Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas, 2019!

Merry Christmas, 2019!

Time to party like it's 2019!  We're less than ten days away from 2020, but the Year of Hindsight hasn't arrived just yet.  There are still a few beers to drink and, as luck would have it, just a few brain cells that need killing.  Problem is, it's easy to kill brain cells but hard to kill only the right ones.  We should be able to place all of our painful memories in a Hefty bag and toss them off a bridge, and then donate all of those worthless '60s Sitcom themes clanging around in our heads to the Salvation Army.  But no.  Beer is a general anesthetic, not a specific remedy.  The best brain surgeon in the world can't extract the memories of those mistakes you made at work, or those notes you cacked in a symphony performance, or Corporal Agarn smacking the soldiers with his hat again on "F Troop."  The purpose of painful memories may be as simple as learning to forgive others by learning to forgive ourselves; the purpose of whimsical memories might be as obvious as learning that not quite all of life is serious business.  Our Lord, when in human form, spent a lot of time simply eating and drinking with his disciples, having a good time -- so much so, He was even accused of being a glutton and a drunk.  What better time to remember His example than on His birthday, when we gather to eat too much and drink too much with the people we love?  The Lord had serious work to do, and so do we, but now is the time to rejoice in His presence and our blessings.

Debbie and I have had 2019 all to ourselves!  So, what did we do with it?

Well, last January, we traveled to visit our friends Kurt and Patty Rauscher at their beautiful home in Bokelia, Florida.  On our way down, we stopped at Greenwood, South Carolina to visit Ray and Sonja Crenshaw, friends from our Air Force band days.  We stayed at a charming hotel in downtown Greenwood that exuded Southern charm like Scarlett O'Hara on the front porch of a plantation house, twiddling her parasol at the Tarleton brothers.  On this trip, we eschewed the freeway system, mostly because, in Georgia, all freeways lead to Atlanta, a great place to avoid if you're trying to arrive anywhere else at a decent hour.  We crossed the Savannah River into Georgia (I think it was the Savannah) on a road built atop a dam.  The setting was gloriously beautiful.   Rural Georgia was charming, in a rural, red-clay sort of way.  Bokelia is located on one of two islands in Florida named "Pine Island" -- they did that just to confuse us, and Google Maps.   This particular Pine Island is a barrier island between Cape Coral and the Gulf of Mexico.  It should be named Mangrove Island, but nobody asked my opinion.  If you're never seen mangrove trees, they festoon the coastal areas in the tropics and subtropics like tattoos at a Goth convention.  Their superpower is the ability to tolerate both fresh and salt water, and also to grow in the sand.  They look like they'd be fun to swim around, but the 'gators think the same thing, so, no, don't do that.  I've known Kurt since I was in 8th grade.  We both played in our high school band and both attended Penn State.  Retired now, Kurt was an Air Force pilot instructor, a civil engineer, an A-10 pilot for the Air National Guard, and a pilot of Delta Airlines.  Quite a resume!   There seemed to be a bit of a frosty cold snap going on, weather-wise, and I remember the wasps nesting outside the house, their metabolisms slowed to a crawl, just barely able to creak their necks and glare at us in impotent rage.  Kurt took me out in his boat and we proved again that fishing isn't as much fun as catching.  We all had the obligatory lunch at our favorite Cape Coral watering hole, named "Ford's Garage" -- Henry Ford had owned a summer home in this part of Florida.

This year, Debbie accompanied me to the American Trombone Workshop at Fort Myer, in Arlington, VA.  This was a first.  What's a flute player to do among a... what do you call a group of trombonists, anyway?  We were talking about this just the other night backstage during intermission at a "Nutcracker" performance.  I was walking toward the water fountain and there was our entire French horn section.  I asked them, "A group of geese is called a 'flock' and a group of crows is called a 'murder', so what do we call a French horn section?"

One of them smiled and said, "How about a 'coven'?"  I like it.

Probably a lot of terms could apply here.  I think "a dignity of trombonists" has a nice ring, but dignity can sound a lot like dullness, and I don't like to dignify that evil slander.  We should have a contest.  To my surprise, Debbie seemed to enjoy herself.  Like me, she gets the most out of hearing the student groups perform.  But I do love to hear the pros as well, and the US Army band musicians always acquit themselves quite well.  And I love going to the exhibit hall and trying out all the new instruments and mouthpieces, surrounded by the cacophony of other trombonists doing likewise.  That's it!  A cacophony of trombonists!  I think we can all agree on that one.  While I was bonding with my fellow cacophonists, Debbie was picking through the trombone music for something I can perform in church.

Debbie had surgery late in August on her left foot.  When we lived in the Fontanelle Hills neighborhood in Bellevue, NE, back around '92, she took a walk one evening through the neighborhood.  It's a hilly little neighborhood -- not quite all of Nebraska is tabletop-flat.  It was almost dusk, and Debbie didn't see that one of the sidewalk sections had raised up about two inches, and so she banged the big toe of her left foot into the concrete.  Oww.  That was an event that's very much like a gift that keeps on giving, but minus the "gift" part.  This year's operation was the third one on that foot since then.  Arthritis had settled into where the big toe joins the foot bone, and there was no more cartilage remaining.  So the surgeon fused her big toe to the rest of her foot.  I thought, egad! and had visions of the surgeon welding the bones together.  No, not quite, though the reality was bad enough.  What they do is implant a titanium plate and hold it together with a bunch of screws.  If that sounds painful, that's because it is.  But Debbie got past the pain part of it fairly quickly.  Before you know it, she was zooming around on her knee-scooter, and then able to walk on her left foot with one of those infamous boots.  Now, she only has to wear a compression sock to keep the swelling down.  They say she'll have problems with the swelling for about a year.  Meanwhile, she's doing fine, and there is no more arthritis pain -- a permanent plus among this temporary parade of minuses.

Trombone-playing doesn't get easier with age.  I read recently that the only instrument that takes more energy to play than the trombone is drums.  I don't know whether that's really true, but playing trombone does involve holding a six-pound mass of metal to your lips and blowing for extended periods, and I've got the bursitis in my left shoulder to prove it.  Also, to play trombone well, you have to at least simulate a good body posture, and that's a problem when your normal state is invertebrate, like mine.  I got sucked back into the Tidewater Winds and suffered another Lost July.  I had dropped out of the group about five years ago because of the grueling schedule plus having to work my day gig at the same time.  But the director, John Brewington, is a great guy and I hate to say "No" to him.  The playing is fun, but I'm not getting any younger.  This summer, I shared the trombone section with some terrific talent.  If your misplaced pride can stand it, it's great to perform with better players.  The principal trombonist kept looking, in vain, for my volume control.

Meanwhile, Debbie has turned playing flute at the local nursing homes into a ministry.  Living in a nursing home looks like a bleak existence from the outside, and Debbie feels it's her duty to try to brighten their lives a bit.  She is still the music director at our church, and she runs things very efficiently, like a German bureaucrat who can play flute.  Debbie's mom, Audrey, has taken to condo life like a pro, same as us.  Debbie and I love our condo.  I could see buying a second home somewhere else.  uBt unless the Virginia Democrats turn Virginia Beach into a gulag, which may not be outside the realm of possibility, we love it here and are here to stay.

Merry Christmas, from Debbie, Audrey, and me.