Paula J. Wentz: Millennium Harper of American Generations, 2001
I, Paula Jean Anne McKay Wentz, hereby claim the title of Millennium Harper of American Generations by virtue of playing my harp at all of the sites of historical or natural interest which were visited by Bernice Jez McKay (grandmother), Paula McKay Wentz (mother), Jedidiah Samuel Wentz (son -16) and Joy MaryAnn Wentz (daughter -12), during a Fall Fling Extraordinaire through the American Southwest, September 28 - October 8, 2001.
I have always loved the story of Don Quixote and his quest to "Right the Unrightable Wrong". When I discovered Harping for Harmony's offer of combining my love of the harp with a Quest of my own, I couldn't resist. My first plan was to become the Millennium Harper of the United Methodist Church Cemeteries of Anne Arundel County, MD. I loved the heritage of the United Methodist Church, and thought this was a way to remember that "great cloud of witnesses", as well as connecting the harp's healing presence with those who came to the cemeteries to seek peace in remembering their family members. However, due to the relocation of my husband's job, we had to move residence in May of 2001. This involved sorting through and packing up ten years of accumulation. I found my free time severely limited and had about given up on my Quest.
Then, in August, I realized that my mother would turn 79 this year, and wanted to do something special with her. Since she had never toured very much of the United States, I thought it would be great to take her around the American Southwest to see some of our natural beauty. So we planned a trip for myself, my mother and my daughter and youngest son as a special time to be together. As I was putting together the itinerary, it occurred to me that it would be a wonderful way to commemorate the time if I could combine it with my harp quest. So, I checked with John Lozier (head of Harping for Harmony) and confirmed that I could redefine my quest, and began planning the stops.
My original list of Sites for Playing was as follows: Mitchellville, MD, Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK , Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX, San Busco Market, Santa Fe, NM, Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, NM, St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, NM, Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, NM, Church of Cristo Rey, NM, Camino Lejo, NM, Santuario de Chimayo, NM, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, San Juan Skyway, CO, Hot Springs, Ouray, CO, Silverton, CO, True Grit Cafe, Ridgeway, CO, Anasazi Heritage Center, Cortez, CO, Monument Valley, AZ, Dinosaur Tracks, Tuba City, AZ, Grand Canyon, AZ, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ, Painted Desert, AZ, Route 66, Petroglyph National Monument, NM, Living Desert State Park, NM, Carlsbad Caverns, NM, Springfield, MO, Champaign, IL,
However, I noted that this list was subject to adjustment due to changes in the route. And, we did make some changes, to accommodate my mother's interests. I also broadened the focus to include stops of Natural, Historical or Personal interest, where harp playing could be arranged. This made it possible to include places such as my home, as we left on the quest, and other places of personal interest like Antioch Cemetery, where I was able to play at my father's gravesite. Also, I realized that there might be stops where it would be impossible to arrange to play harp either because of time commitments or logistics, so I added the part about "where harp playing could be arranged". Our actual dates expanded to become September 26, 2001 to October 9, 2001. The final list became: Mitchellville, MD, Antioch Cemetery, Hartshorn, MO, Oral Roberts University dormitories, Tulsa, OK, Philips 66 Gas Station, Route 66, McLean, TX, Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX, A sidewalk checkerboard area, Santa Fe, NM, The Plaza, Santa Fe, NM, St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, NM, Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, NM, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe, NM, Santuario de Chimayo, Chimayo, NM, A Mountain outside of Chimayo, NM, watching the sunset, Casa Escondida Bed and Breakfast, Chimayo, NM, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, Durango, CO, Molas Pass, San Juan Skyway, CO, Silverton, CO, Quality Book Store and Cafe, Cortez, CO, The Four Corners Monument, UT, CO, NM, AZ and Navajo Nation, Grand Canyon, AZ, A Rock hounding desert location outside of Holbrook, NM, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM, The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Groom, TX, The Praying Hands, Tulsa, OK, Springfield, MO,
In order to document my Quest, I created a binder with our itinerary, my Declaration of my Quest, and two pages for each site where I played. On one page, I put souvenir type mementos, postcards, maps, etc. On the other side, my daughter was responsible for writing up a page detailing the place, the time, and a line for a witness to sign. She usually decorated these with drawings or other thoughts. My daughter and son would take charge in each place, approaching people who were listening to explain what I was doing, and asking them to witness the event. They would also give them a leaflet with a more detailed explanation and a harp pin that Harping for Harmony provided. My leaflet included the declaration of my Quest, an explanation of who I was and why I was doing this, my list of sites, and a section detailing the requirements for the Quest. Many times I was able to talk with passersby; other times, my children and mother did most of the conversing, and there were a couple of times where there were no others around and I had to get signatures from my family.
