The first time I met Pete Seeger, I was far too young to remember it. I was, more than likely, an infant. Pete was an old friend of my parents’, having probably met my father in the 1950s or early 1960s. when they were both fighting fascism and oppression in their own ways, both at home and abroad. When weren’t they, really? In those days Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Paul Robeson Jr., and many others were frequent visitors at our home and while I am proud to know this now, I’ll confess that this was not of primary concern to a small child.
One thing I do remember about Pete is that he was great with kids. Or at least he was with me. Picnics with Pete on the banks of the Hudson became a somewhat regular occurrence* and on one particular night in 1983 at dinner in the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Pete indulged a 12 year-old’s whimsy far more than he needed to.
I had recently learned to make wine glasses “whistle” by wetting a finger and running at around the rim of the glass. To my joy, I was seated next to Pete and at some point in the evening, I started getting bored (dinners in Cuba start late and can go very late) and so I started playing with my wine (water) glass. Pete claimed had never seen this (I suspect he was fibbing) and he and I proceeded to have some fun with the other tables in the dining room by making our glasses whistle and, when people would look around, pretending we were also looking for the source of the whistling. I’ve always thought that one of the true measures of an adult is how they relate to children.
My house was always full of music, despite no one in my family being able to play a lick. Classical and folk were the predominant styles and so many of Pete’s songs have been part of my life since I was a small child. Granted, I was an odd kid. I mean, how many 10 year-old do you know who know the words to “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” and “Which Side Are You On?” Much of the credit for that should be given to Pete.
The last 2 times I saw Pete were at memorial services. The first was for Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul & Mary fame) in 2009 and the second in 2005 at my mother’s service. Alas, the weather too bad for him to make it to my father’s memorial in 2007. One of the many drawbacks to the aging process is having friends, loved ones, and those we admire pass on. It’s a part of life, but one I have not yet come to grips with.
Pete was one of the bravest, kindest, and most principled people to ever walk the earth. He was one of a kind for so many reasons and I dare say we shan’t see the likes of him again any time soon.
He also had a beautiful falsetto!
*Possible inflation of frequency due to the passage of time.