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Story ID:9609
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Location:Hamilton, Jamesville, Gilboa New York USA
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By Fred Wickert

When I was a little boy I fell in love with a slide trombone. I thought they were just the catís meow. I wanted one and I wanted to learn to play one. I was either in kindergarten or first grade at the time.

As the years passed I continued to hound Mom and dad to get me a trombone. I knew that if only I could have one of those, all was going to be well with life.

One day, Dad had to do something in the basement. Iím not sure but it almost seems it had something to do with repairing the hot water heater which at that time was a coal burning device. The repair, whatever it was didnít take too long but Dad decided while he was there he would clean up the basement and put everything where it belonged.

Dad also decided that yours truly, a boy of about seven years at the time, needed some on the job training and was put to work with some of the cleaning and putting away of things.

As we worked it came to Dadís attention that we had more furnace pokers than needed. Surely two was enough so why did we need three or four of them? For those who are unfamiliar, a furnace poker is an iron bar averaging four feet long or better. On one end of it is a circular shaped bend that makes a handle. The other end has a 90 degree bend in it about three inches from the end. This is the business end. It is used to reach in to the fire box of the furnace and rake coals or move chunks of wood or coal around with.

It must be mentioned that Dad stood five feet eleven inches. He had broad shoulders and a thick chest. His arms were very large in diameter and muscular. It came from many years of hard work. In short, he was physically powerful. He was known to pick up a 100 pound steel anvil by the horn with one hand and place it wherever he chose.

He looked at those several furnace pokers, and then looked at me. He asked me if he gave me a trombone if I will promise to stop bugging him about one. I promised that if he gave me one I surely could say no more about it. He selected one of the surplus furnace pokers and proceeded to bend it with his hands. Using the round circle of a handle as the horn end of it, he proceeded to fashion that half inch thick steel bar in the shape of a slide trombone. He straightened out the hook end for the mouth piece. When it resembled the shape of a trombone he handed it to me saying, ďHere. Hereís your trombone. Now I donít want to hear any more about it.Ē

I replied, ďBut Dad, this horn donít blow!Ē
Dad replied, ďYou promised me if I gave you a trombone you wonít bug me about it anymore. Were you lying?Ē I knew better than to say I had lied because to lie was to get a whipping so I quickly denied being a liar. I knew then and there that he was sick of hearing about a trombone and I had better not mention it again.

Many years later when I was a freshman in high school my second sister had a boy friend who mentioned he had an old trombone. Dad asked him if it were for sale and if so, how much he wanted for it. He asked him to bring it next time he came.

When my sisterís boyfriend came again he had the horn with him. Dad looked it over, handed the boy a bill and then handed the horn to me. He told me to take care of it and learn to play it. It was old. It had been nickel plated but the plating was worn so the brass showed in many places and it had two or three small dents in it. I took it to school and to the music teacher who taught me how to clean it up, how to take care of it and how to play with it.

I got good enough with it to get in the school band and enjoyed playing. As I got better I began to want a better horn. The school music teacher was able to get a school discount on a nice horn for me. He also got a trade in allowance of the same amount Dad had paid for the old one. Dad informed me that if I wanted that new horn I was going to have to pay for it. He gave the people the money and I got the horn. A gold lacquered Reynolds Roth slide trombone. My, how it shined. I was so proud.

One of Dads friends was a music teacher in another school district some distance away. The man had an artificial leg. He had previously been the first chair trombonist in the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. He agreed to teach me and Dad sent me to see him one day a week after school. He taught me well until I graduated from high school.

The trombone was purchased in the spring of my sophomore year. That summer I had a job working for the State Conservation Department. Every Friday night when I came home with my pay check I turned the check over to Dad to reimburse him for the new trombone. I was happy.

I played in the School band and I played in the All County band. I played during the summer months in the Hobart Fire Department Band. We played in many parades and we gave a concert in the Village Green every week end in the Village of Jefferson. After I finished high school I went to Cornell University for a while where I played in the Little Red Cornell Band. Then I entered the Air Force.

I made a career out of the Air Force but never had occasion to play my trombone. When I was stationed in Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland I lived in a little town called Brandywine. I learned of a town nearby that everybody referred to as Dog Patch. I being a fan of Lilí Abner and Daisy Mae, couldnít wait until I saw Dog Patch so I went to see. Actually the name of the place was Malcom. People from Washington, D.C. who did not want to keep their dogs anymore drove out in the country. Whenever they passed through Malcom they decided that was a good place to dump their dogs and soon packs of dogs became a problem and Malcom earned the nick name of Dog Patch.

Malcom was a really poor town. People lived in dirt floored tar paper shacks without running water or electricity. I visited the school. I learned the school district was on the bottom of the list when it came to money. The school owned a total of five musical instruments. Two of them were broken with no funds for repair. In a few days I returned to the school and gave them my trombone. It was going to waste in my closet and had not been played in a long time. I decided that here, that trombone was badly needed. The school staff was speechless and could not thank me enough. I was well rewarded when I saw how overjoyed they were to get that trombone. The way they carried on, one would think I had just given them a train load of gold. I thanked God for sending me to Dog Patch.

Photo is of author at age 17 with the new trombone. The uniform is for the Hobart Fire Dept. Band

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