A few years ago, I moved from Northern Ontario to Vancouver Island. The cost was prohibitive, so I was determined to shed every last unnecessary item. Of a gigantic library, only reference books which I use in my mystery series remained, along with a few sentimental favourites like the James Whitcomb Riley poems my aunt used to read to me, a Canadian first edition of Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, all of Nevada Barr’s paperbacks, and my high school yearbooks.
No appliances came, little furniture other than a bed. I gave away my television, cross-country skiis and ancient motorcycle, sold the snowmobile, sent my down parka to the Goodwill. Then there was my trumpet. I hadn’t played it for years other than picking it up on New Year’s Eve and blasting across our frozen meteorite crater lake in -25C while the neighbour fired his shotgun. Whenever I did toot, my partner wasn’t fond of its sounds, and the dog howled. It’s not a piano where you can sit down and tickle the ivory for relaxation. Besides, if you don’t keep up your embouchure, forget it. Not like riding a bike. Maybe like sex.
What memories. I started playing at ten with a used model, but two years later my parents bought me a new golden Bach Stradivarius model. In rough estimate, its price equalled at least two thousand dollars today. In 1957, three hundred dollars was way more than a week’s wages for my parents.
I remembered those cold fall Friday nights playing in the high school marching band. That heavy gold twill uniform laced with purple, our colours at Lakewood High. I was first trumpet in the orchestra, but the only solo I got when we played together with four other groups at an annual meeting, I blew. Fear took away my lip. It was supposed to have been “The Call to the Track.” Instead it came out da da da blat. They were recording us and took it off the record, not that I blamed them. Guess I didn’t have the sheer guts to be number one. But as second trumpet at our yearly contest, I won firsts in the duets, trio, quartet, quintet, and sextet.
The boys and I (the only girl, another education) used to spin our trumpets like guns in a western, and once my valve key wasn’t screwed and the poor instrument went flying about thirty feet, smashing its bell. Mother wasn’t happy, but she paid to get it restored. It looked as good as new.
I might have been an English major, but I still played in Ohio State’s Buckeye Basketball Band. I would have preferred to have played for the football team in the world-famous marching band, but this was 1963 and women were not allowed. Too fatiguing.
Every so often during my twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties, I would get it out of my closet, oil the keys, grease the valves, grab a yellowing bunch of music my grandparents had given us and play my faves. “Two Little Girls in Blue,” “Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie,” and “The Maple Leaf Forever” to remind me why I came back to Canada at thirty-two. Just the first part of each, because I had to rest my lips between tries. Funny how the muscle memory stayed in the fingers even if the mouth was a lazybones.
But as the big move approached, I found a music teacher who was happy to take my trumpet so that some student could have an instrument. I wonder if the kid knew how much that old trumpet was worth? It might have needed another clear coating, but it played like a dream. When a woman came out to collect it, almost like picking up an orphan, I played the Buckeye Battle Cry. “Fight the team across the field, show them Ohio’s here. Set the earth reverberating with a mighty cheer. Rah, rah, rah.”
Since moving trumpetless to the west coast, I had put it out of my mind. Then in San Francisco on a conference, I took an old boyfriend and his wife to dinner. We hadn’t had any contact in thirty-seven years. While reminiscing, he said, “Lou used to play the trumpet. She was good.” Then he paused and nodded. “Reallllllly good.” Bless you, Bob.
On E-Bay for fun, I checked out a Bach Stradivarius. Fifteen hundred for a used one. I thought about it for a minute, the same as I’ve thought about re-buying two of my most beloved cars, a ’93 Probe and an ’85 Prelude. Naw. Time to move on. But every New Year’s Eve, I will remember, playing “Auld Lang Syne” over the frozen lake. Trum, I miss you.