It’s been almost three weeks since my birthday and I finally bought myself a present. Probably shouldn’t have because my pocketbook took a huge hit this month. Eight hundred for the new set of choppers. Three hundred twenty five for three months of the faux insurance at Hospital Chiriquí (but it’s better than having nothing). And, of course getting out the rent money. But today I broke down and did it anyway.
So, what did I get? Well, let me build up to it….
Music runs deep in my family. All the way back into my grandparents. This is a photo from those days at what was known as “The Music House.”
That’s my paternal grandfather on the cello. In the back is William Dean on the flute. My mom also played cello when she was in school and her brother, Howard, played clarinet. He was good enough to play in bands that spent the summer on ocean liners plying the Atlantic between the U.S. and England.
My brother, David, is the flautist in the family. It was always embarrassing growing up to have to do the annual music teacher’s recital. David is seven years younger than me but was always light years ahead on the flute. All of us kids had to take music lessons. David, Jeff and I took the flute and Gary and Mark played clarinet. Jeff also became a very good self-taught guitar and banjo player. Jeff’s wife, Jan, taught piano for years and years on Cape Cod and then in Chapel Hill, NC. Their son, Tom, from what I’ve been told is kind of a musical prodigy can pick up and play just about any instrument he can lay his hands on. Their daughter, Kelsey is a violin instructor at Appalachian State University – Community Music School, and a violinist at Western Piedmont Symphony.
Brothers David and Gary BOTH played in the Chatham (Cape Cod) Town Band which is quite an honor because many of the members of that band back then also played with the Boston Pops!!! (Pretty good musical company to keep, don’t ya think?) David, though, became a professional jazz musician.
And then, there’s ME! I played flute and piccolo in the Orleans/Nauset Regional High School Band as well as the Orleans Town Band. (That was no where near as prestigious as the Chatham Band by a long shot, but it got me out of the house once a week for rehearsals.
I stopped playing when I went away to college though and only took it up again a couple of years later when I joined the Navy. I signed up with an old school buddy, John Hinckley (NO, NOT THAT ONE!!). The first full day we were in boot camp and waiting to get our shots a first-class petty officer, a machinist’s mate oddly enough, came in and said he was looking for volunteers for the boot camp band, drum and bugle corps and chorus. John had been an excellent sax player and suggested we volunteer. I said I hadn’t played in over two years. “Well, you might get out of some of the awful stuff ahead for a while if you sign on. And band members DID get out of a lot of stuff, mainly physical training.
So, I did. The first four weeks of what was then a 16-week training regimen was exactly like everyone else’s at Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Then we were marched down to a huge Quonset hut drill hall for try outs. This was it! I knew I was screwed and unimaginable quantities of shit were about to be dumped on my head.
I sat, waiting for my turn. Doomed! I’d never been great at sight reading music and they were auditioning with marches used when Hannibal marched his legion of elephants over the Alps. Doubly doomed!! Finally my turn came around. The petty officer said, “What do YOU play?”
“Flute and piccolo, sir,” I replied.
“Good! If you can hold it right you’re in. Stand over there…”
“What?” I said, incredulously.
“Stand over THERE!”
I was in without even having to play a note. It seems that everyone who played flute was either graduating from boot camp or would be graduating in a couple of weeks and I was the first person to say the magic words: “Flute and piccolo.”
As the newbies our first week in the band company was spent not playing music, but in keeping the drill hall spic and span. Then we were marched to the dentists. I had a couple of wisdom teeth pulled and a drain put in. It got infected. The left side of my face looked like I had partially swallowed a softball. It was that big. Obviously I can’t play. So I’m put in charge of the newest bunch of musicians and directing them in the cleanup operations. I’m not ashamed to say I milked that disability for all it was worth. And as the weeks passed several guys came in who played flute and piccolo and were destined to go to the Navy’s music school after boot camp so I had them sit in for me.
While everyone else was cleaning stuff or practicing I studied our handbook The Bluejacket Manual. I learned that sucker from cover to cover and actually ended up being the academic standout in the entire brigade for my graduating week and got a letter of commendation handed to me by the Admiral in charge of the entire training center at the graduation ceremony. BUT, a week before that happened, the petty officer came over to me and said, “You know, you graduate next week and you have to march in the ceremony.”
Well, it wasn’t so bad. I grabbed one of the flutes, positioned myself with other flautists on either side of me and marched around and moved my fingers like I was actually playing. And that was my Naval musical experience.
My first college roommate was an excellent classical guitar player and I was in awe of his talent. When I was attending (but doing little actual studying) at the University of Miami I bought a guitar and learned to play it. Sort of. I did okay as a rhythm guitarist and loved the blues but my singing elevates Bob Dylan to something like Pavarotti status in comparison. But I had fun with it for a couple of years when I went back to college in the mid 60s but haven’t touched a guitar since. I did try learning piano, though, and had an electric keyboard on the boat over in France. Learned how to do a walking bass with my left hand but never got too good at it.
SO, that brings us up to now…
As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m going to be repatriating to the U.S. (though I may be back in Panama if Donald Chump gets elected. I WON’T live there with him as president. I’d rather die destitute at Regional Hospital in David (dah VEED) Panama. Well, since I’m going to be on the move most of the time on the boat I intend to live on, and only have sporadic internet access, I’ve been wondering what to do to pass the time when I’m at anchor somewhere.
I thought I’d like to take up the guitar again but the things are rather large, you know, and would take up quite a bit of space on a boat only 23 or 25 feet long. I started thinking about a ukelele. Small, fun, musical. And then I went to the biggest music store in David this morning and bought one of these:
There were several different models, and the Yamaha was the most expensive. I bought it because it’s a known name. Now I’ve got something to while away the hours….