One night during the summer of 1989, I was over at my friend Del Rendon’s house. We both lived in Starkville, Mississippi. We also both played guitar. After playing half the songs in the Led Zeppelin acoustic catalogue, we started to talk. Del tried to convince me to start playing music for a living with my friend Shannon who is an enormously talented vocalist. Shannon was also over at Del’s house that night so we both heard an earful of compliments from our kind and humble friend.
By the middle of the summer of 1990 Shannon and I were both making ends meet playing in the local bars and also in a few bars in the Mississippi Delta. The bar we played in the most was called the Bully III in Starkville. That was where Del waited tables working for our mutual friend David Lee Odom. It took a lot of convincing but one night Del got up on stage with David and sang an old Zeppelin song. The crowd went wild. Then, Del stayed on stage and sang a song he wrote called Brainstorming. It was and still is my favorite Del Rendon original.
Eventually it was my turn to encourage Del the way he had once encouraged me. In 1993, I had finally achieved my goal of getting a PhD and landing a job as a professor. Before I left town I told Del to pick up where we left off. Starkville has a long and proud tradition of great local music. It also has a tight community of musicians who really look out for each other. Jim Beaty, Bill Cooke, Jeff Cummings, Jeff Rupp, the list goes on. I’ll never forget those guys who have dedicated their lives to making people smile with their talent, their love of music, and their love of the people they play for. (Sorry but I have a love of ending sentences with prepositions. It’s something I’m really not ashamed of).
I’m not sure I can really describe the happiness I experienced when I came rolling into Starkville one weekend in 1996 to play in the wedding of an old friend. That happiness set in as I drove past the old Bully III and saw Del’s name on the marquis. After I turned the car around and found a parking space I slipped into a seat at a table in the back of the bar. Within just a few minutes Del recognized me. He called me up to the stage to play an old tune (Zeppelin, of course) called Your Time is Gonna Come. It was a great time and it was great to see Del playing guitar and singing in front of a live audience without a hint of the old shyness that used to keep him off stage.
When I came back to Starkville in 2000 I met an old girlfriend in one of the old dives I used to play in. When Del’s name came up she started to rave about his new band called Del Rendon and the Puerto Rican Rum Drunks. Before she was finished raving about the band none other than Del Rendon came walking into the crowded bar. After we caught up for a few minutes Del went out to his car to get me a present. It was a copy of Chameleon, his band’s new CD. In typical Del Rendon fashion he would not allow me to pay him for it. So I bought him a beer instead.
I didn’t see Del again until 2004. I was doing a book signing in the MSU bookstore (yes, they do have books at Mississippi State) after a home football game. Del was playing at a local restaurant/bar called The Veranda. So I went to see him play. As usual, he called me up to the stage just a few minutes after I walked in the bar. We played a few songs and then ended where we began – with an old Zeppelin tune.
Your Time is Gonna Come was an appropriate finale. When we finished the song he just turned to me and thanked me for playing with him. That was the last time I saw Del Rendon alive.
When I picked up the phone that afternoon in the late summer of 2005 I just knew something was wrong. It was Dave Odom. He called to tell me that Del had died just a few hours before. Sadly, his death came just a few weeks before his fortieth birthday. It was the kind of sudden death so many musicians had died before him. But Del was so much more than just another musician.
Del the art teacher would be missed by his students. Del the singer/songwriter would be missed by his fans. Del the friend would be missed by his friends. His family, especially his wife and soul mate, would all be left with big holes in their hearts. They would be more like craters that no one else could ever fill.
Not long after Del passed I started thinking about God’s first great commandment. He said we are supposed to love Him with all of our hearts and all of our souls and all our minds. And that means we have no right to keep the gifts He gave us to ourselves. And, of course, His second great commandment says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. And that means we must shower them with encouragement when they are doing less with God’s gifts than they should be.
The arrow between God’s two great commandments points in both directions. When we encourage others to use their God-given talents to make others happy we do more than just pave the way for the happiness of others. We also pave the way for our own happiness. Those who show kindness and humility are not only the ones most likely to give encouragement. They are also its most likely recipients.
Among the best lessons Del Rendon the teacher taught us is that there’s no time to be discouraged. We have to dedicate our lives to encouraging others. Pretty soon, our time is coming, too.