The Music of Kindness

We're frequently told that life and success are about relationships.  What always strikes me is the astoundingly ephemeral and fragile interconnectedness that makes such relationships possible.

I have often told the story of how my passion for metalsmithng came from my obsession with ancient Egyptian art, triggered by the gift of a really weird and fantastic board game, Voice of the Mummy, the Christmas I was five.  What I've less often told is the back story of the two wonderful families behind the music and laughter of which that incredibly significant gift was only a small part.

Years before I came on the scene, my mother, and somewhat more sporadically my father, gave piano  and organ lessons to kids.  These frequently occurring rituals were in a long succession of things other families didn't do that seemed perfectly normal in mine.  Once I was part of said scene, my mother would take me to her parents' house so she could concentrate on teaching until doing so became so hectic that two of her students' mothers offered to hang out with me while she taught their kids.

I must have been around 3 when it started, yet I remember as if it were only a few years ago how eagerly I waited each time for Roddy then Janna to knock on our front door.  I'd fly past them and into the front seat of their respective mothers' cars.  In those magical few moments I was given forbidden pleasures such as Dyntene gum (my mother never let me chew gum) and the ability to sit in the front seat (we were parked in front of my house).

Occasionally there would be some overlap or one of my mother's music theory sessions when I had the best of both worlds, sitting in the back seat with both Evelyn, Roddy's mom, and Anne, Janna's mom in the front.  One of Evelyn's favorite tricks was to turn on the car radio to the funkiest possible station and say, "dance!"  It was like flipping a switch as I went from the still, shy, well behaved child my mother had created to the toddler version of The Soul Train Dancers while they laughed quite joyfully at facilitating the early rebellion of this child who was not allowed to listen to any less than what my mother had deemed "serious music."

The very best times were the dinner and holiday parties at their houses, times that were full of spontaneous jazz and old standards (there was always a piano around), good food, crazy stories, and so much laughter.  People seemed to think that my parents' house was the same way, though it was anything but.

My husband and son, and I were watching a TV show last week about the atmospheres on different planets in our solar system, and the narrator demonstrated the rising of heated gases while launching a Chinese lantern.  As my husband and son discussed how the lantern worked, I suddenly piped up said, "They also work with sealed dry cleaner bags and birthday candles set in plastic straws."

"Disturbingly, you sound as if you're speaking from experience," my husband replied.

"I was merely an observer,"

"Yeah, sure," he said.

"No, really.  I was only 5 at the time," and I thought of how mesmerized I was to walk into Roddy's room where all his friends were quietly and seriously preparing for the evening's 4th of July festivities by sealing dry cleaner bags with cigarette lighters.  They let me sit and watch, but no matter how I begged, they didn't let me help.  Fire...  I was a moth even then.  If I'd tried that as a teen, my mother would still be yelling at me for it.  Evelyn just giggled as we all watched those majestic floating lights of humble origins sail up and over the Missionary Ridge Cut and thought of the many many UFO reports drivers on I-24 were likely to make that night.

When I think of Anne, I think of the way she would break into a smile.  When I think of Evelyn, I think of the way her eyes dance when she laughs.  What I remember most was that these two very different but strong, elegant, warm, and self assured lifelong friends were always so incredibly kind to me.  They gave me their undivided attention and time as if that were the reason they pulled up in front of my house certain days each week.  I still remember how excited their kids were as they, in turn, became old enough to drive themselves and how quietly and deeply I grieved when I realized those magical moments with their moms was gone.  

Janna was my role model of what becoming a cool teen was all about, and the board game and the Realistic cube AM radio that Roddy gave me shaped my life and entertained my young solitary creative hours in immeasurable ways.  The kids grew up, stopped taking lessons, and as everyone's lives changed, we saw far less of the two families.  Time spent with my parents' friends morphed into much less happy times with my mother's girlfriends, who seemed perpetually annoyed that she always had to drag her kid along.

Life is a chain of events and connections in which if one link breaks, wonders we might never know can be lost.  If Anne and Evelyn's husbands hadn't had offices near each other, if they hadn't become friends, if Evelyn hadn't gone to high school with my grandmother and thought to call her and ask how to get in touch with my father about piano lessons for Roddy, if he'd never have given me Voice of the Mummy... I don't know if I would have found a fascination with Egyptology later in my childhood, or become obsessed with being a metalsmith, or wandered alone around the deserts of Egypt when I was 25, or, most of all, been Skyler's mom.  (Yes, I know... I left out a bit toward the end... it's a whole other story.)

I often wonder which of our friends will so impact my son's life and in what ways.  I think about the people who aren't in his life as much now and wonder if he silently grieves the loss in ways I can't recognize.  I've been fortunate to see these most dear friends at least briefly in recent years and to try and explain the impact they had on my life.  Words remain inadequate.  When I saw Evelyn yesterday at Anne's memorial service her eyes still dance.  We all promised to get together soon.

Anne, you're missed more than you can know.

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