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On our last full day vacationing in northern Michigan, we agreed to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Ted, our driver and organizer for this vacation, had served several churches in this part of the state. He is especially fond of the dunes and was eager for me to see them. Before then I’d only seen pictures of these extremely steep sand embankments that are a major tourist attraction.

However, the thought of having anyone push me in my wheelchair on soft sand bothered me. I didn’t want ninety-one-year old Ted to make that struggle. Even though he is a vigorous swimmer, ping-pong player and violinist, he is dealing with several health challenges. Even Kris, my lively travel companion, would face huge difficulties getting me up to the overlook.

After parking the car, Ted and Kris pulled out my chair and helped me transfer into it. Quickly Kris ran up toward the overlook to check accessibility. She approached a tall, blond man. 

“Do you feel strong today?” she asked.

“I sure do,” he replied.

Kris continued: “Would you be willing to help push my friend up to the dunes overlook?”

In minutes Kris and our new friend were approaching me. Under his broad-brimmed straw hat, wavy blond hair reached down to his chin. He was a handsome young man. Wearing sandals, khaki shorts and a tee shirt; he moved energetically on muscular legs.

I don’t know what prompted him to comment, “If my wife were here, she would be playing her violin.” Immediately Kris replied, “We have a violin in the car.”

“You must be kidding!” With that, Kris opened the back-seat door. Ted came around from the other side of the car and proudly opened his violin case. About the same time an attractive tall blond woman wearing a straw hat joined us. Obviously, she was the wife of our recruited pusher. Amazement filled her face as she saw the violin. When Ted asked her if she wanted to play it, she glowed with appreciation. “Just three days ago,” she said, “My favorite violin burned up in a storage closet fire.”

In haste, we introduced ourselves, and they told us they were Skye and Rebecca. All five of us headed for the path leading to the dunes — Rebecca carrying the violin and Skye pushing me. Quickly he realized he needed help up the rutty path. I’m not sure how he enlisted his helpers, but suddenly two men were moving me up — up — over packed sand and onto a wooden walkway.

When we reached the lookout, seeing the brilliant blue expanse of Lake Michigan, we shrieked with joy. Towering a hundred feet above us rose the giant dune. Some people were running down it; others were clambering up the loose sand. Below us stretched the lower dune — again with people moving up and down. Near the bottom of the dune was a wooden platform filled with visitors inhaling the view. I made certain I had put on my wheelchair brakes.

Our somewhat level mid-point had one wooden bench (partly occupied by a sprawling older woman). Immediately Rebecca placed the violin case on the bench, opened the case, carefully lifted out the violin and tuned it. Surveying the gathering crowd, she asked: “Does anyone else play the violin?”

Quietly a young woman stepped forward. Rebecca suggested, “Let’s proceed from youngest to oldest.” The young woman’s name was Annabelle. Gently she accepted the violin. Her rendition of the poignant waltz, “Ashokan Farewell,” a haunting melody popularized by the Civil War TV documentary, was pure and passionate. Obviously, she was an experienced, dedicated violinist. She finished and returned the instrument to Rebecca then slowly melted into the gathering audience.

Rebecca stood, mischievously put her straw hat on my head, took the violin and tucked it under her chin. Pausing briefly, she said, “I’ll just make up a new song.” And what a miniature masterpiece! I have heard many talented violinists, and Rebecca would rank with the best. Her poignant melody filled the air. Those vibrating strings thrilled me.

Now Rebecca handed Ted his violin. His eight decades of playing equipped him well to perform anytime, anywhere; this cherished violin accompanied him on many international trips. With joy and satisfaction, he started playing “I Wandered Today to the Hills, Maggie.” The first time around he stayed with the original version, but then he swung into a jazzed-up variation. Surrounding folks tapped their toes and clapped their hands.

I asked myself, “Is this really happening?” Skye, Kris, Ted and I were all beaming. Rebecca took the violin again and this time performed an extremely difficult composition – I realized this woman was truly a professional musician.

Time to return to our cars. Going back down the steep path proved to be as difficult as pushing up but gave time to quiz our new friends. We learned that Rebecca taught violin and played with various orchestras including those providing scores for Warner Brothers movies. She and Skye had just come to Michigan to help care for her father who has Parkinson’s Disease. In the destructive fire three days earlier, they had lost many of their possessions, but they did not dwell on this tragedy. Instead, they rejoiced in sharing music in this rugged setting, thanking God for their blessings.

After Ted and Kris put my wheelchair back in the car, we all gathered by the open door and sang together, ”Blest Be the Tie That Binds.” And I gave thanks for the sun and sand and friends – and a violin.

Dosia Carlson

Dosia Carlson earned a Ph.D in religion, higher education and counseling from the University of Pittsburgh.

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