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A back yard serenade for the soul

Published August 20, 2006

I am in my back yard pulling weeds for the umpteenth time. It's past sundown, but this being Florida, my face is bathed in sweat. I use my hoe to chop the weeds at the roots, then bend over to pull them by hand. The quiet of the neighborhood is occasionally broken by the sound of a speeding car or a distant siren. None of these distractions, though, interrupts the symphony in my head. I am not listening to an iPod; I don't own one. No Walkman either. The sound is all in my imagination, my memory.

Take me to Zion Hill. Let the lower lights be burning. Kneel at the cross. Blessed Assurance. The songs come unbidden, and I cannot resist. It is as if a 30-year-old sacred music box has been implanted in my brain. Hymns are the unlikely soundtrack, my midlife muse.

I grew up a Methodist. The hymns of Charles and John Wesley had deep messages but didn't stick in my mind like those I would learn later at small evangelical churches I attended with neighbors and friends.

As youth gave way to adolescence, the choruses from Sunday school and camp meetings were drowned out by the catchy calypso music of Arrow, a local performer who chronicled the political, social and cultural life of our small island.

During summer vacation, the highlight was the Roman Catholic bazaar, where teens and adults danced late into the night to the anthems of Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Don't worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be all right.

Those songs were the soundtrack of my rebellion and experimentation - my entrance into manhood.

Then came college, work and family, and the music drowned beneath the clunky drone of making do, striving to succeed. There was no defining tune to that time. It was as if all the music, sacred and secular, had died.

About eight years ago, the music returned. Not the reggae or calypso, but a sound that was sacred, soothing, transcendent. In my back yard in South Carolina, as I raked leaves in the fall, I began to hear those songs again for the first time in decades. The religious melodies spoke to my heart and rekindled my discarded faith.

There are still brief periods of silence. But whenever I step outside to work in the yard, paint the house, do some solitary activity, it is with enthusiasm. I look forward to the serenade. I appreciate the old songs in my head.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is

[Last modified August 19, 2006, 21:14:27]

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