Tag Archives: personal history

Unchanged


I keep the change that I periodically empty from my purse in a square glass dish near my desk.  I’m sure there are better things to do with my money, and it’s not always convenient to get to on the sill behind my computer.  I still do it, though, because every time I drop coins in the dish, I see my father.

My dad was a hard working man who put in long hours in a tool and die shop an hour away from home in order to provide a house that was probably more than he could afford for his family. Sometimes when he came through the door he wouldn’t even speak to us, but I knew he was home from the sound of his change hitting the dish in the junk drawer.  He would empty his pockets a few steps away from the garage, releasing his day as he went.  Some days it took longer before he spoke to us, but mostly by the time his change and keys and wallet were in the drawer, he was with us again, and work was left behind.

Back then, that was just the shape of the day.  Now, I understand a little more of what he was doing; divesting his body as soon as he could of the things he had to have in the outside world.  He didn’t need money or identification or keys in his workshop or at his dinner table.  He didn’t need to answer to anybody, or punch a time clock. He was home.

The dish was the first thing I salvaged of my dad’s things when my mother moved into an apartment. It’s not good crystal or an interesting shape, or anything more than a storage vessel. It’s thick, sturdy, everyday glass.  And every time, even now, the sound of coins dropping into the dish makes me see him standing at the drawer, head bent, making his way back to us.

I never thanked him for what he did, and he didn’t expect me to. I thank him now with each penny.

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Filed under Family Relationships, Looking Back, Reflection, Traditions

Stretching


Last Spring I made up my mind to take a chance on trumpet performance, a neglected part of my past.  I began practicing in earnest, not just when I had something to perform for.  I searched out opportunities, made connections, and started to play much more.  Today, I have rehearsals four times a week and teach lessons on two nights.  I had the opportunity to play with three big bands over the summer, and now concert season is beginning again.  On paper that all looks like plenty, but there was another aspect of my musical past that I was ignoring: conducting.

As a school band director, I conducted daily and almost unconsciously, like breathing.  What I conducted was paced more by the limitations of my community band or school group than my conducting skills.  Yet when an email fell into my inbox inviting me to guest conduct a piece in the next University Alumni Concert Band concert, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to put myself out there, in front of a group again.  After all, I was a member of the group in order to play more, right?  Not to conduct.  It would just be an added distraction, and it had been years and years since I last held a baton in my hand.

It would have been easy and quick to decline and let them move on to the next person on their list.  I have plenty to do, between my playing and my family and my other commitments, and this would just be one thing more to take my time.  I haven’t conducted in a long time, I’d rather keep focusing on my playing, I’m just too busy.  Then, I started to suspect that there was a deeper reason I was leaning away from the invitation: I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore.

With that realization I reached my tipping point.  Last week I stepped onto the podium for the first time in almost fourteen years, rediscovering that wall of sound to mold, my other “instrument” that I had given up on ever “playing” again.  My baton shook a little as I made my first prep beat, but I regained confidence as the music blossomed.  I found myself making mental notes on what to rehearse next week, what to try, what to change, what to bring out.  I forgot my nerves, and let myself submerge in the music, doing what I used to do so fluently.

In seven weeks I’ll be standing on a podium in a major university auditorium, guest conducting the piece we have perfected.  Then the only question will be: how do I get more baton time?

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Filed under Accomplishments, Growth, Self Improvement, Self-realization

Alpha and Omega


This is it. My eldest daughter’s last day of public school.  How could that be? I remember so well her first day of kindergarten, and if I was organized enough I would be able to find one of the many pictures I took that morning.

I couldn’t understand the mothers who went to Tea and Tissues with the principal after teary goodbyes, reluctantly allowing their children to finally enter the classroom, some of the kids crying too.  This was a milestone!  School was what we had been preparing for and working toward for the past five years, ever since the little bundle met us.  She attended preschool for a couple of years, to gradually get her ready.  We happily helped her learn her letters and colors, so she wouldn’t go in at a disadvantage.  She was a social child, so no worries there.  The day arrived and she went to her new classroom with curiosity and a smile and I pushed her sister’s stroller home, a bounce in my step.

There have been a few rough patches between that day and this.  I have been disappointed in grades at times, but never in my child.  Teachers have been great and not so great.  Friendships have come and gone, hearts have been hurt, more lessons have been learned than were in the school curriculum.  Triumphs and tragedies; all were so important in the moment and forgotten in the blur now.

Today was a little different in tone than that day so long ago.  Instead of picking out her outfit and helping her dress, brushing her hair and assisting her as she loaded her new backpack, I stood in a quiet kitchen making the last school lunch that I ever would for her.  She breezed down the stairs and packed it up and was out the door and driving away before I could snap one picture.

Maybe my Tea and Tissues day was just delayed thirteen years.