First stop: When we left on September 26, I played sitting in a swing under a gigantic basswood tree in the front yard of our new home in Mitchellville. I wanted this to be the first place on my Quest in order to include my husband as the first witness. He has been so supportive to me in doing this project (not the least of which was paying for the trip!), that I felt this was very important. ? I cried as I played here. The recent terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. were still painfully fresh, and I realized the fragility of life as we left him to go on this trip.
Second Stop: I decided to add in the stop at Antioch cemetery as we were driving through St. Louis, MO, and discussing the Quest. I realized that my father had never heard me play the harp, since I began playing after he died in 1995. I felt it was important to include that stop so I could play at his gravesite and the gravesite of my sister, Mary Ann, and remember them in the "American Generations" theme. It was an emotional stop. Jed and Joy visited the other graves, looking at the dates and quotes while I sat and played. We placed a flag on my father's gravestone to commemorate and remember every 4th of July, when he would take us outside and have a flag raising ceremony when we visited them. This was particularly touching because when the terrorist attacks came on September 11, we took the flag used to drape my father's coffin and flew it over our house as a sign of connection to him and his Navy career. Joy and Jed signed as witnesses.
Third Stop: Oral Roberts University dormitories, Tulsa, OK. This was a more public stop than the first two. We had picked up my mother in Springfield, MO and were planning to stop and eat lunch with John and Jeremiah, two of my other sons in Tulsa. Since we got there early, I went to the University to see if I could sit and play outside the dormitories. Most of the students were in chapel, but there was one young lady who walked by and agreed to sign our witness sheet after I had played about three songs.
Fourth Stop: As we drove through Texas, we got off the interstate to see some of old Route 66. In the small town of McLean, TX, was a tiny pink gas station that turned out to be the First Phillips 66 Gas station in the state of Texas. Gas cost 19 cents a gallon in 1929 when it was built. I sat on an old fuel tank and played. Most of the town was deserted, except that across the street was a mechanic working on a car: Joy, Jed and my mother asked him to witness.
Fifth Stop: Cadillac Ranch, outside of Amarillo, TX. This was a really neat stop that we had to search to find. Stanley Marsh, III, erected ten cadillacs in his farm field outside of Amarillo. They are all at the angle of the Cheops pyramid, and half imbedded in the earth, lined up in a nice row. We had a great time inspecting them, writing our names on them (this seems to be encouraged - I signed my name and put "Millennium Harper, 2001". My mother signed her name in Polish. ) and taking pictures before I sat and played. The wind also played my harp there. A couple from Kentucky were our witnesses. I thought this was such a great place - pure Americana - an open field, still being worked, with no signs, no admission fees, just these odd Cadillacs stuck in the ground, yet open to any one to come and enjoy.
Sixth Stop: As we got out of the van in Santa Fe, we saw a carved stone table with a checkerboard etched into it. There were stone seats and dimes and pennies were left there for anyone to use. What a neat introduction to Santa Fe! My mother and the kids played checkers. I stood behind the table and played perhaps for twenty minutes. Most people looked interested as they passed, but nobody really stopped. Joy asked a gentleman to sign for us.
Seventh Stop: After playing checkers, we walked over to the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe. There were dozens of people milling about. I asked a group of firemen if they thought I could play my harp there. They told me that the only problem would be if I played fast enough to cause enough friction to require their help. I set up on the fountain in the middle of the plaza. This was particularly poignant, because ribbons had been tied there with the names of those killed in the terrorist attacks. I told people who stopped that I was playing for peace. One gentleman who seemed to be a local character stopped and talked to some extent about the harp, agreeing to sign for us.
