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THE TROMBONE

Story ID:10496
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Gilboa New York USA
Year:32767
Person:Myself
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THE TROMBONE

THE TROMBONE
By Fred Wickert


Among my very earliest memories are those as a child of three or four. I remember getting out of bed and sneaking to the end of the hallway where it entered the living room. I lay on my belly on the carpet at the edge of the living room watching. I could see across the room my Mom, her back to me playing her grand piano. Standing beside her to the right was a tall young man, also back to me. He was holding a golden shiny instrument in his hands. It had some kind of extension on it that he kept moving in and out.

Coming from both the piano and the golden horn, a slide trombone, were some wonderful sounds of music. I was thrilled with the sounds and the picture I was seeing. Suddenly I had a fierce desire to possess one of those shiny golden horns myself.

I began asking my parents, "Can I have a trombone? Can I Daddy? Can I Mommy?" At every opportunity I asked. When Christmas time came and I was taken to see Santa Clause I asked him for a trombone. I never missed an opportunity or an excuse to ask for one.

When I finished the first grade, we had to move. The doctor had told my Dad that if he did not quit teaching school he would be dead of a heart attack in three years or less. His blood pressure was dangerously high. Mom and Dad owned the farm where Grandma and Grandpa lived and we moved there. There was plenty of room.

One day Dad had me helping him in the basement. He was cleaning up the basement and rearranging things down there. There were four furnace pokers there and Dad decided there was no need of so many. He looked at me and asked if I still wanted a trombone. I said I did. He asked if he gave me one, did I promise to shut up about one and stop bugging him for one. I told him I promised.

Dad was a powerful man. The furnace pokers had a ring handle with a hook on the other end. He took one of the longer furnace pokers and began to bend and shape it with his hands. Using the ring handle as the bell, he bent that poker in to the shape of a trombone. When he finished he handed it to me. He told me there was my trombone.

I held it and looked at it with dismay. This was not what I had in mind. I told him, "But Dad, this one won't blow and it won't make any noise." He raised his voice a little and said, "You promised me if I gave you a trombone you won't bug me any more. I gave you one. Now shut up about it. I don't want to hear anymore." I knew better than to push it so I waited my time. Then I showed it to Mom and repeated my complaint that it didn't make any noise. She was not sympathetic.

Somehow I got my hands on a mandolin guitar. It needed some repairs and it had no strings. I laid it on top of Mom's Grand Piano. Every time I got a few cents I put them inside the mandolin guitar. The plan was to save up enough money to get it repaired and buy strings for it. Then I would learn to play it like the cowboys played their guitars.

World War Two came along and we were so busy in those days I nearly forgot about it all together. After the war was over Mom didn't want Dad to continue farming any more. She wanted him to go back to teaching. We moved to Gilboa, New York. I was fourteen years old.

In my freshman year in high school I saw a slide trombone sitting on a shelf in the music room. It was not shiny or gold like the one in my childhood. It was battered and the nickle plating had come off some of it so it showed the brass underneath. The music teacher offered to teach me the basics on it. I could borrow it and take it home to practice. It was only a short time before I found myself actually playing simple things with it.

As time went on I improved with it and became good enough to play in the school band in third chair. I learned more from the kids in first and second chair.

My older sister was dating a guy who said he had a trombone he had used in school. Dad asked if he ever used it any more and he said no. Soon, Dad bought it from him for $40 and gave it to me. It was a nickle plated Conn and was a little better than the one the school owned. As with the one the school owned there was no case with it.

As I improved the one I had was not good enough for me any more. I wanted a good one and I wanted one of those gold colored ones. Dad talked to the music teacher. He was able to get a school discount on one, and he could get a little more in trade in than Dad had paid for the one he bought from my sisters boy friend.

