Fats Waller and the Frosted Trees


Fats Waller (Credit: Alan Fisher on Wikimedia Commons)

Fats Waller and the Frosted Trees

Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, and Fats Waller make me grateful. As Steve Martin said decades ago, “You just can’t sing a depressing song when you’re playing the banjo.” Same with driving in the country and listening to piano rolls, rags, and strides.

This past week Fats, the color white, and gratitude owned my commute from Erie to St. John’s Lutheran Church in Oniontown, Pennsylvania. The hour south on I-79, Route 19, and District Road was a hot damn of thanksgiving–“Handful of Keys,” “Lulu’s Back in Town,” “When Someone Thinks You’re Wonderful.”


Grandson Cole, wonderful kid with a new lid

Why did pianos and frosted branches make me take inventory? I don’t understand myself all that well, so who knows? My list wrote itself slowly and silently.

  • I have a surplus of love. One step in any direction, there it is. Wife, grown kids, one grandson and another on the way, more family and a ton of friends. An absolute wonder of wonderful souls.
  • Those closest to me are holding together okay. No crises going down or chops busting in process.
  • I have a home, warm or cool as desired, so much food that possibilities have to be eliminated, and a king’s ransom of clean water.
  • My closet holds wardrobes for varying weight classes with acquisitions I’ve forgotten.
  • Bill collectors are not breaking down the door.
  • I dig the bookends of my commute—solace to the north and good purpose to the south.

As the miles clicked away, as Fats sparkled, as the snowy trees formed cathedrals surreal with beauty, Gershwin lyrics came to me: “Got my gal, got my Lawd, got my song.”


Beloved Watson with the mother of fatty tumors

“No use complaining,” Porgy says as an aside, though he didn’t know about the Coleman family’s dog Watson, weary, arthritic, laden with tumors. He is our hobbling source of agape—unconditional love. A month ago, a lump appeared in the middle of his forehead. Its rapid growth foreshadows his absence, even as he manages a fetch or two. He snorts constantly, trying to clear a mass that won’t budge.

Nearing the end of my commute, I allowed that happiness isn’t a prerequisite for gratitude. Twelve years of Watson’s mild presence has been extravagant by any measure.

IMG_4150I would say that my inventory was a prayer, but Fats alone was that, as were the frosted trees and a line from a musical. I received the wide mercy—alpha to omega—of giving thanks for miles with my eyes, ears, and lungs and not once calling God by name.


22 thoughts on “Fats Waller and the Frosted Trees

  1. If your sermons are as wonderfully descriptive and insightful as your blogs… well, I just would like to be close enough to worship in your congregation. Have yourself merry Winter’s Day, John. Here, in York on this Saturday, we have around a foot of snow and expect up to 30 inches. It is beautiful and lovely. Gratitude abounds for those who serve by plowing and coming to provide services.

    • Hi, Ray. Hope the snow has let up and the dig out proceeds. Thanks for stopping by. I think about you and Julie and hope you’re doing well. Peace, John

  2. Lovely piece, and nice reminder to be grateful. I have a wonderful 8yr old Schnoodle, that I never take for granted, and I know you value every day with your 4 footed friend. All the best!
    Jenny Clarke

    • Hey, Jenny. I’m glad your Schnoodle is still among the living. Not a bad idea to give your pooch a kiss on the head every day, ay? Peace and best to you and Bruce, John

  3. I love the way take stock. If I were in the neighborhood, I would come sit through one of your services for the sheer joy of listening, which is saying a lot for me as sitting in church makes me squirmy, and I haven’t been inside one in I don’t remember how long.

    But, oh, poor Watson — to carry on so stoically. Bless that dog.

    Cole makes a mighty happy snappy magician in that photo. I expect he could pull a rabbit from that hat if he had a mind to.

    • Hi, Mary. I sure hear what you’re saying about “squirmy.” I tend to feel it when I hear what some folks believe along the lines of God as micro-manager, as in key locator and employment agent. Anywho, my life is full with Watson, Cole, and all the rest. When Cole is old enough, I’ll teach him the magic trick of taking off his thumb. Peace, John

    • Thanks much. That tumor on his head is really getting to be something, too. We’re trying to enjoy every day with him. Peace, John

    • Hey, NTT. Glad you’re back on the grid. The beard comes when I don’t mind looking my age and goes when I feel like looking a little younger. Ah, vanity! Old Watty can’t shave unfortunately, and in addition to being gray, his goatee stinks. I AM feeling good, but there’s always something to keep things interesting. No complaints. Love back atcha, John

    • The Cole-ster has been an overachiever in every department except hair, which has come slowly. Now come the red with a few curls, like his mother. And . . . drumroll . . . another grandson is scheduled for arrival at the end of March. Incredible grooviness and cool beans. John

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