Dickie Conducts Himself Well

The PTA meeting ended and assorted parents and teachers returned from the Home Economics building to the Chapel in the High School; they towed the little children behind them. The elementary and high school kids were already there; we’d been treated to a movie. All of us waited to hear a concert.

That year, the Methodist Church of the North sent to Pittman Center a bonus teacher, a second music teacher. Poor Miss Wakeman must have felt sad indeed to think the Elders had to send another music teacher, because for years she had been the only one needed. But there we were, graced with Ms. Yokum. Miss Wakeman continued to teach the high school chorus. She gave me piano lessons as well, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what she did with the rest of her time.

Ms. Yokum directed the marching band (another quite wonderful story, indeed). She taught some music over in the elementary school as well, especially a rhythm band. And that is where we came in, that night.  For our concert. The rhythm band soon would play.

The parents, little tykes in hand and still talking to each other, came into the Chapel and found seats in a clutch. The elementary students ran down to the front rows. They flapped the seats up and down, moved from one to another, not sure of the greater importance: to be able to see better, or to be next to the most popular person. Seventh and eighth graders inched in almost sideways. They had no difficulty with that question—obviously, proximity to the popular person held priority, but who was it, that minute? The young adults of high school age either sauntered in alone, as they looked for prey, or oozed through the door molded together, already hunted down and lost—they thought—forever. Finally, the faculty closed ranks and shut the doors to signal silence.

All eyes front. Silence ruled beyond the dark, dusty curtain. I’d been there in that beyond; I knew the floorboards creaked, the dust rose up and filled your nostrils, the curtain actually stunk. But when it opened…. When it opened….  It didn’t matter….  You were….  On stage!

Creak. Groan. The curtain slowly rose. Two rows of chairs stretched primly across the stage, eight chairs in each row. A music stand stood before the rows. It seemed so short, that music stand. Not on a long stem, like the one at the festival in Knoxville….  Shhh…. Rustling off to our left. Here they came!  The Rhythm Band.

Sixteen elementary school students. Tambourines, tom toms, sticks, rattles—all those little things I do not know what they are called. I had never been in a rhythm band. Each kid stood before a chair, silent. When they were all in place, somber, the final kid walked in. Eight-year old Dickie. In The Blue Suit, with the white shirt I’d ironed that afternoon and the red bow tie, and not a golden blond hair out of place. He looked so somber, so dignified, so smooth, you would think he wore a tuxedo. He strode up to the music stand, dipped his head, lifted his hands, held them up, and then lowered them until his band all were seated.

I had goose-bumps on my arms so big my sleeves trembled.

It was one of the few times that Chapel knew absolute silence. When he felt sure, Dickie raised his arms again. The members of the band stood and lifted up their instruments. At exactly the right moment, Dickie made that little flick of his wrist, and the music began.

Music it was! I sit here now, fifty-seven years later, to tell you I have been in great concert halls. I have heard famous people play famous music. I have seen famous conductors. I have even sung under the direction of one of them and been good friends with another. But I have never seen nor heard a more professionally conducted performance in my life.

Dickie, that Golden Boy brother of mine, had music in his soul. It had to pour through his veins and filter through his bones as it did through those of our father and it does through mine. I do not know about my other brothers. They do not speak of this, and none of them have acted on it. I know only what I saw that night. Dickie had found his element. Not only did he stand and wave his baton, he called in individual instruments and players. He leaned into the task; he begged them for more. He held out his hand to a section, to ask them to show restraint, and his restraint evinced perfection. When the time came to go a little bit faster, he enthused (he would!), and they all were happy together.

At the end of the third piece, he bowed to the band and seated them, then turned to us, his audience. He bowed with such courtliness we found it impossible to believe him anything but a prince. He turned and, with a small smile, walked proudly off stage. The applause of the audience of fewer than fifty deafened even the youngest among us.

After an hour, my sleeves relaxed and my cheeks were dry. I sat tall and proud of that Golden Boy. Richard!

It’s About Time

I started to think about time one evening, and I couldn’t get to the end of it.

I have a friend in India. Chandigarh is half-way around the world from where I lived until a year ago, and I had a hard time keeping track of what time it is there, so I made a chart. I called him one day, and I updated my chart because I had just moved to a different time zone.

There I sat, changing time. Can we change time? I always struggle with Einsteinian physics. I do get the general concepts, so I am aware that theoretically we can change time in some sense. We can bend time, or stretch it, or shrink it; time is, as they say, plastic, not concrete. But we cannot, as I understand things, change time’s consistency. For example, water can be turned into steam or ice, but I haven’t heard that time can be made liquid or solid. My sense is that time is evanescent. At least, it gets away from me in the same way as does a cloud.

Think of all the things we do with time: We take time, make time, use time, keep time, save time, lose time, spend time, waste time. If we have time, we can spare time, give time, share time.

We bandy those words about with abandon. At first, as I listed them, I thought them all to be literal impossibilities. Then I thought again.

Make time. How do you do that? Well, you decrease the amount of time you spend on one or more activities and thus release time not otherwise available. It’s like when you pinch off a bit of dough from two already formed cookies to make a third.

Taking time works much the same way, but you could be taking it from someone else’s allocation, and that might not be fair.

Using and spending time mean pretty much the same thing. Once you have done one of them, the time is gone; we all know that. Where did it go? When you use water, you know where it went: You drank it or you took a bath in it and let it go down the drain. Where does the time go? We ask ourselves that many times.

Keeping time has several meanings. You keep time with music by tapping your feet or dancing well. A young man keeps time with his girl.

You can save time by hurrying while you perform some action or activity. But, I ask you, where is that time you saved? Do you have a drawer full of time at the end of the week? A book in which you record all the time you saved, and the interest accrued?

All of us have lost time. I am sure that, once you let it get away, you never get it back. I doubt that no one who reads this has never wasted time. That time is as good as lost, also. But I believe that some wasted time is valuable, so I never worry about that.

When we plan ahead, we leave time for the unexpected.

Here are a few puzzles: We can run out of time, but not into it. We can take a time out, but not a time in. We can do different things at the same time, but not exactly the same thing at different times. At the end of an event, we say time’s up, but we never say time’s down. We have both down times and up times.

I’m ashamed to admit this one: We all kill time.

Sometimes, we just sit around with time on our hands. Again, you cannot see this time, or put it away to use later. We all know that it is good to give some time—say a few minutes—to someone else who needs a hand; we all can spare time at a time like this.

Best of all, we can share time with all the folks whose company we enjoy. There’s nothing better to do with time than share it.

Oh dear! I had a lot more to say and I never did answer the question about whether or not we can change time, but now I don’t have time.