Fargo, North Dakota — The natives say, “It isn’t the end of the world, but you can see it from here.”
Winter continued to firmly hold the North Central Plains in its grasp. The skies were leaden and the landscape a sheet of white. I left the Fargo Holiday Inn early in the morning and drove north on Highway 29, parallel to the Red River of the North, to Grand Forks, North Dakota.
I had spent about four hours in the subzero temperatures attempting to solve an air conditioning problem that had puzzled the servicing dealer for several weeks.
We finally had corrected the problem, and now I was back in my motel room in Fargo. I had a quick bite to eat, took a hot shower, got into some comfortable clothes and decided to relax before turning in for the night. I had a poolside room and opened the drapes so I could watch people enjoying themselves in the pool. Laughter and the sound of water splashing filled the air.
I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew I thought I heard music. I looked out and saw that the overhead lights in the pool area had dimmed. I opened the door to my room and stood in the entrance. Yes, there was music coming from somewhere.
I looked up and noticed doors to the second floor rooms standing open and people standing in the doorways or leaning over the railing. They were all intent on listening to the music.
“Alive, alive oh! Alive, alive oh!
Crying, cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh!”
Of course! I knew that song — “Molly Malone,” an old Irish ditty.
My eyes were now becoming accustomed to the dim light, and I was able to see more people on the lower level standing in their doorways. I could feel movement in the darkness, but was unable to clearly distinguish anyone involved in the singing. Quickly the group starts to sing a medley of Broadway Show Tunes. Selections from Brigadoon, Camelot, The King and I, and My Fair Lady fill the room. And then slowly from out of the darkness comes the sounds of:
“O, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
Away you rolling river
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
Away I’m bound away,
‘Cross the wide Missouri.”
“Oh beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain’s majesty
Above the fruited plain.”
Followed by our National Anthem.
“Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”
Except for the lapping of the water at the sides of the pool, there wasn’t a sound to be heard that might compete with the invisible chorus. The audience appeared to be enthralled. A moment of silence and then…
O Canada Terre de nos ai eax,
Ton front est ceint de fleu-rons flor-ri eux
I recognized the tune. Of course! It is the HYMNE NATIONAL, O’CANADA being sung in French, the language of Canada’s nearby province of Ontario. There was a slight pause and then… quietly, but increasing in volume came the familiar…
O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
the True North strong and free!
The audience is mesmerized and some appear to be silently humming along with this beautiful rendition of the Canadian National Anthem. Now, all is silent with the exception of the muted sounds of movement. The chorus is silently leaving the area and returning to their rooms. There is no applause. None is needed nor expected.
But all who have experienced this impromptu display of music nod their heads in appreciation… well done. And now the lights in the pool area are further dimmed. The only sounds are the closing of doors as people return to their rooms, and the lapping of the water against the sides of the pool.
Art Elchek, 89, lives in Tyler. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked and served aboard PT boats in the Pacific. In recent years, he has lectured on World War II at area high schools, telling students, “I’m not a hero; but I knew many heroes.”