Age Fifteen: “Where the Boys Are . . .”

After the so-called senior recitalwhich should have marked an end point, should it not?—the piano saga continued.

I played in a piano competition in Memphis the fall I turned fifteen. I was the youngest competitor, which should have told me something. Also, I’d refused to practice as I should. I went blank in the performance, just lost it several measures in. I started over and played fairly well, but the damage was done. I was humiliated.

My teacher for nearly ten years didn’t feel she had anything else to offer me, so my mother dragged me once a week to a nearby small college where I fumed for an hour under the tutelage of a young piano professor who forced me to play Bartok. I hated every minute. I had better things to do now. Those lessons lasted an interminable year.

Oh, but that summer!

By this time, my parents invited my best friend to go along on our beach trips. We usually stayed at Panama City Beach, in motels with names like Trade Winds and Surf and Sand. One year, we could see the amusement park just down the beach. We could walk there. (Chaperoned, of course.)

Here we are, prepping for the beach. And the second photo shows you what we found: a lifeguard. Cute, isn’t he? And he was mine!

Friend Sarah and I check out the beach. I’m on the left.
Lifeguard!

He had a friend, too, for my friend, which worked out nicely. We mostly talked to these boys when they were off duty during the day, but one evening, my folks allowed us to invite the boys up to the motel (my parents had to meet them, of course), and then we were allowed to sit around the pool and walk on the beach. I don’t remember this boy’s name. I never saw him again. But it was heady stuff.

I had gone from little girl a year before to full-fledged teenager. Still no dates. Still no kisses. But I was on my way!

That friend, by the way, is still around. She and I don’t talk or write often, but when we do, it’s as though we pick up where we left off. Occasionally, she’ll send me a photo from when we were girls together. I do the same. Friendships like that, and memories of beaches and lifeguards, don’t fade with time.

Is there a particular place you associate with the time when you went from child to teen? A particular friend or experience? Tell me about it!

This is the fifteenth post in the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. Thanks, Jane Ann McLachlan, for the challenge.

The Not-Eleven Memoir: The Star!

This post should be about age eleven, but I’m breaking the rules of the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. It turns out that the year after I turned ten (it’s my eleventh year, after all, so maybe that counts for something) was a big one in terms of memorable events. The ice storm. My grandfather’s death. But it was also the solo recital year, and I have to write about that.

First, a little music history: I had started piano lessons the summer before I turned six with a college student who had allowed me to “play by the numbers.” When my real teacher, Miss Vera, took me on in the fall, I didn’t know one note from another, so she started over. If you’ve been reading these posts, you know about the piano Santa brought. Daddy played some by ear, and I was picking out tunes before I started lessons. In that house, we loved music! There were the radio shows my parents listened to, but they didn’t own a record player until later. By the time I was seven or eight, I did. Among my favorite records–all 78s–were Peter and the Wolf and Rusty in Orchestraville (a narrative that introduced all the instruments of the orchestra). There were others, I’m sure. I took to the piano and I had a good ear, which helps account for “learning ” music without being able to read it.

The first recital dress my mother made

But I progressed. For my very first piano recital, my mother made a dress: pale blue organdy with triangles of ruffles on the skirt and a band of ruffles across the shoulders. At the point of each of those ruffled inserts on the skirt was a rosette of tiny organdy rosebuds tied with narrow satin ribbon, like nosegays, all made by hand. I remember watching Mother make them; those rosebuds involved a tedious process of rolling the edges of the fabric between her fingers. What a labor of love that dress was, and how I wish she hadn’t let someone borrow it! We never got it back.

The ruffles around the neck are obvious in the photo, and if you look carefully, you can see the top of the ruffles on the skirt.

