILLIANT harmonizer! She is so versatile and has such a good ear for harmony that I began depending on her help.

I was curious about this dynamic, vibrant woman with such vocal mastery. I asked if she would tell me something about her life and she was happy to oblige.

Patty was born in Springfield, MA in 1942. She was “born to sing the melody”, her younger sister the high harmony and her older sister the low notes. The sisters formed an a cappella trio and sang at parties, weddings and talent shows throughout childhood.

The music of her mother, aunt and grandmother – “The Rhythm Girls” -- is the sound track for her memories. As teenagers, the Rhythm Girls had their own radio show on WBZ in Boston.

Patty married, launched a business, had children, divorced and married again. She met her second husband, Bill, when she was a guest at a wedding and heard his band playing. They fell head over heels “at first sight”. Soon they too were married and started their own group, “High Society”. Patty sang lead, Bill played guitar, Patty’s friend Wanda played bass and Bill’s friend played drums. They appeared at the Whale Inn in Goshen every Friday and Saturday night for many years. After the inn closed in 1997 the band stayed busy in the Amherst area until Bill’s death in 2013.

The path that led Patty to living in the nursing home was “windy and bumpy”, she says, describing her life there today as complicated, mostly because she is “very independent”. Many friends and the wonderful care she receives brighten her days. She worries about COVID-19, and struggles with the restrictions residents face as a result.

In April I selfishly realized that Patty might enjoy helping me sing for the Windsor Congregational Zoom Church services. She quickly agreed and we began to “Zoom in” from the nursing home each Sunday morning. We harmonize (always at a distance!) while I play guitar or piano for two or three hymns or songs each week. Patty looks forward all week to our rehearsals and the service. She loves the uplifting messages from our pastor, Dr. Heather Juby, and the warm community of the congregation. Her participation has helped me enormously, as the idea of singing by myself in front of people who aren’t children is terrifying! (Remember, I’m really a violinist.)

Amid the loss, fear and anxiety of the pandemic, I have taken great solace in singing with Patty these past months. She is a gift. I am enormously grateful for her and her presence in my life.

Photo by John Juby

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