When you’re eleven years old you don’t realize you’re living through one of those moments that’s going to impact the rest of your life. You don’t see at the time that this one little seemingly insignificant event is going to play an important role in shaping you. But it does.
The night that my older cousin, David, gave me his clarinet was one of those moments. It was no big deal to anybody else, but even now there’s an eleven year old girl inside me who treasures sitting next to David on his white trundle bed in his bedroom that she thought was the coolest, while he carefully took his clarinet, piece by piece, out of the case and showed me how to put it together. He showed me how to moisten the reed by holding it in your mouth while you’re putting the rest of the instrument together and then how to attach it to the mouthpiece. David taught me to put cork grease on the cork bands – to put bore oil on an oversized pipe cleaner to run through the inside of the horn so that the wood wouldn’t get dry and crack. And he gave me his spit rag – a piece of chamois cloth tied to a leather string with a piece of metal on the end that you run through it after you finish playing to dry out the spit.
For the next ten years of my life I took that horn out of its case almost every day, put it together just like David taught me and made music just like he had. And because of that clarinet, I had a place to belong. In places I might have had trouble fitting in otherwise.
Yes, I was a band nerd. And I’m proud of that.
The validation the eleven year old girl in me received that night from David was huge. Granted, cherished family heirlooms aren’t usually clarinets, unless you’re Pete Fountain or Benny Goodman, but you go with what you’re given. And choosing to give me that clarinet – spending time with me to teach me how to use it – had the same effect as Esau receiving his father’s blessing, because for an all-too-brief moment a little girl got to feel special and valued by one of the men in her family. One who shared her growing love of music. One who was patient and gentle and kind. Neither of us had a clue at the time just how big that would be, but it was.
Funny how I always felt connected to David through that horn. I’m just sorry that I didn’t get to tell him.