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Observations from the road: (The family, friends, community edition)

This is a tale of family gathering to grieve in the best way possible – by telling stories.  It is a tale of being part of a community. It includes guitars.  (Always guitars.) And it includes a haircut in a mini-United Nations.

Hang with me.  I’ll try to be brief.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I received a call early in the morning from my sister Debbie.  She called to tell me that our brother-in-law Raouf – husband of my younger sister Carol – had passed away suddenly as a result of a heart attack.  Their two boys had come home from college the day before and the family had shared a meal together on Tuesday night.   By mid-day Wednesday, their lives had changed forever.

My older brother Steve and I spoke.  We were not able to get to the funeral, but quickly agreed to find a mutual time to travel to Tennessee to see Carol and the rest of the family. Our father – he of the recent 90th birthday – had just moved into an independent living facility.  We wanted to see him as well.

Which led to this weekend.  I flew into Nashville on Friday, and then – after some work on Music Row – I picked up Steve at the airport.  (The Music Row visit included the first guitar connection…but I’ll get to that later.)

I had written my father to tell him we were coming, and I said, “Let’s bust you out of that place and go to City Cafe” – the local meat and three place on East Main Street where they know “Mr. Tom.”  While the food at his new home is very good, he misses the freedom to go to his local haunts whenever he wishes.

Daddy, Carol, and DJB
My father and sister Carol, in my Dad’s new apartment

This is where the first community part kicks in.  All of my brothers and sisters (except for Debbie, who was practicing Christmas choral music) converged on City Cafe with my dad in tow. The staff was happy to see us.  (Our waitress went and got a Christmas card for him.) We saw the pianist from Daddy’s church and her husband.  Others stopped by to say hello. We scarfed down our fried catfish (I know, I was only there for one set of meals!) and began to tell family stories.

After stopping by Dad’s house and then dropping him off at his new digs, we headed home – for a nap! But all my brothers and sisters and the spouses in town came over to Debbie’s house for a family meeting (blessedly short) and a meal (a much longer and enjoyable experience).

Joe's Taylor T5
Joe with his new Taylor T5

Joe had brought along his new Taylor T5 electric-acoustic guitar for the evening…my second chance over the weekend to play a bit.  While I used the old flatpick on Joe’s guitar, on Friday afternoon I had the chance to fingerpick on a beautiful 1920s Martin O-style.  It is a great day when you can play While Roving On a Winter’s Night in a room in the Studio A building that has housed Nashville’s music royalty.  I have a wonderful job!

But I digress. Saturday night was all about sharing stories, laughing, and filling in gaps in our memories.  We had an extended riff on Cedar Lake Camp – where Steve, Joe, and I spent portions of our summers.  All three of us were members of the “Polar Bear Club” (where you went for a dip in the mountain lake at 6 a.m.). My other memory of camp?  Well, you had to know the books of the Bible to get into the mess hall.  As I told the family, you certainly didn’t want to get stuck in line around the minor prophets!  (Does Zechariah come before or after Zephaniah?)  I always tried to get there early for the Pentateuch, as I could always remember Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy!  We laughed…and agreed to keep some tales to ourselves.  And then we captured it all in the photo at the top of the post.

Family and community are so important, and I was reminded of that again today.  After flying home, I walked up to Raphael’s for a haircut.  I’ve been going to this neighborhood barber shop for years.  But this time, the owner – Tamara Kalandadze – wanted to know if I had “seen the news?”  Huh?  Then she handed me a John Kelly’s Washington column from Thanksgiving Day’s Washington Post.  With Tamara’s picture staring out at me.

Tamara at Raphaels photo credit John Kelly of Washington Post
Tamara at Raphael’s Barber Shop in Silver Spring (photo credit:  John Kelly of the Washington Post)

I love it!  Now the entire city knows what a great place this is.  I’ve often said this is a mini-United Nations, and John Kelly used the exact same phrase.

The shop is in the Metropolitan Building in downtown Silver Spring. The building turned 50 this year. So did Raphael’s. It’s an original tenant.

Raphael’s has weathered the neighborhood’s ups and downs. It’s booming now. A sign in the window announces that Raphael’s is hiring. Tamara needs two more barbers to fill all seven chairs.

The staff is a mini-United Nations.

“There are five languages spoken here,” Tamara says before reeling them off: Farsi, Arabic, Georgian, Russian, Vietnamese.

Oh, and English, of course. That’s what the barbers — Ebrahim and Sonny (Iran), Jalal (Iraq), Anna (Vietnam), Tamara (Georgia) — speak to one another.

The TV is tuned to a news channel. A voice rises above the snip of scissors and the blare of hair dryers: An announcer is saying, “You can see him dragging bodies behind a truck in Syria . . .”

I ask Tamara if the staff gets along. Even the guys from Iran and Iraq?

“People get along,” Tamara says. “It’s politicians who don’t get along.”

That’s a classic Tamara line.  And it is so true.

Instead of blocking immigration, let’s put together more neighborhood barber shops with wonderful people from all parts of the world. Let’s worry less about where those minor prophets fall in line.  And let’s get together and tell more stories. That’s how community works.

More to come…


Image: DJB (at left) with his brothers and sisters: Debbie, Steve, Carol, and Joe


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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