That Lonesome Valley (part 2 of a 2 part series)

As the name indicates–this is the 2nd of a 2 part series. If you’re just coming to this story you may want to read part one 1st which you can find here.

In the bands he was a member of, there were always black players and he was good friends with several black families. Dean told her on several occasions how, in Korea—when he and his buddies were fighting for their lives, the color of a man’s skin meant nothing. How well he could shoot and how well you could depend on him to cover your back was everything. When your life is on the line you see the true worth of a man and what kind of package he comes in vanishes. Cheryl could tell he saw them as no different than whites.

The family was somewhat uncomfortable with Dean’s black friends but didn’t say anything. But—what most of the family was very uncomfortable with was—though he was a deacon at the exclusively white church most of the family attended—he had, on a number of occasions attended black churches. The family just didn’t talk about it and things generally went along pretty good.

However—what the family did start talking about in that summer of 1964 was Dean began going to meetings at night in one or more black churches and talking to those northern Yankee trouble-makers. A few family members tried to say something to him about the wisdom of this. He always listened politely and respectfully—Dean was always like that—but then he’d just keep on with what he was doing.

Though his formal education originally was limited to high school, Dean read a great deal. Not just story books like Cheryl’s mother, who loved romance and mystery novels, Dean read books even the titles of which her mother couldn’t understand.

And Dean took classes at night at the community college—in things like literature, theology, philosophy, psychology. A few of Dean’s cousins used to kid him about his education—joking he was “gettin all uppity and over-educated.” This was something Cheryl never understood. Dean never made anyone feel inferior or uncomfortable—he treated everyone with respect, old, young, black, white—as equals. She could tell the attitudes of some family members made him sad but he never said anything. Many years later Cheryl learned her uncle had completed several degree programs but never said anything to any one.

One day a few weeks after her 14th birthday she noticed her uncle was suddenly looking older—tired and haggard. And there had been some disturbing incidents at her school. Some of the kids she used to hang out with were suddenly avoiding her and one day she found the phrase “Nigger-Lover,” written across her locker in heavy black letters and the same phrase had been spray-painted across the front of Dean’s house one morning.

Cheryl had a lesson every day unless she was not feeling well or there was other pressing

business. One day her uncle brought a stranger to her house and introduced him as Mr.  Montoya. Dean explained Mr. Montoya was a teacher of classical and flamenco guitar, a good friend of his and he wanted Cheryl to learn classical form. He assured her he would continue to help her with her lessons but what Mr. Montoya had to teach her would help her to go beyond a country-western or rock performer. She could always play the type of music she had been playing but he wanted her to have the opportunity to play at an entirely different level.

Cheryl had heard recordings of traditional Spanish guitar many times at her uncle’s place and liked it so it wasn’t hard to convince her to work with Mr. Montoya. After that there were several lessons with Mr. Montoya but Dean did not teach. He would sit to the side and watch with pride as Cheryl quickly learned the new techniques and watch with amusement at Mr. Montoya’s surprise at the ease and rapidity with which his new pupil grasped his lessons. Mr. Montoya agreed with Dean—Cheryl was a prodigy.

The afternoon of the first day of August in 1964 Dean appeared without Mr. Montoya at Cheryl’s house. He brought with him his most prized possession, his 1928 Gibson L-1. He handed it to Cheryl saying he wanted her to use it as long as she needed to, to practice the new style of music explaining the neck profile was more appropriate to the chord configurations of Spanish guitar. Dean watched nodding with satisfaction as his niece run through some exercises Mr. Montoya had assigned. Later Cheryl would remember how sad and yet how proud he seemed that afternoon.

After an hour or so of watching Cheryl, Dean went into the kitchen where Cheryl’s mom Jenney was washing dishes, spoke briefly with her—at one point gesturing toward Cheryl and the guitar then left. As he left Cheryl thought she saw her mother crying. It was the last time Cheryl would see her uncle.

On August 4th, 1964 the bodies of three civil rights workers were found buried beneath an

earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi—they had been arrested a few days earlier by local police and turned them over to the Ku Klux Klan who murdered them and buried the bodies.

The evening of August 5th, the church where Dean had been assisting in organizing efforts to register black voters was fire-bombed. As Dean and several others ran out of the burning building they were gunned down by local citizens waiting with shotguns and rifles. The bodies were thrown back into the burning building in an effort to make it look as though they died in the fire.

At the funeral Cheryl sat thinking about many of the things Dean had told her about death over the years. She remembered him often telling her truth and love were stronger than death—and he would love her even after he was gone.

She decided he would not want a lot of tears—just a nice, heartfelt goodbye. She sat holding her Uncle Dean’s prized Gibson waiting for her turn to sing his favorite hymn—she had been rehearsing for much of the morning. Sitting there in the church she realized her uncle was not just a good man—he was the strongest man she had ever known—now it was time for her to be strong.

She didn’t want to break down and cry—it was her uncle Dean’s favorite hymn she would be singing. She would be singing it for him—the most precious gift she had to give him—and she wanted to do a good job—get it just right. As she kept her eyes on the minister who would give her the queue, she kept running over the chorus in her mind:

You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley
Well you gotta go by yourself
Well there ain’t nobody else gonna go there for you
You gotta go there by yourself.

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