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Hornblower
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Wilson Tuchman called "Tuck" by his friends, the few that were still alive sat at the bus stop and waited early on a Saturday morning. It was a warm spring morning, the kind that made you forget your aches and pain and believe the world was going about its business of being beautiful before the heat of summer baked it away. Tuck was a a tall man, easily six feet whose once black wooly hair had faded to a salt and pepper grey. His chocolate brown skin was smooth with a rich wrinkled texture, that when he smiled smoothed away the age from his face. His eyes were bright and clear and people found his wise and knowing gaze easy to bear.

Tuck had been in the habit of making the trip to Lowell Park in the mornings on Saturday to improv with a group of musicians who play outside the city's farmer's market. They were an above average group who played for tips all day. This particular iteration of the group had been playing together for about two years and Tuck enjoyed playing with them. It was the thing that made his weeks bearable since his Sadie passed on.

He was determined to stay active and involved in the community. He heard that men did not live long after their wives died and Tuck, well he was not quite ready to die just yet. Having lived to be seventy-two, he was in no particular rush to meet his Maker. Sadie, bless her soul, had trained him well and he could cook, shop and take reasonably good care of himself. He had to get his hair cut down at the corner shop, something he had not done in years, and discovered he missed the male company. Sadie cut his hair for thirty years and he had grown accustomed to her light hand and special pampering. He trimmed his beard, since no one could cut it the way she did, and after the first butchering at the shop he decided he didn't really like it anyway.

He put on a pair of comfortable slacks and a shirt that didn't bunch up while he played his horn. He wore a pair of comfortable shoes, just in case he had to stand up. Sadie's last gift to him was a pair of gel insoles and he simply loved them. When you get to be old, you just don't realize how comfortable feet make such a difference in your day. He wore a light jacket and a sweater, he didn't know what the weather was going to be like and wanted the option to put on or take off whatever was necessary to keep playing.Tuck loved to play his horn. He had lost his grandfather's horn he played all through the sixties in a fire twenty years ago. It was an heirloom 1927 King Liberty Silver. A beautiful trumpet given to him by his grandfather. He did not know how precious it was but he cared for it meticulously because his grandfather had. 

He taught him how to take it apart and clean every spring, value and chamber. He shined it until it glowed and when he played it, there was nothing that even came close to it. He played it from 1924 when he started in the Diamond Club, a juke joint in the backwoods of Louisiana. He joined the band there and they traveled up and down the Chitlin Circuit for thirty years playing jazz of every melody, style and rhythm. Jazz was in his blood. He even managed to make it to the radio in the fifties and sixties and had half a dozen albums to his name. He married Sadie during that time and their relationship was turbulent to say the least. She used to say that he loved his horn more than her. That wasn't true. The horn just didn't nag him as much about her. 

After he lost the Liberty, he was too distraught and realized he simply couldn't bear to play anymore. He had played other trumpets over the years but they couldn't seem to match the soul his grandfather's trumpet seem to have. Tuck sometimes thought his pater's soul had moved into the trumpet when he died and Tuck was simply a vessel for him to keep playing his music. So in his early fifties, he became a mechanic because he had always been handy with vehicles and repaired them over the years they spent driving the Circuit. He bought a small station and for twenty years made a tidy sum keeping old cars on the road in his corner of Philadelphia. Sadie worked as a librarian and was very, very good with money, so they had more than they needed with his tiny royalty check and her retirement. 

After his retirement, his was a comfortable life. He even bought a new trumpet, a Jaeger. It was functional, with a clean, bright sound. He had mellowed and decided he would let go of his past, his fame, or his reluctance to play anything other than the Liberty. And just like that, his life was good again. He played everyday again and his neighbors loved to hear his muted trumpet whispering tunes of elegance, mystery, sassy tunes of exuberance and a time lost, a time when it was okay to be just a little bit bad.He played at Sadie's funeral. He could not even speak to anyone. So he played. And when he was done, his music reached into them, pulled something out of them, some grief, some sadness, and brought it into the air with them. It sat alongside them, wept with them and then that sadness moved on, just like Sadie did. People left the funeral smiling and filled with light. 

