Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Our friend, Lou

They met in 1965.  Hubby had driven his ex-girl friend's mother's car from San Francisco to Des Moines, Iowa.  Lou had come from Monroe, Louisiana.  Hubby was 30 years old, Lou was 23.  They had come to Iowa on a government grant to bring culture for the next several years to the Iowa school systems by singing avant garde / contrapuntal music.  The troupe consisted of approximately 20 members, 10 females, 10 males, 18 of them white.  Only Lou and Hubby were Black (it was the 1960's -- and they were very, very Black).

The troupe was given housing in a small apartment complex in the heart of Des Moines, but when the owner saw Hubby and Lou, it was a "no go."  So Iowa hunted around and found the two men a house where they could live on the outskirts of town.  Lou was a "good, old country boy" who understood the ways of the South -- and consequently the prejudices of Middle America, while Hubby was the city boy who had traveled across the country trying to break into big-city opera.  Lou had just earned his BA degree while Hubby had just spent seven years with the San Francisco opera company, singing minor and chorus parts.

The troupe was thrilled because they had access to the guys' good-sized house for parties and late night shenanigans.  The men bonded.  They ate together, partied, hooked up with the girls.  Hubby lasted two years, then absconded with a mezzo-soprano from the troupe and moved her, pregnant, to the big city 200 miles away.  Lou lasted another year when funding for singing "like cats and barking like dogs" was eliminated.  Then he followed Hubby down to the city.

Hubby's wife gave birth to a son and he started a janitorial business, because singing opera in the Midwest, especially if you are Black, is not exactly profitable.  He found Lou a place to live and they worked together.  They partied together.  They played pool.  Lots and lots of pool.  Hubby's wife bore another son.  Lou's wife, Pearly, came from Monroe and she had a son.  Then Hubby's wife packed up the two boys and moved back home to her family and eventually, moved completely away, after divorcing him.  After leaving Wisconsin,  Hubby had no idea where she had vanished.

This was several years before I met Hubby in 1973 and I've had to piece together most of the stories from those days, through Lou, through Wendy's mother, and from Wendy.  Hubby really doesn't talk about those days, even now.  Eventually Lou knew he wanted to sing and Hubby had pretty well shut down when his family had departed Kansas City.  Finally, Lou and Pearlie and their son Louis, Jr. packed up and moved back to Monroe where Lou began work on his master's degree in vocal music.

Hubby sang when the offers came in.  Mostly he ran a handy-man / janitorial service.  Easter, Christmas, graduation musical gigs came through often.  He preformed at Starlight Theater -- hated singing in the warm night air when bugs flew into your mouth the moment you opened it.  He did some opera.  He directed choirs and sang in church choirs when the money was decent.  He did a lot of weddings.

Every summer, Lou would pack up and come to KC to earn money with Hubby.  He and Hubby would work on the big mansions along Ward Parkway.  The owners would come out to see who was singing on their roofs and then invite the men to their parties or their clubs.  Lou played a lot of tennis with the white country club members.   He tried to teach Hubby, but came home thoroughly disgusted, because "that dang man won't run -- he just stands in one spot and you have to hit the ball straight to him." The summers were full of hot days sweating outdoors, and long nights singing their hearts out.  And pool.  Lots and lots of pool.

When I came along, Lou would arrive for a month in June and then Pearlie would bring up her two sons for a week or so before Lou went back home.  Lou had a regular job as a voice professor at Northeast Louisiana State, Monroe but the real money was usually earned during the summers in KC.  Pearlie was a math teacher who was earning her PhD. in education. 

Lou loved cars and he was always so disgusted with the heaps that Hubby would drive.  He'd show up in his new Porche and Hubby would be driving a 1963 Toyota.  I remember riding in the back seat of that Toyota and the two guys were in the front, windows down because there was no air conditioning in Hubby's cars, singing with all their might.  Cars would pull along side of us and suddenly brake to a stop in amazement, just to listen. 

Sometimes Lou would come to sing the Messiah with Hubby at Christmas.  One year we were in a shopping mall when we found one of those "drop in and make your own recording" studios.  I begged the guys to make me a Christmas record so they trudged inside and I took a seat on the bench outside to wait.  I could see the clerks looking at these two men incredulously.

Lou was six feet seven inches tall.  He had a full head of very black, thick hair and wore big glasses.  Hubby is five feet nine, round, and bald.  By then Hubby was probably 47 and Lou was 40.  They were both in work clothes.

Mostly teenagers were using the studio, rather like a karaoke bar today. The clerks were giggling and nudging each other as the men went inside the sound booth.  Eyeballs were rolling.  I couldn't hear anything but suddenly everyone in the store came to a halt.  There was a conference of the clerks, the manager appeared running -- and then from the store came the voices of the two men simply singing "Jingle Bells."  It was being broadcast all throughout the mall.

Lou is a basso profundo -- the most glorious of huge, deep, rich basses.  Hubby is technically a baritone but with a very high, full tenor range.  Together it was like hearing "Jingle Bells" for the first time --  a simple melody that just floats along accompanied by a brilliant crescendo of rich, male voice singing in harmony. They were just having fun with it, not trying to impress or make "good" music.  Soon a crowd had gathered outside the little studio.  The song finished and the men opened the door to exit the booth but the manager hurried over.  

