Omnes de Saba Venient
By Gipsy Finnan
In 1962, I was eleven years old and went to see the Walt Disney movie “Almost Angels”. The story was about being in the Vienna Boy’s Choir and filled me with a holy longing I was unprepared for.
The choir boys lived at the school, sang every day, and one of them played the oboe.
I was a girl living in an impoverished town on the Arizona-New Mexico border and the cultural sophistication of Vienna seemed like such an ethereal notion. The almost unendurable realization that this was not a possibility for me was like whittling my expectations into a mutilated rainbow, but the spiritual embryo that was planted has had enduring relevance in the peregrinations of my life.
I was born under the same sky as the Apache warrior Geronimo (Goyaklah). Woven through my childhood are Old Black Joe who lived in a cave; Cactus Annie, a devoted rock-hound that ate raw potatoes sprinkled with salt; Fleetabelle Bonine was a red-haired ball of fire that screamed at ear-splitting decibels; Heavy Ware was the proprietor of a soda shop called the Big Dipper and he handed candy bars to all children with them pinched in the claw of his metal hook hand.
I had schoolmates called Cholo, Chava and Chuy and our neighbor Consuelo shuffled around in slippers with her heavy ankles spilling over the sides. She roasted mountains of green chiles and her green corn tamales became our family’s culinary dream come true.
Tommy Sidebottom, retired sheriff, wore a monocle and stood on a wooden box in the center of town directing traffic with a gleaming silver whistle, prolific spittle and spinning arms.
Community music was limited to an annual Cattleman’s dance outdoors with a trio of elder gents playing smooth western tunes. Pedal steel, fiddle and snare drum with brushes. From time to time, a mariachi band would play at an open wedding (everyone comes, everyone drinks) and we got to dance corridos in the Social Club. When the Holy Ghost Revival set up their tent and offered Salvation Healing, Deliverance Prophecy, Restoration and Fresh Anointing of the Holy Ghost, you could hear a few exuberant singers with their hands raised high.
So, I took up smoking Camel non-filters and floating the river on an inner-tube.
Now, I can say that I have sung an alto aria from Handel’s Messiah (with orchestra), I play contemporary classical guitar music of the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, and move haltingly through the piano score of the Goldberg Variations by Bach. I have studied the erhu in mainland China, the charango in Chile, and the baglama saz in Turkey.
This quote by Roald Dahl whispers to me each day:
“Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Like a netsuke snuffbox with redemptive treasures inside, I can listen to the boy treble sing Omnes de Saba Venient by J. von Eybler and know, deep in my heart, what accidental grace is. Accidental grace leads us home.