When Richard Routson got the news that his grandson, 23-year-old Kevin Thomson, was killed Oct. 3 in the war in Afghanistan, he didn't seem to absorb it. The 83-year-old man had been in hospice care for three months with thyroid cancer at Mountain Meadows Retirement Community.
"I told him, but he was so sick. He didn't have a lot of expression," said his widow, Janet Routson, the step-grandmother of Thomson. "He was really starting to process it when the choir came to sing."
The Mountain Meadows choir, called the Meadowlarks, walked over from their practice on the spur of the moment and sang a plaintive song, "The Snow Begins to Fall," outside the Routson's window, in honor of Thomson on Oct. 7.
"The look of worry and concern on Dick's face, the look in his eyes, with Kevin dying and himself dying, you could see it was all sinking in — and Kevin's mother (a single mom with only one child) being left alone," Janet Routson said.
Madeline Hill, the creator of Mountain Meadows and an across-the-street neighbor of the Routsons, prompted the choir to their curbside performance.
"Dick was totally aware," Hill said. "I talked to him after the choir left. He was so incredibly grateful of the thoughtfulness of the community and how they honored his grandson. He patted his heart and put my hand on the same spot on his chest. It brought tears to my eyes."
Four days later, on Oct. 11, Dick Routson died.
Routson and his grandson were very close, Janet said. The soldier's mother, Debra Lee Routson, 47, is a traffic controller with Bulldog Trucking in Reno, Nev.
A winner of the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and other unit citations, Thomson was one of eight soldiers in his unit killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, when enemy forces attacked their outpost with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and indirect fire, according to www.freedomremembered.com.
News stories said the installation, Camp Keating, was overrun by 300 insurgents in a pre-dawn assault — and they called it the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in 15 months.
The serenade at the Routson's door, said choir member Norman Crane, "helped Dick and Janet bear up. I'm glad we could do it because we lost Dick soon after. We got a round of applause from them."
Choir leader Harriet Berman said, "So many of us are not touched by the war, but this was like it happened to a member of the family."
The song, she said, "is very dear to us and was chosen for its expressive and heartfelt mood."
It begins, "Soon the day is over/Soon the sky fades dim/Soon the Earth will sing its winter hymn."
"Singing for Dick did as much for us as it did for them," said Berman. "The feeling of giving, being part of community, being able to comfort each other, it spread through the community."
Dick Routson served in the Navy in World War II on the USS Missouri and supported the war in Afghanistan, his wife said.
"He was a loving and caring person with a wonderful sense of humor — and he was a Christian," she said. "He was definitely for sending more troops to Afghanistan to handle our problems and issues there.
"He was sorry because Kevin was so young, but he was very proud of him. He just got an e-mail from Kevin "¦ that said his grand-daddy was his hero."
Routson, a resident of Southern Oregon for 18 years, was born Jan. 14, 1926 in Flint, Mich. He was a truck trainer with Pacific International Express and later a property manager and resort owner in Hawaii.
He was on the "Mighty Mo" (USS Missouri) when it was commissioned, when it sustained a kamikaze attack and when the Japanese surrender was signed on its decks.
A picture exhibit of Routson's ship and his life is on display in the clubhouse lobby of Mountain Meadows.
Janet Routson, 68, will continue living at Mountain Meadows. She said, "I have a strong faith in the Lord and that he's upholding me. I'm doing OK."