Eighth Stop: We walked over to St. Francis Cathedral. Since this was a Sunday, I did not want to play too close to the church and disturb the Mass attendees. I asked a few guides if I could play. Most of them said they couldn't make that decision, but then one suggested I go ahead and try and see if anyone stopped me. I was setting up near the sidewalk when we were approached by two gentlemen. One was Uncle Jimmy who described himself as the volunteer doorkeeper of St. Francis. He was extremely interested in what we were doing, and insisted on getting me in to play between the services. Once the first mass was over, he introduced us to the Music Director and set me up beside the baptismal pool in the center of the sanctuary. I played for 20 to 30 minutes while people came in and quietly walked around and prayed. A wonderful experience! Uncle Jimmy, his nephew Leslie and the Music Director all witnessed.
Ninth Stop: Uncle Jimmy walked us over to the Loretto Chapel and told the receptionist what we were doing, telling her that he thought we should be able to get in free and they should let me play behind the staircase. The receptionist agreed, and once again I had a tremendous experience, playing right beside the circular staircase that was miraculously made by the nuns unusual visitor. The receptionist and the curator signed for us.
Tenth Stop: We wanted to attend church at the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States. I asked the priest if I could play in the courtyard before Mass, and he agreed. Our witness was a woman who sat on the wall while I played for 15 minutes.
Eleventh Stop: El Santuario de Chimayo was a really neat old mission where many years ago a farmer found a crucifix in his field, and the soil around the crucifix became known to have healing properties. The church was built around this hole, where people still dig up some of the healing dirt and attest to miracles. I played in the courtyard/graveyard after touring the church. Joy asked a bystander to witness.
Twelfth Stop: After eating dinner, we sought out a place to watch the sunset over the desert. It was such a beautiful scene, that I wanted to include it in the quest. As I played, my mother signed as witness.
Thirteenth Stop: We stayed at the Casa Escondida Bed and Breakfast in Chimayo. After breakfast, I asked the cook if I could play for her while she continued to serve the others. She was so excited, saying that it was the most relaxing breakfast she had ever cooked. She had a music degree and thought the music I played sounded baroque. She was our witness.
Fourteenth Stop: We visited Mesa Verde National Park and stopped at a Geological overlook while descending the mountain. The view over the valley was magnificent. I sat and played for 15 minutes or so. Our witnesses (from New Hampshire) described it as "a beautiful place to play beautiful music!"
Fifteenth Stop: Durango, CO was my most difficult spot. I wanted to play in the downtown area, on a bench on Main Street. So I asked a man opening up shop next to a bench if I could play there and he gave a very uninterested assent. As I played, people seemed to be furtively interested, but not wanting to be stopped. couple of men who stood for some time watching from the front of the next store, insisted that they were on a very tight time schedule and hurried away when we asked them to sign. I finally went down into the store of the man who said I could played (it turned out to be a liquor store). He agreed to sign, but showed no interest in what we were doing. All around, a very unsatisfactory visit, yet I told myself that I was creating a "Presence".
Sixteenth Stop: Molas Pass, San Juan Skyway, Colorado. This was a tremendous stop - which was good, following the time in Durango. I played at the lookout pullout for Molas Pass, 11,900 feet high. Jed ran though the fields on the side of the mountain. Joy and my mother stayed with me and obtained a witness. One man heard the playing from below and came up to see, then asked me to keep playing. Other people can and wanted to stay and listen. A very positive experience, with a lot of encouragement.
Seventeenth Stop: Silverton, Colorado was another difficult time. We were all tired out from seeing a gold mine in the town, and driving on the Skyway, and we had difficulty finding a place to eat lunch because it was so late. However, I asked the owner of the lunch shop if I could play in front of his cafe, and he agreed, although with a lack of interest. The experience was very similar to Durango, and again, I reminded myself that I was creating a "Presence".
Eighteenth Stop: This had to be one of the highlights of the Quest. We slept in Cortex, CO after driving the Skyway. In the morning, my mother, Joy and I left Jed to pack up the motel room while we explored the town. There were few shops open that early, but one was a small cafe/bookstore, called the Quality Bookstore. I asked the owner if I could play outside her shop while my mother and Joy looked at the books, and she said, "Why don't you play right here inside?" She put me on a small stage in front of three or four patrons eating their breakfast. I played 20 minutes or so, then went over to talk with the men listening. They were all very appreciative and signed my witness form. One talked about his mother from Ireland and I played a jig for him. A couple of ladies came in as I was packing up, so I played some more for them, and talked a long time. Then, as I was giving the owner a harp pin, she said that she wanted a picture of me to put on their board with all the other performers! So she took a Polaroid picture and I signed it "Paula Wentz, Millennium Harper 2001". It now hangs on their wall. But the most amazing thing about this stop was that the theme of the bookstore was Don Quixote. There were pictures all over the walls of him - it was such a neat tie-in to the idea of my Quest!
Nineteenth Stop The Four Corners Monument was another wonderful experience. I played on a bench while the others stood on the monument and got their pictures taken. When I was done, two Navajo gentlemen came over and exclaimed about the harp and how they thought someone had put on a recording. (The Navajo people were in vending areas off to the side of the Monument.) I let them try the harp and explained a little about what we were doing. They thanked us profusely and went back to their vending area. As we were getting frybread before heading on, one of them came back with four beautiful bookmarks that he had painted and signed on the back. It was such a touching gesture. I sent Jed to the van to find one of my CDs that I had recorded and gave it to him, after he insisted that I sign it. A wonderful example of the harp reaching across the different cultures!
Twentieth Stop: Grand Canyon National Park was a beautiful setting. I played on the main overlook, so there were lots of people milling around and listening. We had an extensive conversation with a couple from England and several others who wanted to know about harps. Three or four people tried playing my harp.
Twenty-first Stop: My mother wanted to go rock hounding, so we stopped outside of Holbrook, NM, to look for petrified wood on the Bureau of Land Management land. After finding my own souvenir rocks, I sat and played by the van while the rest finished. Very peaceful environment until the wind picked up and I thought we might be in for a thunderstorm. Joy witnessed this stop.
Twenty-second Stop: Our next stop was at Carlsbad Caverns. After touring the caverns, we stopped at an overlook. I played on some stone steps while the others went to explore a trail into the cacti. A family returning from the trail signed my form.
Twenty-third Stop: Outside of Groom Texas was a gigantic cross which is supposed to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere. It was put up by the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries, and includes life-size statues of the Way of the Cross in a big circle around the cross. I could have played here all day. It was such a peaceful feeling. I sat next to the statue of Jesus in front of Pilate and played many worship songs.
Twenty-fourth Stop: I really wanted to include my other sons in the Quest, so when we drove back through Tulsa, OK, we met them at the Praying Hands at Oral Roberts University. Even though I had already played at the dormitories near the beginning of the trip, this was a different stop at a different attraction, and I wanted to include it. There were many more people around this time, and I got John and Jeremiah to witness the playing.
Twenty-fifth Stop: I wanted my last stop to be at my mother's house in Springfield, MO, to bring the Quest to a close. I played for her outside, in front of her home just before Jed and Joy and I left to come home.
In order to include my oldest son, Joshua, in the Quest, we stopped to have dinner with him in Champaign, ILL, and I asked him to write out an official declaration of completion for my book. That is included with his picture on the last page of the notebook.
This whole experience was so incredible, and I am so grateful to John Lozier for presenting this opportunity for us. I treasure the time that I had with my mother and children on this trip. The harp quest provided all of us a common goal, since we all helped make it come true. The Quest has been one of the high points of my life. It captured my interest and became a focus for much of the year, as I planned and finally undertook it. I now have a notebook full of pictures, mementos and wonderful memories that will be an inspiration for future years. My horizons have been opened, and I believe that I can attempt and succeed at things I once would not have considered.
Paula Jean Anne McKay Wentz,