Merry Christmas 2007 from the Reformed Trombonist
While Al Gore is off in Europe collecting his Nobel Prize money, we have been left on our own to anticipate the tell-tale signs of global warming. As our house is situated only two hundred yards north of the Great Pungo Swamp, as the mosquito flies, one has to admit that the horseflies and water moccasins seem a little peppier than normal for December. Rainfall has been a bit below normal the entire year, and default mode for the local journalists is to fret about the harm done to the tourist trade by all the sandstorms and Gila monsters brought here by the drought. Seems a little silly to me. Virginia Beach is one of the wettest places this side of Bangla Desh, and designed to stay that way. If the Allegheny Mountains were a toilet, Virginia Beach would be the drain. That’s actually closer to the truth than one would like to think, and hits close to home -- or floats languorously nearby.
One of the highlights for this past year was attending the Eastern Trombone Workshop in March, at Fort Myer in Arlington, VA -- the U.S. Army Band hosts the workshop every year. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s low brass section was there, with their newest addition -- a twenty-year-old girl who is their new tuba player, a petite, slender, wholesome-looking blonde. When you’ve been hanging around the trombone world for thirty-five years, it seems sacrilegious to meet a tuba player who is not an overweight, beer-swilling man, who also serves as an encyclopedia of classic bathroom humor. The decline of Western civilization continues apace. Also, the Penn State Trombone Choir performed – sometime since I left Penn State (in 1975), their trombone players have gotten good. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. It was good to see my old high school band buddy Kurt, his father Merle, and son Danny, who just happened to be sight-seeing in D.C. that week. Danny is majoring in music as a freshman in college this year, and I got to hear some of the music compositions he has been working on.
Also, in another music-related road trip, I accompanied our French horn-playing buddy Ray (from South Carolina) on a little trip to Boston. Like most of us, Ray is looking for the perfect horn -- in this case, something called a Schmid. (Slogan: “Schmid! It’s more than just a pretty name!”) We left Virginia Beach at 1 PM on a Sunday afternoon, and within twelve hours discovered that the favorite pastime in New Jersey is to drive one’s car to I-95 and then park it. We ate genuine Irish food at a genuine Irish pub in South Boston, served by a genuine Irish waitress named Caitlin, and at the last minute thought better of raising our beer mugs to toast the Queen. Ray decided not to buy the Schmid, even though it was a relative bargain at (gulp!) $8 grand. If that sounds expensive to you, then you must play trombone, too. The trombone attracts the world’s cheapest musicians. Thousands for beer, but not one penny for a trill key.
We had to say goodbye to a friend this year. In March of 2005, we had acquired a Siamese male cat to be a companion to our Siamese female, Gabby. Debbie named him Gizmo, but we should have named him Niles, or Barney -- picture a dainty little guy with a piercing voice and lots of male bravado, far more than his scrawny musculature could support, or Gabby would respect. Not much of an “alpha male” -- more like a post card -- but each altercation with the eighteen-pound Nymph of Naptime would only demonstrate that sumo always beats karate. Gizmo would stand over her and pop her a few times, finally provoking her enough to accomplish the improbable and get her to actually stand up. And as that usually took, all the way from planning to execution, roughly five minutes to accomplish, Gizmo would have plenty of time to beat feet in retreat. Truth is, he loved Gabby and worshiped the rug she slept on, while she ignored him and only had eyes for her beloved Purina. You could tell he had been mistreated in a previous life, because he would always flinch when you reached out to pet him. But he loved us, Debbie most of all, and was always around whenever there was a warm lap to occupy. He got sick last March, and lost a lot of weight he couldn’t afford to lose. It hasn’t been the same around here, and I still see a shadow of him once in a while, rubbing up against the wall, waiting for one of us to offer him a lap.
Debbie is now a six-year survivor of cancer, and her surgeon tells her he no longer needs to see her. She teaches strings this year at four different elementary schools, and is even now deep into the Christmas concert season. She’s also still the music director at our church, displaying organizational skills I can only marvel at. (I can almost manage to bring gin and vermouth together without spilling half of it, and if you insist on an olive, all bets are off.) She arranges all of the church music and somehow finds the time to take piano lessons. When she’s not working in music, she is dabbling at home improvement. She managed to sneak an entire bathroom remodeling behind my back. I just came home from work one day and walked into someone else’s bathroom. I was almost afraid to look in the shower.
Wasn’t a great year for traveling together, but we did see some of the local sights, e.g., an instructive trip to a local winery. As it turns out, I had already sampled their wares earlier this year, when we happened to be visiting our good friends Sam and Aileen (Sam is our broker and they belong to our church). Sam -- a connoisseur of good wine – had a sly grin on his face and said, “I have something you need to try.” He brought back a glass of muscatel, accent on “musk,” which combined the delicate bouquet of a New Orleans back street with the subtle tanginess of Georgia turpentine. Try to hide tasting all that behind a neutral, appreciative facial expression. Sam oozed, “What do you think?” It’s so hard to communicate, “That’s awful, but in a really interesting way.” Then he busted out laughing. Good to find out he’s sane -- this guy’s handling my retirement. Well, our little winery sold this stuff with a perfectly straight face for about $12 a bottle. We know soil and climate is important to wine-making – Sam and I also wondered about the contribution of dead fiddler crabs and assorted sea gull residues.
Debbie and I have been fortunate to belong to a church that is dedicated to helping us grow spiritually, and it’s impossible now for us to look at our lives and think to ourselves, “We are the ones who made all these great things happen.” Life gets better and better, but every bit of that is a blessing from the One who is the architect of all blessings. He can bless us, because two thousand years ago a child was born. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!