Scott Paterson looked like an old hippie, long-limbed and bony, with a brown ponytail, bad teeth and sunken cheeks. He was a Vietnam vet, a surfer, a cowboy, a logger, a sometimes hermit, a six-time husband with several estranged kids and grandkids, a recovering alcoholic, and a musician. He played guitar and wrote songs unlike anybody else’s songs, with titles including “Up Country,” “Slow Wind” and “Psychotic Love.”
In other words, he was the kind of guy my dad would dismiss as a bum. But Dad would be wrong. Scott died on Feb. 7 at age 64. I had heard he had lung cancer, but the newspaper said it was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Either way, his diseased lungs killed him off. We gathered at the Newport Senior Center on Saturday to honor his memory.
It was quite a mixed gathering. Scott had been leader of the Lincoln City VFW post, so old people all dressed up occupied the center table. A gray-haired trumpeter blew taps and presented a triangle-folded U.S. flag to Scott’s tall, skinny, tattooed, red-haired, blue-jeaned daughter Darsea. Scott had been musical partners with Renae, a tiny gay lady with a mullet hairdo. Renae picked up her flute and played “Amazing Grace” like liquid silver.
Scott and Renae, who called themselves Sea Changes, had hosted an open mic for years. That’s how I happened to be there. I would come play my guitar and try out new songs on Sunday afternoons. So the audience included musicians of all sorts. Gus played his saxophone. Debbie played her mandolin, accompanied by her husband Randy on guitar.
Unlike the many religious services I have attended, this was just a steady stream of memories. Renae and Darsea had laid out hundreds of photos of Scott from the various stages of his life, from little boy to soldier to father to musician. Among them, they placed pictures of us playing our music at the open mic and encouraged us to take them home. I’ve got a picture on my refrigerator now of me sitting in a chair playing classical guitar. I can picture Scott off to the side, cheering me on. The display also included the article I wrote about Sea Changes for Northwest Senior News back in 2007, when the band included mandolinist Kate Scannell, and the three never stopped teasing each other.
One person after another came up to talk. Many, including some of the musicians, knew Scott well from the sobriety community. The only prayer we prayed was the serenity prayer. Tears filled my eyes as we said, “God grant me the serenity . . .”
So many losses lately. I’ll miss Scott.
As I said, Dad would have dismissed Scott as a bum, although in truth he worked most of his life. There were those times when he took to a cabin in the woods and disappeared, but he worked at all kinds of jobs, and he worked hard until illness forced him to go on disability. He had all those wives and all those kids and was estranged from nearly all of them. He struggled with substance abuse and PTSD. But the constant theme from every speaker at his memorial was Scott’s kindness. Everyone had a story of how he loved and encouraged them and helped in times of need.
There were tears and laughs. Debra Lee, his last girlfriend, told how Scott had asked her to be wife number seven, but he lived way up a muddy road in a cabin with no running water and she was a city girl, so she said, “No.” But she loved him, and his last words to her were “I love you.” Those were our last words to Scott, too, as we adjourned to take another look at the photos and visit over cupcakes and cookies as his music played in the background.