Before school let out for the summer I became the proud owner of a new Reynolds Roth gold lacquered slide trombone with a genuine brown leather case. Wow! My dream had finally come true. Then Dad told me the rest of the story. He had put up the money to by it as a loan. I had to pay him back. He had arranged for a job for me for the summer working for the state Conservation Department. I was going to be on the Goose Berry Gang and work for the summer in Pine Tree Blister Rust Control.

At that time the wage paid by the state was a whopping seventy five cents per hour. A mile from the house was a small store and gas pumps. I was smoking by then and cigarettes were a dollar a carton. I also loved milk and usually stopped at the store on the way home and downed a quart of milk. When I got my pay check Dad gave me enough cash for my needs for the week and then had me turn over my check to him. He could sign it because we both had the same name. By the end of the summer I had just finished paying for the trombone.

Dad found that there was a music teacher in Windham high school who was extremely good on the trombone. He had played a few years with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra until he lost his leg in an accident. With an artificial leg he could no longer keep up with the rigors of the Philharmonic and he took a teaching job in the mountains. Dad made arrangements for me to take lessons from him once a week. Gradually I improved enough to play a solo performance of The Flight of the Bumble Bee. Secretly I was afraid I was going to mess up and embarrass myself, but I didn't. I pulled it off and received much applause.

One of our neighbors had a dairy farm and a saw mill. Part of their farm was on the hill behind us and part of it was straight across the road from us. There was a hay field on the other side of the road and beyond that was a stream. A cow pasture adjoined the hay field to the left. Somewhere they had got hold of three wagons that looked like the Conastota wagons of the pioneers. The grandmother of the family decided to have her son park those three wagons beside the stream with his tractor for the summer. She painted them all up nice and advertised in New York City papers. She planned to run a summer camp for girls, one week at a time.

As the camp fires burned low and the days activities were over with, as the sun was setting each day, I decided to have some fun with them. I took my trombone out in the yard each day, pointed it towards those wagons and then played TAPS. The woman later thanked me. She said it came as such a surprise the first time. The girls thought it was all part of the camp curiculum and they loved it. I just enjoyed doing it.

After I graduated from High school I went on to Cornell University and tried out for the band. I had already been playing for the Hobart Fire Department Band for two years as well as in the high school band. I found myself playing second chair in the Little Red Band. I was quite proud.

In the middle of the second semester I dropped out of college. The Korean War was in full force so I joined the Air Force. I was going to fly the biggest planes they had. When I was in basic training I got the bad news that due to my medical history I was not acceptable for the pilot training program.

I finished basic training, then Combat Air Police training, then was stationed in Washington, DC for a while before going overseas. I served in Okinawa, Korea, Japan and five years later I returned to the USA with a wife. After a 30 day leave I went to serve in Orlando, Florida for almost four years and was then selected for duty with Presidential Security in Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. In all those years I had never looked at my trombone.

After a year in Maryland I bought a house on the GI bill. My wife and I took some time and went to visit my family in Gilboa, New York. I decided to bring my trombone back with me.

After getting the trombone in Maryland I took it out and played with it. In fifteen minutes my lips were swollen the size of a navel orange. I also discovered I no longer remembered how to play a tune with it. I put it away and forgot about it.

About a year went by. A few miles from where we lived in Maryland was a place locally referred to as Dog Patch. The real name was Malcom. I wanted to go see Dog Patch. I found a school there and asked to visit. I was warmly welcomed. I found great poverty.

The head of the school explained to me that by the time the bigger schools in the county got what they needed there was very little funds left for them and they didn't get much. I learned that their school music departments possessed only two violins and a cello. Two of them were broken and in need of repair. I asked if they were given a slide trombone if they could make use of it. They assured me they could.

Two or three days later I went to see them again and presented them with my trombone, knowing I never would play it again. The head of the school treated me as if I were a saint sent there by God. I assured him I was no saint.

My trombone had not been played in at least twelve years. It had only gathered dust. I wanted it to be someplace where it could be played and could do some good. I went home pleased and believing it had finally found its proper home.