In the 4th grade I decided to learn the viola and joined the school orchestra. That endeavor lasted a year. While others excelled, I broke strings and learned to make noises that resembled cats dying in an alley rather than beautiful melodies.
In the 5th grade I decided to switch from orchestra to band. The cornet was my instrument of choice. My mother had played the cornet at Bowlegs High (seriously—Bowlegs, Oklahoma). Evidently she was pretty good, even using the horn my grandparents bought for her at a Seminole, Oklahoma second hand store. She kept it polished and would occasionally pull it out of its case and play a few notes for us. Rather than purchase a new horn for me, the cornet was brought out from the closet and became mine for the year. There was a problem. Even though Mom could muster up a few notes, it was still old (heavens…it was second hand when Mom got it—now it was “third hand” for me!). I could barely get a note out of it. How I even passed band that year, I do not know. I can’t remember ever being able to play a single song on it. I gladly returned the horn to my Mother’s possession at the end of the year.
Eventually the cornet became a decoration in our home. It sat upon a shelf—a source of entertainment and laughs brought down on family reunions and gatherings. To try to blow a note could mean almost passing out from the effort. Only Mom could really play anything that remotely resembled music. The rest of us could make it sound like a cow needing to be milked at best or someone with bad gastric problems at worst.
Mom’s home was demolished in the May 3, 1999 tornado. Possessions and memories were swept away with the wind. Under a wall—a few more dents, not quite as pretty—was the cornet. Digging more we found muddied photo albums…and the photo of Mom in her Bowlegs High band uniform.
Play on, Mom!