Tag Archives: time travel

Homecoming

Sometimes you can go back.

But why, you might ask, why would I want to go back to this:

I'm with the bandI’m 17. I’m with the band.

This photo (no shocker that it was my entry into Edenland’s Dork Olympics many years ago) was taken one autumn during my high school years. I was a proud member of the marching band, we of the ridiculously hot and unfashionable uniforms and the furry hats designed by Coneheads from France. I played the piccolo — it was the lightest instrument of all and you could always hear my part. I was a squad captain and a serial dater* of members of the drum section. Band was my social group. Yes, we were super-nerds, but we were super-nerds together.

My high school is now in its 50th year, and to celebrate, the current marching band director invited all band alumnae to play last week at the Homecoming game under the Friday night lights.

It was cold, drizzly and miserable — a 40 degree drop from the temperatures the day before. I almost didn’t go. Would I know anyone? Would I recognize anyone? Could I still play? Would the whole thing bore my children?

Luckily, come Friday afternoon my friend DeDe, a flautist, made me hold up my earlier  invitation that we go together. I no longer had a stylin’ hat but I still had my piccolo, my mad Star Spangled Anthem skillz, and a love of wearing the purple. Roger and Reed enjoyed the football game and Tessa enjoyed hanging out with the high school teenagers who were warm and welcoming to we old-timers.

Our friend and brass player Ralph joined for this photo, taken by Tessa.

Homecoming with the marching band

Longtime readers know I like to time travel. And as I played the school fight song and closed my eyes, I was in two places at once. I was a fresh-faced 17 year-old who hadn’t dealt with any real tribulation (but who considered an ill-placed zit a MAJOR TRAGEDY!) and who was chomping at the bit for independence, yet fearing it. I was also a middle-aged mom breathing in the cold night air and giving thanks for the paths my life had taken.

I looked at the current generation of marching band members — fresh-faced kids — and could see that they were in for many of the experiences that people in my class had faced since we were last high-stepping on the field. Some would find satisfying careers and some would be stunted job-wise. Some would age well and others not so much. Some would face loss, cancer, widdowhood, tragedy, sadness, and death. Some would revel in children, grandchildren, accomplishments and triumph. Their paths would be a curious combination of luck and effort, of making things happen and of letting things happen.

Just like mine has been. And continues to be.

* By “dater” I  mean that I had a crush on one drummer or another, mostly unrequited.

All that’s left

About the time I started middle school (or, as we used to say, “junior high”) I had exasperated my piano teacher to the point where she decided I had to find a new teacher. I still don’t know how I flummoxed my mom so. I suppose it could have been my legendary stubbornness.

(Example: My parents told me I could practice any half-hour of the day I wanted. Could be before school or after school or in the evening; I could manage the time as I pleased. I did not like this edict, even though I liked learning to play piano and was quite good at it. Know how I responded? I set the alarm each morning at 3:30, got up and banged my etudes and sonatas as loudly as I could  until 4 am and went back to bed. My parents, to their credit, didn’t mention it at the time, although I know now that middle-aged people don’t sleep very well and absolutely abhor being awakened 3 hours before the alarm.)

Mom found a new teacher for me, a world- renowned composer and teacher who had been featured in the newspaper for publishing her latest opus. Remarkably, she lived within walking distance of our house, but she was not taking any new students. Somehow my mom finagled an interview and audition for me.

I was really nervous for our meeting. But Mrs D, as her students fondly called her, seemed genuinely charmed by me, earnest girl that I was. Mrs D had not one but TWO grand pianos in her living room (a wall had been knocked out to make room) — talk about impressively intimidating. I played for her my best Für Elise on one of the pianos and poof! Mom was no longer saddled with me as her piano student. Soon both my sisters followed me under Mrs D’s tutelage.

Mrs D was quite a character. She taught us not only the notes but to “sniff the keys” — that is, to feel the music and not be afraid to get demonstrative with the keyboard. She would tape ping-pong balls to our palms to counter our tendency to flatten our hands. She was brilliant, whimsical, odd, unafraid, tough, loving, and the most fascinating person I knew. She was a renaissance woman — she wrote novels, painted paintings, traveled the world with her beloved husband, and composed and played songs that evoked a range of emotions for both the listeners and the players. The first time I ever saw my name in print was when Mrs D dedicated a sonatina to me.

Once as a teen I ran away from home…to Mrs D’s house. She listened to me, opened up a can of black olives to console me (our bonding food — with her I was odd, too), and patted me on the bottom as she pushed me back toward home. Another time she and her husband were preparing for their imminent trip to Europe. Not wanting to pay high prices for stuff they could easily bring with them, they one day had me help them make martinis and pour them into seal-a-meal packaging to put in their suitcases. I didn’t realize exactly what I was doing, but it was a merry time helping them get ready.

Several years ago Mrs D’s husband died after a devastating Alzheimer’s decline. She missed him terribly but stayed vibrant and modern, though she was nearing her 90s. She hung out on Facebook, kept composing and publishing music for children, and wrote her autobiography. Turned out she was a codebreaker in WWII but had been under a 50-year veil of secrecy.

Eventually she grew frail and could no longer live in home with her two grand pianos. She was moved to a nursing home where she charmed the staff and entertained the other residents with her piano-playing and storytelling. My sisters and I visited her Thanksgiving of 2010 and sang her this song in harmony. She held each of our hands and made lengthy eye contact, loving us through and through. “Please come back soon, my sweethearts,” she said.

My mom and I visited her last Spring, about this time. We filled her in on our lives, listened to her reminisce, and told her we’d visit again.

Mrs D died last June. She was 92.

I attended the estate sale at her home this weekend. All of Mrs D’s  belongings were on the lawn being picked over by passers-by (the pianos were gone, in the possession of her son). Remnants of a life — junk really. Travel books from the 1970s that no one will ever read. Wall hangings and artwork that look hopelessly dated. Ten thousand travel photos that have meaning only to the two people who took the trip.

I browsed. I time-traveled. I was back in junior high. I was sitting through recitals in that living room. I was either eating black olives or packing green olives in liquid. I was visiting Mrs D while home from college. I was introducing her to the man who would become my husband. I was chasing my toddler around in that living room, trying to keep the knick-knacks safe from her grasp as I showed her off to Mrs D. While my life was ascending, I didn’t even notice Mrs D’s corresponding counter-arc.

This is what’s left of a life. Tchotchkes that outlive their owner, untethered and unowned. Doomed for a landfill. A wave of grief swept over me for the loss and love of Mrs D, the inevitable loss we face, the complete disconnection that waits for everyone. What would my estate sale look like?

I decided to salvage only one item, as impractical as it is symbolic.

A different type of keyboard, to be sure. But a touchstone to a woman who touched my life in a profound way.