Saturday, October 24, 2009
Leaving With the Band
When I was a child, growing up in the ever so interesting 60s and 70s, when "family" was being redefined and parenting was starting to be seen as something more than just providing food and shelter to the miniature people living in the home, luck or fate landed me in a nice place to grow up. I was given the things I needed so I had time to think about the things I think about even now.
My parents' goal for my brother and I was for us to be "well rounded" children. I remember how very proud my mother was the day I showed her my 4th Grade report card. I do not remember the grades I made, but I remember how my teacher had written, in her perfect and beautiful handwriting, "Sherri is a well-rounded little girl, a pleasure to have in the classroom". My mother had succeeded. I was rounding out quite nicely.
When I inquired of my mother what in the world it meant to be well-rounded and why such a trait was so desired, she explained how a well-rounded person was able to do many things. In that time, some value must have been seen in the ability to enter into most any activity at a beginner level. Being well rounded on my report card meant, at least to my mother, I not only completd math problems on the blackboard, spelled the bonus words on my spelling tests, and wrute about my summer in three or more paragraphs, but I was also able to join most any group of players on the playground and not be chosen last when kick ball teams were picked. I jumped rope and took ballet lessons. I wanted a pony, even though I knew I would never have one, and I read Little Women and took art lessons. At the tender age of 10, I had dipped my fingers in many acceptable pies.
But in my heart, I already knew I owned none of them.
As part of my parents crusade to round out my brother and I, there were several years when we were one of the families in town with season tickets to the "Community Concerts". I'm not sure if such a thing still exists, but Community Concerts offered a variety of live performances by way of traveling shows who came to small towns where theatre and symphony were not everyday fare, but where parents desired to begin to enlighten themselves and their children together.
Community Concerts were on Tuesday nights. My mind has held on to the smallest of details like this. This schedule meant I had to hurry home from my piano lesson and hurry out to the high school auditorium where the performances took place, the best facility our town had to offer. I don't remember ever knowing ahead of time what I would be seeing or hearing.
But I remember dreading each performance with a fear and anxiety as heavy as an albatross around my neck. I dragged my feet to our seats and kept my eyes down, while my parents were trying to catch my eye to give me the "look" to reminded me how fortunate I was to be among the members of the community having this chance to be exposed to higher thinking, to music, to art.
I hated Community Concerts with such a passion that almost 45 years later I can conjure up the feeling enough to feel my palms start to sweat a little. I hated them and dreaded them. But not for the reason you might think.
Maybe you will be surprised. Or maybe you will not.
I sat through years of "Community Concert" performances with my head down, staring at my hands, and fighting back tears. I remember pianists and soloists, quartets, sopranos, folk singers and more. While I appeared not to be engaged, I actually saw everything and heard everything. And what I didn't know I created. I gave them a life that filled in the blanks that the stage did not answer for me. And in the final moments, where the small town crowd, feeling somewhat high on enlightenment, stood for a rousing ovation and refused to sit down until the encore came, I stood too, beaming by then, and stretching on my tip toes, reaching from my heart, silently praying, "See me.....pick me....take me".
It was agony, you see, for me to endure such a magical show and then have it end. I knew I would return to my ordinary life and the performers would move on to another town of faces they would not remember. I did not want to be one of the watchers. I wanted to be part of what happened up on the stage. I wanted to be part of whatever it was that moved people and made them hunger for more. And it was so incredibly painful for me to experience these great performances and then have to just go home that I came to dread and to despise sitting through them.
My father once asked me why I never seemed to want to go to the shows. And I answered him honestly. I said, "Because I want to leave with the band". He left it at that. Either because he understood. Or because, as a pre-adolescent first daughter, I was a mystery enough without opening more cans of worms.
Over my life, I've lost the ability to recall the specific artists I saw on the Community Concert tours. But I still recall the feeling much more often than I have time for in my ordinarily busy life. It will catch me off guard and make me feel out of sorts and frustrated. I still want to "leave with the band". I still want to be part of a group of people making a difference in the world. And as long as I have my memories I will not stop visualizing a small girl stepping out of the audience and walking toward the lights, stepping out of the ordinary and into the arena where anything is possible.