And the Band Plays On

Goofing off  in the pit orchestra for West Side Story

I learned piano at age seven, but when I was given the choice of instruments in 6th grade, I chose the oboe. I wanted to be the duck from Peter and the Wolf, its voice charming and independent.

The first year was tough, spending hours bent over beginner books, memorizing fingerings, frustrated I couldn’t play as swiftly as my hands dancing over piano keys. The sound was there, I heard it maturing underneath the surface, hiding behind inexperience, a natural vibrato lingering over notes.

Then I met Mr. Herbert. My parents decided I earned the privilege of private instruction after a year of dedication. Nerves and anxiety crowded his small, musty studio.  A workroom layered in sheet music, reed making tools, instruments and recordings. The sweet smell of wood and oil filled every corner. We sat side by side, elbows brushing, sharing music together.

For nine years our passions intermingled. I accepted a music scholarship at the same university Mr. Herbert was hired, relieved to prolong our goodbyes. He became my best friend and confidant. He knew my friends, how school was going, what boys I was interested in and how things were with my parents. Our lessons were intact, productive, but he always made time when we were done. He was like another father, and I wanted to make him proud.

My sophomore year of college I began to struggle. My emotions were all over the place; head and heart in constant conflict. Mr. Herbert and I talked less, friction surfaced. By the end of that year I changed majors from Music to English but kept playing for the department and taking lessons. The lessons were strained; his disappointment did not go unnoticed. I was making crazy decisions I would later regret, decisions that pushed me into a tailspin for the next 6 years.

Finally, I got married at the age of 22 and dropped out of school. By then Mr. Herbert had been in my life for eleven years. It broke my heart to say goodbye. I tried going back to school briefly while I was pregnant with The Tortoise, slipped silently into the music department to feel the comfort of performing again. Our paths crossed a few times, but as soon as I went into early labor, school was over. I was twenty-five. I never went back to the music department, graduating several years later, clutching a bitter-sweet English degree.

Mr. Herbert and I last spoke thirteen years ago, but not a day has gone by that I haven’t felt his presence in some way. I may have given up a music degree, but I never gave up the oboe. I’ve played for both professional and community bands or orchestras, as well as taught off and on over the years. The drop of potential he saw in me grew into a fountain of creativity. He taught me how to listen to myself, and although I stopped listening for a while, I did eventually find my own voice again.

This week’s RemembeRed memoir prompt asked us to write about a mentor, someone who guided or inspired us. How did this mentor impact our life? Word limit 500.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

I have spent ten Christmas drives from Michigan to Texas planning where to eat.

Twenty-five hours is a long time to fantasize about food.

Only getting to eat perfectly seasoned white meat at  Chick-Fil-A, creamy bean and cheese tacos at  Taco Cabana, or the most moist smoked brisket at  Rudy’s once a year is torture.

And no one makes sweet tea like Bill Miller’s BBQ.

The most coveted restaurant  is  Niki’s Tokyo Inn and their garlic dumplings, gyoza.  The dark paneled walls and matted red carpet transport you back to when the restaurant opened in 1970. I have been eating there since I was little. The family’s houses and vegetable gardens hide behind the restaurant parking lot. The owner’s grown son, a brilliant Yale graduate, is quirky and tells crass jokes, but has a genuine heart.

Everything on the menu is exquisite, but the gyoza is divine. They melt in your mouth, taunting you to eat more. The garlic is sweet and tangy. Served as an appetizer, these 8 little dumplings are garnished with fresh cabbage to cleanse the palette.

I don’t share.

I eat a whole plate by myself.

I eat any leftovers that are missed.

I collect everyone’s unused garlic sauce to pour over my rice.

There is a long list of things you shouldn’t eat while you are pregnant, garlic being one of them, and the first Christmas home after moving to Michigan I was pregnant.  I craved gyoza for double the months, increasing my desire to order this delicacy on our next visit.

When I stepped inside, slipped off my shoes, and sunk into the soft squishy pillows surrounding our table, I knew I was home. My legs assumed the usual position of criss-cross-applesauce as I patiently waited for our order, grateful to my in-laws for watching our children so we could have a date.

Still in a garlic euphoria, I kissed The Tortoise goodnight and then nursed The Hare before going to bed.

A few hours later, I was startled from a deep sleep.

The Hare was screaming and crying.

I ran to pick her up, her little body squirming, belly distended.

Her diaper was full, gushing. An overpowering smell of fresh garlic ignited, burning my eyes and nose. I cleaned that up and quickly put on a fresh diaper. The Hare continued crying and writhing, filling another diaper. After a few diaper changes, she began to settle down. I cradled and rocked her.  Her sweaty head still oozing the scent of garlic from her pores.

Apparently, garlic wasn’t conducive to nursing either.

Lesson learned.

This week’s RemembeRed memoir prompt from, The Red Dress Club, asked us to write a post that either starts or ends with the words “Lesson learned.”

Undeveloped

This week’s Red Writing Hood writing prompt was to write only a 400 word post using the following picture for inspiration. Usually I focus on non-fiction writing, but this week I thought I would try something different and write  fiction. It took me forever to figure out where I wanted to start, so of course, I missed the opportunity to link up with everyone else. But here it is anyway:

Undeveloped

Sweat and suntan lotion trickled down Nina’s face, stinging her eyes. She blinked back tears, trying to take inventory of the crooked stacks of boxes and blanketed furniture. The storage unit was small and hot. She couldn’t afford the air-conditioned units. She probably couldn’t even afford this sauna, but she wasn’t willing to give up everything, just yet. The Texas heat hung low in the air, making it hard to breathe easily, each breath labored and shallow. Nina slumped to the concrete floor, absorbing the cool contrast, hiding behind memories and disappointments.

“Where the hell is my ride?” she thought, glancing at her watch, sipping her oversized sweet tea.

The ice had melted hours ago, leaving a much watered down version of the original libation. Nina’s stomach rumbled angrily, reminding her that a .99 cent taco was not enough sustenance to last a whole day. She dug deep into her wrinkled shorts’ pocket, counting the last few dollars before pay-day. Her hands were swollen and sore, a white line tattooing her left ring finger stood out against the brown sugar of her skin. Forty bucks, which was all she had for the next week, would have to cover gas, groceries and diapers.

She set the tea down, stretched her legs out in front of her and tightened her long dark mahogany pony-tail, increasing the tension in her temples. These last five years had been exhausting. Nina closed her eyes, rested her head against the hard metal garage door frame, and listened to the buzz of traffic zipping down the highway. Just on the other side of the highway loomed a tall glass office building where she met her attorney the week before. His harsh words still echoed in her mind.

“All you can do is wait for something worse to happen. Document everything.”

Popping gravel and the sharp squeal of brakes broke the stillness. Nina sat up, saw a car door swing open; muscular calves jumped out of the car.

“What took you so long?” Nina snapped.

“I did a little investigating,” smiled Ronnie, holding up a zip-lock bag full of undeveloped film.

Nina stared blankly at Ronnie’s confiscations.

“Whatever he is hiding,” Ronnie said. “We’ll find it. I took the film from a shoebox in his closet and this,” Ronnie continued, waving a green motherboard in the air, “this I took out of his computer.”