If You’re Reading This

6 Oct

I write tonight with a very heavy heart. Melissa’s Uncle Fred March has passed away.

Fred, or “Coach” as countless Baltimoreans know him, was larger than life. He ran the famous Knotty Pine Inn, on the East Side, for many years. On weekends, he and Aunt Alice put on the best brunch spread in the Mid-Atlantic region. Their pub filled with their kids, grandkids and an assortment of regulars – shoulder to shoulder.

I have such fond memories of Uncle Fred holding babies. Everyone wanted him to hold their babies. And he — a mountain of a man — lit up every time. He also fed Nate countless quarters and let him play the video game with the drunken monkey, over and over.

In the coming days, we’ll come together. We’ll cry, surely. We’ll laugh, surely. We’ll begin the lifelong process of incorporating Fred into our lives in a new and different way.

The news is too fresh for me to process any more than that right now.

But at just about the moment I heard of his death, I finished a new song.

Coincidentally, the song is about death – and going to the other side.

I almost never do covers, but this one is a cover of a song Tim McGraw made famous.

The lyrics are a letter from a dead soldier. And damn, they’re so good I wish I’d written them.

But the only reason I knew of this song was an email I received from a dear family friend.

Her name is Kyle Peterson, and she’s a Gaston kid. The Livingstons and the Gastons, well, we’re family. Going back many decades, we’ve been there for each other in various ways, including showing up for weddings, anniversaries and funerals, often traveling hundreds of miles for the honor.

I could spend many pages carrying on about the long history of friendship between our two families. It all goes back to those two crazy couples: Bob and Marge, and Betty and Earl. At some point, I’d love to write about the two families.

But Kyle’s email contained a very specific request. And it’s one I couldn’t turn down.

You see, Kyle’s son Andrew is a veteran of the U.S. Army. Three tours of duty (I believe in Afghanistan). Thirteen months each. Now I don’t fetishize war. I don’t know jack about war. But in my view – regardless of your political views – the men who serve deserve our universal respect. That’s the simple truth. They don’t control the politics. They are there, 24 hours a day, 365, ready to protect and defend.

Andrew was stationed with the 101st Airborne for some time. He was there with his best friend, Joshua.

These men had served together for a good while – grizzled veterans. The wars were winding down. Things were looking bright for the future.

And then Joshua’s chopper went down in Afghanistan, killing him and four other friends of Andrew’s.

As Kyle wrote to me:

“On the helicopter was Andrew’s best friend, Joshua “Josh” Powell. Josh and Andrew were stationed at Fort Campbell, KY, with the 101st Airborne about the same time and this was their 3rd, 13-month tour of duty together. Also on the aircraft was Jonah McClellan, Matthew “Matt” Wagstaff, Marvin Calhoun & Robert Baldwin. These were all good friends of Andrew, as they are each others’ family in the military. The tail number of the aircraft was 517 and their call sign was “Ozzie 76.” ”

Here’s a picture of Andrew by the memorial:

Here's Andrew at the memorial for the boys.

Here’s Andrew at the memorial for the boys. Thanks for your service, men.

So when Kyle asked me to cover a song – If You’re Reading This – I was really humbled and honored.

In learning and recording this tune, I really fell in love with it. I also took the liberty of writing an extra verse of lyrics for the boys. I hope its worthy in some way.

Tonight, this song’s message rings very rich with me, in light of Kyle’s email, and the loss of Uncle Fred.

Damn, it seems like we’re losing a lot of good ones this year.

But I do believe they live on with us, as long as we remember them. So let’s sit back, and think of the loved and the lost tonight. And just remember: we’re all in this together, and nobody – nobody – get’s out of this alive.

2 Responses to “If You’re Reading This”

  1. gril1957 October 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    jay kyle called me this morning and told me u had done this and when i got a chance to listen to it. well ive read and listened over and over and over and i cant get enough. this was so beautiful! sorry also for ur loss god bless u and ur family. and thanks again for this tribute ur the best! love always one of the gaston kids

    • The Publisher December 22, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

      Ah, man – thanks so much for the kind words. You know it was my honor, and I really enjoyed it. Then I got to see Kyle not long ago, albeit during a sad time (Big Blayne’s passing). Anyway, much love to you! BTW – I assume this is Kim, right? 🙂

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