Dear Partner Letter #14: Part of the River

Songs & Stories From Home Episode 74



When my days are over and the race has been run
Turn my body to ashes and fly toward the sun
Over a mountain let those ashes go
Down to the forest and the river below

I'll be part of the river that flows to the sea
Part of the great waves that crash on the beach
Part of the gray clouds that thunder to shore
Then I'll be a raindrop that falls in the storm

Part of rainbow that comes with the sun
Puts gold on the mountain where the great river runs


Dear Partner,

That song, Part of the River, was written for your dad. I drove to your place right after you called to tell me he’d died. January 11, 1986. As we sat there that evening sipping wine you told me you were planning on getting your pilots license so you could fly around Mt. Rainier, where your dad had spent so much of his childhood. You were planning on pouring his ashes from the plane as you were flying over the mountain. I was so taken with the idea that by the time I got home most of the song was written. It turned out you didn’t get the license, and If I’m remembering correctly your mom kept your dad’s ashes in her car for more than ten years, taking him everywhere. 

As we’ve talked about before the idea for these letters came because in the Fall of 2020 we’d been friends for 55 years. One way or another we’d been singing together just as long. The fact that it was also 25 years from the moment you finally trusted you could be loved and took your leap of faith because you believed it. was even more reason to celebrate. And then came the pandemic. For the moment these letters will have to do.

For me it’s important we sing together because we are friends, we’re not friends because we sing together. The truth of that was made more real in the years following the Meany Hall concert we did in September of 84. You rightfully remained committed to your teaching career. A few months after that show I rejoined The Brothers Four. My songwriting continued to evolve, in many ways becoming even more personal. 

The concerts we did do were at smaller venues. Just the two of us on stage. And then in 1987, approaching 40, I needed to prove something to myself. I told you I was planning on doing a concert without you. It was a tough moment for both of us, made tougher when you said honestly it would be hard for you to sit in the audience and just watch. 

Around that same time, I met Leslie Eliel at a songwriting workshop. The three of us ended up doing some shows together. One of them included our friend and your fellow teacher, Steve Watson. 

Your daughter, Kiesa, was born in 1986 and in 1989 your son, Riley. That was also the year you quit drinking. I remember a close relationship you developed for a while with tonic water, and then some really tough times. 

Mind boggling, gut wrenching, heart stopping, soul searching times.

Some of it feels so long ago. Some of it still so vivid. I was living on Capitol Hill. I remember a night we got together. We found somewhere to eat on Broadway. A lot of the conversation was about not being in control. Being out of control. Because I wasn’t at a place where I could lift you up, part of me still feels like I let you down. We would record a song years later that touches on that time.


Had years we simply weren’t there for each other
Those years we couldn’t be there for ourselves
We couldn’t love who we saw in the mirror
We surely couldn’t love somebody else


We were lost boys out there on the road
Lost boys each out on our own
Not knowing if in time we’d ever find our way back home
Lost boys out there on the road


There we were in our 40’s, still so much to learn about how to be there for ourselves, to be there, to be a witness, for somebody else. Still so much to learn about love and about truth. About truly living loving lives. Wanting so much to be loved and yet when love got too close often pushing that love away. The hardest thing now is thinking about the people that we, that I, hurt along the way. For years trying to solve the riddle: How can someone love me unless they know me well, yet if they know me well how can they love me?

Eventually our singing together was mostly at each other’s houses. We were both busy making sense of our lives. The Brothers Four were enjoying a renaissance at home and abroad. I performed by myself including several extended stretches in Sun Valley. Pat and I became a couple in 1990. In 93 I did a solo album and some shows to promote it. One of the tracks was the two of us singing Dear Partner and another was The Brothers Four singing a song I wrote with Leslie, The Heart of the Heartland. Of the other dozen songs half were new and the other half were songs I wanted to put my own stamp on like Magic Carpet

At the time I chose not to talk to you about what I was doing regarding those songs. I rationalized. Things like it was easier not to say something. Did I really need to say something? What difference does saying something really make? The truth is at the time I couldn’t explain to myself why I felt that strong a need to make those songs my own. Or why when you told me you might not be able to simply be in the audience it aroused fears of abandonment. I do know how good it feels now to give voice to my fears.

There were a series of events in 1994 that would remind me again of the preciousness and fragileness of life. When my cousin, Jane, at 39 was diagnosed with breast cancer I told her I would write her every Friday until she got well. I sent her post cards for 18 months. She died on March 24, 1994. That May my father suffered a stroke. In early June Pat and her daughter, Jodie, were robbed at knifepoint. A few weeks later Pat successfully donated bone marrow to someone who she would learn a year later was an eleven-year-old only child. Then in September Pat and her youngest daughter, Lindsey, both survived a serious car accident.  

That cascade of calamities was not only a reason to take stock of a life, but to also find ways and reasons to celebrate even more the moments of joy in our lives.  Like the moments we will talk about in the next letter when I spoke at your wedding and you sang, spoke and stood next to me at mine. We’ll end this letter with a question we asked at a 1986 concert that we struggled for years to answer: What does someone like yourself find to love in me?


Sometimes I stop and wonder what is life about
Stop and ask some questions try to figure some things out
Some are questions with few answers some are ways to wonder why
Though I may not find the answers at times I have to try


Is love something that grows out of us or that we grow into
Is faith what we believe in or something that we do
What of human motivations, what of love and what of fear
What unites us what divides us what are we doing here
When there is enough of something, why do we still want more
What is truth and what of justice can we put an end to war
Where does tomorrow come from the past where does it go
These are just a few things I'd really like to know
Then there's one more question, important, yes indeed
What does someone like yourself FIND TO LOVE IN ME


What is more important what we feel, believe, or think
Does it really matter in some larger scheme of things
If one person makes no difference then what difference does it make
About people we run into is it chance or is it fate
Is there life out there somewhere, if there is what is it worth
Is it somehow more important than life right here on earth
Is there life after this one or is this one all she wrote
These are just a few things I'd really like to know
Then there's one more question important yes indeed
What does someone like yourself FIND TO LOVE IN ME

Songs & Stories From Home | Mark Pearson Music

One of Those Times in a Life | Mark Pearson Music

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