Solo recital

When I was ten (going on eleven by a few days), I gave a solo recital. That’s right. All by myself. An older boy played a duet with me (a boy who was teased unmercifully for his talent and his “sissy” ways), and Miss Vera herself played second piano on a rousing arrangement of “Turkey in the Straw.” I was a hit, and I would continue piano lessons through the ninth grade. This recital dress was pale pink, by the way. And those are tiny artificial flowers sewn on by hand. My mother didn’t consider herself to be creative, but I believe she was an artist.

What music do you remember? Did you learn to play an instrument? Did you love it or hate it?

Somebody You’re Longing to See

For G and J

What happens when people meet again after many years of separation?  Might they find they have nothing in common and go their separate ways? Or might the bonds formed early outlast all the changes a lifetime brings?

Reunion

This past Monday, a high school friend and his wife spent the afternoon with my husband and me.  The friend and I had reconnected at a class reunion a few years ago, but just like during the intervening years after our graduation, we had been out of touch since the reunion. So we got together for lunch and wound up spending the afternoon getting reacquainted, reminiscing, and swapping stories.

Thormahlen “Swan”

His wife is a musician, so she and I have that in common (although I’d say I’m a sleeper musician; I don’t play the piano much these days). She brought her harp for me to see—a beautifully crafted Thormahlen “Swan,” a real work of art. She demonstrated how to tune it and then she played it for us, such lovely music. I brought out my almost-brand-new dulcimer, untouched ever since I broke a string about a year ago. He helped me tune it and gave me some rudimentary instruction. “Find a teacher,” they both said. “Learn it. It’s fun.” They are into adventures and new learning, a fine example for me.

Backstory

My friend and I found, just as we did three years ago at the reunion, that we have much in common, not just our upbringing, but our faith journeys, our politics, our love of travel and books and music. We grew up in the red clay hills of north Mississippi, a rural, poor part of the state (in case you have misconceptions about Mississippi, pockets of extreme poverty were not and are not limited to the Delta). His father was a Baptist minister, his family huge. My dad owned an automobile parts store; I was an only child. My friend and I didn’t know each other until he moved to town at the end of our ninth grade year. He was a shy boy, good-looking, sweet, and smart. He reminded me that he asked me to prom our junior year, but I already had a date. He moved on to date one of my best friends.

Roads Diverged

After high school, we went our very separate ways. What surprised us when we reconnected, I think, was how we had “outgrown” the place where we grew up, and yet how shaped we are, despite our different paths and experiences, by that time and place and people. Both of us had strong, hard-working fathers who sacrificed for us and for others. Both of us had home-making mothers whose chief duties were to mother us. We had good teachers who expected much. We had the good wishes of our friends—many of whom stayed behind in that small town—as we left that place behind. I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” We all chose our paths, but he and I chose “the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Time Lost

My friend’s wife and I have a lot in common. We talked music and children and grandchildren and shared photos. He and my husband swapped father stories for much of the afternoon, poignant memories of words said or unsaid, connections and failures. I enjoyed watching them get to know each other in that way.

Hambidge path, Spring 2011

Our reunion turned out to be bittersweet. I’m grateful for the renewal of friendship, but I grieve that interim of years, all that time lost when we might have enjoyed each other’s company, when we might have been there for illnesses or hard times. But those aren’t the only “lost years.” There’s my husband’s life before we met, and the lives of my children since they left home, and the bits and pieces of lives that have crossed with mine only briefly. The don’t-knows are endless.

As a fiction writer, it’s the most natural thing in the world to imagine them. And if they become fodder for the imagination—isn’t there some redemption in that? It’s a little like inventing character: taking the bits and pieces I know and weaving them into the don’t-know of their lives.

So forgive me, old friends, and new, if some fragment of you winds up in a story. It’s a compliment, really, to your reality. To your existence as part of my life.

Is there somebody you’re “longing to see,” as the old song goes? Somebody whose missing years you would take back or re-invent, if you could? Try writing about her. Try imagining what she would say to you if she could.

Share your thoughts here, please. I’d love to know what this piece and this little exercise trigger for you.