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Filed under Accomplishments, Changes, empty nest, Looking Back, Parenting

Mea Culpa


Today would have been my mother’s ninety-first birthday.  You would think I would be reminiscing about old times, remembering how well she took care of me whenever I was sick, calling the doctor for a house call and hovering over his shoulder in my fevered memory.  The food she spent all day making for us, or how she was a do-er; how she could get “drunk” and giddy on just a Coca-Cola, or how she lost her first husband at the very end of World War II yet was strong enough to build a different life with my father and us.

Instead, I am spending the day wishing I could apologize.  As my daughter approaches her last day of high school this week, I find myself understanding more and more about my relationship with my mom during our contentious years, discovering what she was trying to do.  Time and experience wipe the bull-headedness of youth out of the picture, and I can see her more clearly.

I used to get so frustrated, so irritated that last year before I went away to college.  She seemed to be holding even tighter to me, and I only wanted to take flight.  As my girl does the same thing, I struggle to not want to hold her to my chest for as long as I possibly can.  My mother would tell me things I already knew, give me advice I thought I didn’t need, and treat me like a child.  I fought like a toddler wanting to be put down, trying to get away, only looking forward.

Mama, I understand.  And thank you.

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Filed under empty nest, Family Relationships, Gratitude, Growth, Looking Back, Parenting, Self-realization

More Corners Turned


Well, it’s set.  We have decided on a date for the Graduation open house.  The invitation to the Senior All Night Party has been sent back in.  Cap and gown have been ordered.  Immediate relatives have been given the date for the official graduation ceremony.  As her father says, all my eldest has to do now is actually graduate.

Senior year is such a tough time in any person’s life.  It’s a time of some firsts but many more lasts.  It’s hard for them to concentrate on what they are finishing because there is this big, new, shiny thing hung there in front of them: college and finally living away from home.  I don’t really remember my Senior year other than as a time of impatient waiting.  I was so ready to move on that the last year seemed a waste.

That made it easier to leave behind all the familiar and friendly, all of the people and places I had been around for all my life.  Without the chafing feeling of needing to move on, perhaps it would have been just too sad to end my childhood.  I don’t remember moving from child to adult, myself.  If I had it to do again, I might savor the many things I would never be able to do again in the same way.  Adulthood is so tantalizing, so desired, so coveted by the young, and my daughter is now the one ready to move on.  I see it in her, and so keep silent about my small regrets; she would probably politely discount my words anyway.  I am older, how can I understand?

I am left here, mourning it for her.  Quietly.

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Filed under Changes, Growth, Looking Ahead, Looking Back, Parenting

The Eyes Have It


To go along with getting my instrument fixed and ready to play, I have just gotten one more notch in my musical equipment tool belt.  I have found that I play better when I can actually see the music.  This wasn’t an issue when I first started playing trumpet.

My young, sharp eyes only succumbed for a couple of years to the need for occasional glasses from the eyestrain of playing and studying so much in college.  After that, I didn’t even think about them until I started having to hold my books at arms reach to read them.  Reading glasses are a hassle, but can be dealt with.  Seeing my music on the stand at varying distances, plus the added need to see the conductor twenty-plus feet away in some of my groups, has become a bit of a challenge.  The reading glasses are made for closer work and the music is too far away.  The conductor is fuzzy through the glasses, but clear in my regular vision.  You would think bifocals or Progressives would work, but when you play trumpet you very rarely look at the music directly in front of you; there is a bell in the way.  What to do?

Many of my musician friends would tell me just to do what they do: ignore the conductor.  I have found that it’s nice to have a little eye contact and get a cue or two, so I have taken to peering over my glasses.  Not being able to read the notes quickly is a bit more of a problem.  It kind of makes a difference whether those blurry little dots are on a line or a space, and which one.  By the time I have squinted at them, the time for them to sound is past.

Today I presented my problem to the optometrist and let her figure it out.  Will the finished product solve my problems? Time will tell.  But it’s got to be better than what I have been doing.

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Filed under Accomplishments, Changes, Growth, Self Improvement

Story Time


I was standing behind my youngest daughter, brush in hand, working my way through the big snarl that often forms in her hair overnight.  I don’t know how she does it, but it’s always in the same place, in varying degrees of twisted and intertwined mats.  To take her mind off of my tugging and the pain I was obviously causing, I began a “when Mama was young”-type story.

“You know, I used to spend hours untangling knots just like this from my horse’s tail when I was about your age.  We used to call them fairy knots and imagine mischievous pixies dancing on the horses backs and weaving the strands in and out, just to give us extra work.”  I thought she would like the image of those trouble-making imps taking the horse’s tail and messing it all up.  Instead, she went a whole different direction with it.

“Does that mean you think my head looks like a horse’s behind?” she asked, with a gleam in her eye.

Some things just don’t come out the way you intend them, especially when you have a smarty pants for a kid.  I lifted one eyebrow in her direction and let the words “If the shoe fits, deary…” roll around in my head.  Wonder where she gets it from?

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Filed under Day to Day, Looking Back