Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bay Area Book Tour 2018: Friendship, Music and the Berkes Family

Saturday, September 8

When I was at St. Monica Parish in Moraga in the 1990s, we had a succession of good people who served as youth minister until I eventually said Yes to the job. Through all the changes, there was one constant: Andy Berkes, an enthusiastic teenager who grew up to be a remarkable young man. We could always rely on Andy to lead prayer at our weekly youth group meetings or take charge of the ice breaker. He was a natural leader at our annual summer workcamps where we helped build or repair homes in struggling neighborhoods around the country. We stayed in touch over the years and it came as no surprise to me when Andy decided to study theology at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis and became a youth minister himself. He eventually went into a career as a teacher at Catholic high schools. 

In the early 2000s, Andy shared with me his joy in finding his soulmate Unni Elizabeth, and they asked if I could provide the music at their wedding liturgy. How could I say No? Their wedding in San Bernardino was one of my highlights of that decade as I shared in that special day with their family and friends. 

Our lives unfolded in divergent paths but we followed each other on Facebook. Jesse Manibusan and I even did a concert at their parish in St. Louis back in the mid-2000s. Eventually, Andy and Unni resettled back in Moraga and I so enjoyed their annual Christmas photo cards as I saw their three children growing up with each passing year. As I planned for my 2018 Bay Area book tour, I knew I had to make time to visit with the Berkes family. 

I rang the doorbell of their Moraga condo and was greeted enthusiastically by Andy and Unni’s two smiling daughters, Sarita and Sonali. I immediately saw in them their father’s endearing personality. Inside, Daniel was warming up on his clarinet. The three children are budding instrumentalists and they were planning to treat me with a concert. How delightful! 

I was very impressed with the kids’ musicianship. Daniel and Sarita have great tone on their clarinet and flute. Sonali played her piano lessons well and she has a commendable sense of good beat and timing for someone so young. I predict these children will go far as musicians if they stick with it. Then it was my turn. Their parents asked me to play piano and I obliged with some Scott Joplin ragtime, and Sonali kept watching my fingers. We eventually sang my song, “Fly Like a Bird” that I composed while I was youth minister at St. Monica. The kids and their mom sang along and it was a very moving experience. 

As we munched on appetizers, Andy shared with me the challenges and joys of teaching religion at De La Salle, a Catholic boys high school in Concord. Some of the students are obviously only trying to meet a course requirement, but then there are those who are actively engaged and show deep interest in their faith and in what’s happening in the Church today. It was a thoughtful conversation and it did my heart good to see how far this young man had come since our youth group days at St. Monica Parish. 

Then the doorbell rang and Unni’s family walked in to join us for dinner. Her parents and other relatives made the decision to move to Moraga from San Bernardino so they could be with the grandchildren. Andy’s parents also live in Moraga, so the kids have the joy of living in close proximity with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. God has deeply blessed this remarkable family! 

Unni’s father, Dr. Joseph Malancharuvil, is also an author, so we had a lot in common as we shared how we do our craft. He gifted me with his latest book, The Spirit of Joy. I have already started reading it. Very insightful and enjoyable! 

The home cooked dinner was delicious and I truly cherished spending this wonderful evening with Andy and Unni’s family. Thank you, dear friends! 

Andy and Unni are also involved in the ministries of liturgy and faith formation at their parish, St. Perpetua in Lafayette. We are in preliminary discussion about the possibility of my giving a workshop at their parish after the New Year. I will look forward to that! 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Bay Area Book Tour 2018: Good Company

Friday, September 7

My friends Kevin and Siena graciously opened their beautiful Danville home to me for the week. It was a great arrangement because I would be house sitting while they were away on vacation to visit family in Philadelphia. Kevin is a friend from St. Monica Parish in Moraga where I served in the 1990s. I played music for their wedding liturgy last year. That was a fun and awesome day!  

Part of the house sitting involved taking care of my friends’ beloved pets: George the Dog, a smiling golden retriever, and Steve the Cat, an equally golden kitten with tiger-like stripes. Dog and cat, together? Yes! They are best pals. George and Steve love hanging out with each other. I’m not really sure they understand that they’re of different species. All they know is that they are four-legged creatures who live together with two loving and caring humans. And now they had a new human to break in. 

I waved to Kevin and Siena as they drove out to the airport on Friday morning. George and Steve were watching them from the front window. I think they realized their humans were going away but they didn’t seem too sad about it. In fact, no sooner did the car pull away then Steve started jumping around all over the living room on top of my boxes of books and CDs that OCP shipped to the house. I opened each box to take inventory and Steve hopped right in. I had to pull him out by the scruff of his neck so he wouldn’t chew on my books. Meanwhile, George was running around in circles with the package stuffing in his mouth. “This will be an interesting week,” I thought to myself as I laughed at their antics. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

BAY AREA BOOK TOUR 2018: Up, Up and Away

Thursday, September 6

If there’s a constant to my traveling habits, it is this: I always pack at the last minute. Always! I’m not sure why. Maybe deep down inside, I’m a homeboy and I really don’t want to go anywhere. But I’m a composer, author and musician, and travel I must. Besides, I have really looked forward to this particular trip, a Bay Area tour to promote my new book, From Mountains High. 

My flight was at a reasonable 11:00am, which meant I needed to be at Portland airport at 9:00am, which meant I had to leave home around 7:00am in order to beat rush hour traffic, which meant waking up at 4:00am to pack. Yes, I need all that lead time to straggle out of bed and get cleaned up. Did I mention that I hate packing? 

My cat Neo hates packing, too. He knows that when I take out my travel bags that means I’m going away, so he protests by climbing into my bag or suitcase, blocking my efforts at packing. It’s amusing but get out of the way, Neo! 

As expected, traffic was awful. This summer, the Oregon Department of Transportation has been in road construction mode, with all major Portland freeways taking turns at a closure that has caused nightmarish backups during the crucial commute times. I have been able to get around the congestion most of the summer by taking alternate routes but this morning I had to be prepared for delays that might make me late for my flight. Hence, the way-too-early wake-up call. 

Bottom line, I made it to the airport, I checked in, and my plane took off on schedule. For me, the best flight occurs when I fall asleep on takeoff and wake up on landing. I opened my eyes after a 90-minute snooze and I was happily in Oakland, California. Yay! Successful flight! 

More to come...