With the band, we found common ground. My parents would drive out every Tuesday to hear us play. My father thought we sounded terrific, even when we did not. “It’s nice to see all those years of music lessons pay off,” my mother would say. She was infirm at the time, fighting a debilitating blood disease, and it took some effort for her to get out of the car. She winced as she hobbled to sit down with my father in the chairs he had set up, and had to lower herself carefully. She fell many times that summer, leaving all of us to feel scared and helpless. I watched them from behind my music stand, where I was putting my sheet music in order. The sadness and affection I felt for them overwhelmed me; and I felt a sadness for myself too. In middle age, I was still single, with the only real intimacy in my life with two parents in peril after 50 years of marriage, and to whom I could only extend myself so much.
The concert began. We played our Sousa march. We played our show tunes. I did pretty well with “Some Enchanted Evening,” I remember, in our “South Pacific” medley.
“Way to go, Bob,” our conductor said.
The real triumph of the evening came later, when we played “New York,New York.” Although it was taking all my concentration, at one point I looked up at the audience. There, under a rising half moon, my parents were dancing, holding each other close against the winds of change that were aging them so quickly. It threw me back to my childhood, when they were a handsome young couple and I would sit on the stairs in my pajamas and look out at them in the living room dancing to Cha Cha records late at night. How could they have ever been so young? And how could they get so old before my eyes?
I’d never have the answers to these questions. All I knew as I played my trombone for them just as I had at school concerts as a child was that for an hour or so, our music was making them young again and it was doing the same for me. The sunset had faded. My parents sat in their chairs holding hands. We were playing “Getting to Know You.” They were singing. Life, at least for an hour, was good again.
That band didn’t save my mother’s life, of course. By the end of the following summer she was gone. Nor did it save my soul. But it saved my summer, and for that I will always be thankful.
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