The bus was late, but only a few minutes and he stood up to stretch his legs. As it rounded the corner, he found himself eager to get to the park. It had been a long time since he was eager to do anything. The bus pulled alongside and he allowed most people to get on before him to avoid bumping into anyone with his trumpet. He was the last person to get on the bus. As he moved into the bus, several young people decided to get up and pushed their way through the bus. As they came close to him, the largest shoved him into another passenger and he snatched the trumpet from his hand. As they ran out the door, they startled a flock of pigeons on the sidewalk who scattered and took flight.

Tuck fell over the baby carriage and managed to catch himself before falling onto the young mother and her baby. The bus driver tried to run out after the ruffians but one of them pulled a small firearm and Tuck touched the driver and shook his head. He was not so in love with the Jaeger that anyone should die over it.For a moment, his rage grew and then he heard the small child laugh and look at him. 
"Are you okay, sir? Do you want to file a report?" It took a second for Tuck to realize the driver was talking to him."No. There is no point. It's not like I will get my trumpet back any time soon. I am sure the police will have plenty to keep them busy in this town."

"We have them on the bus camera and may be able to get an ID later."

"Okay, you take my address, and if I am still alive when they find them, and my trumpet, I will happily accept it back. I am certain these good folks have someplace to be, and so do I. I am fine, my gel insoles broke my fall."Several of the riders laughed and a young man offered Tuck a seat. Shaken, he accepted and rode to the park in thoughtful contemplation.

When he got to the park, the Farmers Market was almost finish setting up and the band was tuning their instruments. While he had not be seriously injured, he felt a slight twinge in his hip and knew he would feel it more later. 

"Hey Tuck, where's your horn? You always jam with us. Taking the day off? Williams was another oldster who played the bass. Tuck liked his easy-going manner. 

"No sir, not today it seems. Fate decided that old Jaeger and I needed to go our separate ways."
"What happened?" Jim, the saxophonist stopped warming up and looked up. He was one of the youngest of the musicians barely twenty-five, but he had an old jazz and blue soul.

"Some of the urban yout' decided they needed my horn more than I did."

"I can go handle that if you want me to." Jim's veiled threat was easy to recognize, and despite his old musical soul, he had a modern day blood-lust when pushed to it.

"Let it go, I am going to sit here with you brothers and just relax for a change. I need a break from carrying y'all anyway." Tuck smiled and Williams shook his head.

The group consisted of a double bass, electric piano, sax, alto sax, bass guitar, drums, a cornet when we were lucky, an occasional French horn and until today, at least one trumpet. Fortunately, another trumpet showed up, some new cat nobody knew. He wore a tan linen suit with a red shirt underneath the jacket. His clothing looked comfortable and he was relaxed. He was smoking a cigarette while he relaxed in the back. A cool brother, he introduced himself as Israfel. He was playing some old school horn, something from the thirties from the look of it. Tuck felt a momentary sting of nostalgia for his grandfather's Liberty. The group warmed up and Tuck sat off to the side and just listened.

They started with 'Fly Me to the Moon' and Tuck thought of Sadie. It was one of her favorites and they danced their first dance to it. The vocals were taken up by Israfel's horn. He played it, massaged it, and spun into and out of it. The rest of the band played softly allowing him to carry it. "In other words, please be true, in other words, I love you." A slow piece, the band used it to warm the crowd up, to tease them close. It was a piece most of the older crowd knew and playing it ensured their approach.

Switching to 'Rhapsody in Blue', Israfel soared, his trumpet stomped, disappeared and reappeared across the piece. This was a jazz favorite because while the pure song was wonderful, it lent itself to varied improvisations and could be played allowing each instrument a time to shine. Fast and slow, it offered everyone an opportunity to play alone and together. Tuck remembered this piece as one of his favorites, and was one of the pieces he played on the radio near the end of his career. Many people knew snippets of the song because parts of it were played in cartoons and commercials in the sixties.

