On February 10th I did a post called Daddy’s Little Girl in response to a writing prompt that day from The Daily Post. I was surprised when I looked through my Memory Book of dad’s and realized the 10th was the day we buried him. Some things are just cosmically lined up, I guess.
But in that post I mentioned dad’s band, Desert Varnish, and the dances they played for in Quartzsite, Arizona. Today when I was trying to think of some of my fondest memories of Valentine’s Day, I remembered all the Valentine dances my hubby and I went to over the years to dance to dad’s music. So I thought I’d dedicate a Valentine post to my dad.
I’ve already told the story about my pennies elsewhere on this blog, how they came to hold a special meaning for me. I came away from my penny experience believing that every time I found a penny it was a reminder that God is aware of my comings and goings and everything in between.
February of 1997 my dad had fallen ill in Quartzsite, Arizona and been rushed to the hospital in Phoenix. My sister, my son and I flew down to be with him and mom for a few days. Feeling, finally, that everything was going to work itself out, we flew home only to get a call that same night saying he’d taken a turn for the worse and we needed to come back if we wanted to see him one last time.
The morning I left to go back my husband and I stopped at the Burger King in the airport to grab a bite of breakfast. It was a very early flight. We’d placed our order and the cashier had wandered off. There was no one there but us. As we moved down to the end of the counter to wait for our food, there in a little pile were some pennies — five of them. I started to cry. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Five Pennies. It always reminded me so much of my dad.
The movie was about Ernest Loring Nichols, a coronet player from Willard, Utah who went to New York in 1927 to establish himself in the big band music scene that was just beginning to blossom there. Eventually he did just that. With his own band called Red Nichols and His Five Pennies, he went on to become the “father” of modern music arranging.
What was it about the movie that reminds me of dad? Nichols was played by Danny Kaye, a wonderful, bubbly, silly sort of guy just like my dad. The resemblance didn’t carry over to the full head of head as dad had lost his long ago. What really reminded me of dad was Nichol’s love and passion for music.
Some people are said to be born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Dad was born with an acoustic guitar in his hands. I don’t remember a time in my life when he didn’t play his guitar. Self-taught and unable to read music, he began playing when he was 13. He started a band. By 1940 he and two friends had a radio show on WMRM 1490 in Ohio. It was called The Wanderers of the Wasteland. They loved western music and sounded very much like The Sons of the Pioneers, a popular western music group.
I mentioned in that post that dad couldn’t even go to war without his guitar. He was a member of the Artillary Jive Bombers during his time in the Army Medical Corp in Europe. That band had just had their 53rd reunion, and it was the first one my dad had made it to.
Dad was a dreamer and a wisher. I know that somewhere in the back of his mind was the idea that fame and fortune would find his music. And in his later years it sort of did. Desert Varnish made quite a splash down in hot Quartzsite where many retired folks spend their winters. With their portable dance floor set in the sand in the middle nowhere, at times there would be as many as 300 people at their dances.
In fact, they became so popular the Bureau of Land Management finally poured them a permanent concrete slab to dance on. Echoing the name of one of the most famous dance floors of the big band era, it was christened the Stardusty Ballroom. Dad said they didn’t need one of those shiny reflecting balls hanging over the floor because God had put all those bright, bright stars in the sky.
Desert Varnish grew until they were playing two nights a week. They were featured on local TV, they were mentioned in Time Magazine, and filmed for a retirement video by producers from England. And if there was any doubt that dad had found the recognition he longed for, it was forever put to rest one day when, after he had filled his car at a gas station and gone inside to pay, a man walked up to mom in the car and said, “Wasn’t that Ed Moore?”