When you are a 15-year-old kid (1975) and desperate to record your ‘fine’ rock and roll music, you hunt through your dad’s stuff, find a cassette tape (remember those?) and of course, tape over the existing recording… except that, what was on that tape was far more interesting than the horrid, out-of-tune rendition of Honky Tonk Woman that followed.
34 years later, as my driver followed the Jordan Valley Highway south to drop me off for the tour of Jesus’ baptismal site, I thought back to that fateful day when I wiped out some interesting history on tape.
I wasn’t close to the old boy, but I can’t deny that he had a great go at life. As a US diplomat stationed in Ankara (Turkey), he’d be called on to handle various assignments; one of which was to assist Henry Kissinger in his shuttle diplomacy during the early 1970s. On one such assignment, during the Yom Kippur War, he found himself shuttling between Syria and Israel, the details of which I found in his journals and I’d rather not share. But the tape he brought back of his time with the Israeli Army was surely fascinating.
While that conflict raged on, he found himself inside a mountain bunker with the US and Israeli military officers and NCOs while the Syrians were hurling artillery and vectoring closer to their hardened site. And as the incoming barrage intensified, one could clearly hear the tenor of voices, the back and forth over the radio, and most of all the increasingly terrified voice of the civilians inside; my dad, included, though I could tell he was working hard to be brave.
I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the day my dad came into my room and asked, “have you seen my cassette?” and of course, seeing it on my desk, his heart sinking as he realized that I had taped over a good portion of his prized piece of history. To his credit, he never lost his cool. He just laughed, walked out, and closed the door behind him.
Cresting the rolling mountains overlooking the Dead Sea, passing Jordanian military check posts every few kilometers, I thought back to those earlier years and wondered what the old boy really did see in the desert so long ago.
My driver dropped me off under what looked like a crude, Bedouin tent with the deuce and a half parked next to it (military truck w/canvas top). There were a few other tourists assembled and we all hopped into the back of the truck for our visit to The Jordan River Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ. It was a fascinating walk to the famous river, the Israeli flag snapping in the wind across the way under the unrelenting high sun. Surreal, in a way.
Sitting on a rock by the site, random thoughts coursed through my mind that afternoon. If only my devoutly Catholic grandmother and great-grandmother could have joined me on this pilgrimage; though, I swore I felt their presence…