 

Near the end of the piece, Israfel reached into his pocket and pulled out a mouthpiece, still in the wrapper and flipped it to Tuck. Tuck surprised, let it hit him in the chest before catching it. Looking quizzically at Israfel he let the band wrap up the piece. Without a word, Israfel takes his mouthpiece out and hands his horn to Tuck. He nods and Tuck takes it. It feels good. It feels like the old Liberty in his hands. Light, keys smooth, he didn't even feel the need to test it. He put his lips to it and felt it become a part of him.

Williams flags out 'April in Paris' and Tuck steps forward. A strong trumpet piece, Tuck taps his foot and they begin. Israfel moved in the back and found a French horn. As they started playing, the crowd began to gather, a gentle breeze swept in and the vendors in the Farmer's Market, settled into a rhythm, sales were easier, people were friendlier, a gentle and easy peace took place. Tuck played his heart out, the crowd grew larger while they played. They worked it, they stretched it and when they played that last creshendo, Tuck was drenched, sweat flowing easily down his brow. The crowd roared, money was passed forward and they kept playing. The moved through the century, with hit after hit. The crowd rotated but never seemed to grow smaller, when they finally stopped to rest, Israfel came to Tuck and clapped him on his back.

"So, do you like it?" pointing to the trumpet.

Tuck, still a little winded, smiled widely, the first real smile in two years and said, "Oh yes, very much."
Israfel laughed and replied, "In my country, when a man says he likes a thing we are obliged to give it to him. She is yours, now."

"Oh, no, my brother, I could never take something as sweet as this from you. I have never played anything this good since I lost my grandfather's horn. I know it may be a custom, but I could never deny a man his horn."

"It is also bad manners to refuse the gift, my friend. Please take it. It sings for you. Look at this crowd, they were loving it.""Your gift humbles me, my brother. How may I be of service to you?" Tuck was moved and felt a need to reciprocate somehow. What could he offer for such a fine gift?

"The knowledge that you will care for it and love it like I did is enough for me," Israfel replied. He picked up his jacket and slung it over his shoulder. The springtime air had warmed considerably. 

"Where are you going? We still have one more set, we need you." Tuck had reached out to touch Israfel's shoulder.

"You don't need me any longer, my friend. You have everything you ever needed right there. Look on the side of the trumpet."

Looking where he expected to find the manufacturer's name, he saw the word Gabriel spelled out with ornate and beautiful styled lettering. There were patterns woven into the metal, subtle, hard to see, but in the midday light, they were unmistakable. This trumpet was a work of art. Then Tuck had a moment, a moment of memory something he heard as a child. "Isn't Gabriel the name of an Angel?"

"You remember rightly. A Serephim who trumpets for the Lord. Smote Soddam and Gamorrah if my church learning is still righteous. What about him?"

"Am I dead?"

"You look okay to me. You not feeling well?"

"Actually, I feel great, the best I felt in years." Even the twinge in his hip was gone. He stood straighter and taller as if part of him had suddenly returned.

"Then enjoy the Horn. My gift to you."

"Am I going to have to play in Heaven or something?"

"No, Heaven is full up on trumpets. Make your magic here, do what you did today anywhere you wish, any time you want. Your is a special magic no one can give you. You have the magic that comes with time and effort. That word on the Horn is a title, given to the one best suited to move the hearts of men. That, my friend, is now you."

"How long can I do this?"

"Until you are ready to pass it to another who loves it like you do. Or until you're ready to lay down your burdens. Whichever comes first. For as long as you love it, play it and share it, you shall know no want, no fear, no longing.

"What about Sadie?"

"She'll abide till you show up. She said you'd take it. She said you loved your horn more than her."

"But never better." 

"She knows that, too" Israfel turned and walked away.

Tuck, with a lighter step, slid back up to the group and joined in on 'Birdland'.

Hornblower © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved