Twenty-two years have passed since we last met. Strange, because it seems like just yesterday when we waved goodbye. She looked a little sad, but assured me that she’d be around whenever I needed her. No worries. She’d be right where I left her. And she meant it.
Even as she approaches her 70th birthday, she’s still radiant. Her voice remains strong and smoky. She hasn’t grown gaunt with age, as some of us do, but still weighs in at a hefty, healthy 20 pounds. She’s never been ashamed of her worn lacquer, her scratches, her oft-repaired and dangerously thin brass. Don’t make the mistake of suggesting to her that those are flaws to be camouflaged and hidden away. Oh, no. She won’t hear of it. Those “wrinkles” mean she’s been places. She’s seen things. She has loved and been loved—and, what’s more, she will continue to love. She has lived fully and deeply, as most of us never will.
Does she ever think of France? Does she ever long for that little factory south of Paris where she came into the world, where one of Monsieur Noblet’s craftsmen stamped “9346” in the small of her bell seam? Whenever I ask, she changes the subject.
She’d rather talk about the Rubank exercises that we both hated at first but quickly grew to love, or that grueling Dvoràk piece we aced in the winter of 1993. She gets excited when I suggest we try “Night Train” again, and pushes for a dirty, raunchy, uptempo “gut-bucket” version. She wonders aloud why I still haven’t bought the Dukoff 10* metal mouthpiece that I wouldn’t shut up about all those years ago.
Is she protecting me? Or herself?
It doesn’t matter. She kept her two-decades-old promise: I needed her, and there she was. Or, rather, here she is, as patient and solid and accepting as ever. As I slowly rebuild my wind and dexterity, she stays with me. She picks up where we left off, telling her story and mine in that steady, husky tenor—singing every note with longing, and with love.
© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)