"Please sing another song -- we'll record it free."  The crowd outside had been applauding -- the manager knew a good thing when he saw it.  So the guys went back and did "White Christmas" and the crowd grew larger still.  I could hear people talking, "Man, if they can make you sound like that, I need to go in and record a song.  What do you think?"  We still play this little cassette tape at Christmas time, remember how we laughed and laughed as the guys exited the store and people would ask (as they almost always did), "You two sounded so good!  You have any training?"

Lou and Hubby talked on the phone a lot during the winter.  Usually Lou would call on a Sunday morning to see what jalopy Hubby was driving, how Wendy was, how were the singing gigs.  He'd tell about his family and sometimes Pearlie and I would chat with each other.  He even asked my mother because one summer when he was here he had answered the phone and had quite the conversation with her.  In 1978, Hubby mentioned he thought that we might get married.  "Wait until summer and I'll be best man," Lou told him.

Lou arrived that summer and Hubby agreed that before Lou left we'd get married.  June was long gone and suddenly it was the end of July.  Lou came to me to ask if I really wanted to marry this wayward cuss and when he found out that I did, he told me, "Leave it to me."

Lou on the left; Hubby on the right -- right before our wedding ceremony;  the old Toyota is behind them
"I have to go home sometime so you'd better go get that blood test," he told Hubby.  The next day we saw the doctor for the blood test.  "I have to go home sometime so you'd better go get that license," Lou reminded Hubby.  The next day we got the license.  "I have to go home soon so you'd better call the church and arrange to have the pastor there," he told Hubby.  The next day Hubby called Reverend Cleaver at the church around the corner and set a day and a time.  We got married on a Thursday, had an ice cream cake with Wendy (Hubby's beloved adopted sister), and then the two men left to play pool.  Wendy took me back home.  

Five years later, I gathered all the friends from that time and told Hubby, "We're going to have a five year anniversary and you will have to stay through the entire celebration."  Lou and Pearly came.  Wendy and her mom came.  Assorted friends arrived.  We served a lovely buffet and took pictures and laughed and told stories on each other and two hours in, Lou and Hubby left to play pool. 

5th anniversary, Lou & Hubby had gone to play pool with the men; Pearlie is under the mountain picture; Wendy next to her, and I'm in front of the old TV
Lou and Pearlie and the boys would often meet us in Houston when we were visiting Wendy.  We swam together in the Gulf of Mexico.  We pigged out on fresh seafood.  Lou and Hubby challenged two punks harassing them at the Gulf Service Station.  Then Lou lost his oldest son, something we were never allowed to talk about with him.  More than ten years later, Pearlie died suddenly.  

Eventually Lou remarried, a woman we met only briefly, but she seemed lovely.  On our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary we held a benefit concert and Lou flew up to sing with Hubby for the last time.  I cornered him and explained, that since a reception followed the concert I really needed Hubby to stay for the entire thing -- and Lou said, "leave it to me" -- and Hubby got through the concert, the reception, and the dinner following.  THEN they left to play pool.

Lou, me, and Hubby at the reception following the 25th anniversary concert
 Hubby's aneurysm took most of his voice and the heart problems have left him with only a few notes now.  Lou continued singing his heart out and teaching in Monroe.  He had a third child, a beautiful daughter who is now around five.  The calls on Sunday morning became less, health and age kept the two men apart, but if you asked Hubby who is best friend in the world was, the answer always came back, "Lou."

In late June, Lou called one Sunday morning to tell Hubby that he had a singing gig in Italy.  He would be gone most of July.  He was so excited.  He asked about Hubby's heart, his voice, and which car Hubby was driving.  He asked about Wendy and me.  Hubby laughed with him and the two laughed together just like old times.

Lou's wife emailed us on Sunday that Lou had suffered a brain aneurysm while in Italy, much like Hubby's of 2006, but he was on life support.

On Tuesday, life support was removed and Lou died. 

No more Sunday calls.  No more jokes about new or old cars.  No more Houston visits.  No more beautiful duets -- their favorite was the "Verily" from the Seven Last Words by Dubois -- I shall always regret that I don't have a recording of them singing this wonderful duet but you can hear how others sound singing it by clicking on the links below.

We knew Lou's faults, we knew his talents, we knew his appetite for life.  We knew that he understood what true friendship was all about and in every way he proved he was a deep and giving friend.  

Our sunshine was been dimmed and our lives are diminished. We shall never forget and our stories of our times together will always be a part of our family's history.  It will never be goodbye . . . only until we meet again. 

Links to hear Lou:

A Glimpse of IDE's Mr. Nabors

I Got Plenty of Nothing

Go Down Moses

This is not Lou and Hubby -- make the bass a lot more bass and the tenor fuller:  Verily -- duet by DuBois

Monroe News obit


Margaret said...

I feel like I really know (and mourn) Lou thanks to you.What a wealth of memories and wonderful/interesting times. Believe me when I tell you that I feel the pain of your loss and understand that life will never quite be the same. xoxo

Donna said...

What a great, fascinating story!