When I registered Mack for sixth grade at Franklin Middle School, I insisted that she give the school band a try. It would be an understatement to say that she was not very keen on the idea, but she accepted my suggestion and mumbled that it would probably be better than choir. She made a typically dramatic Mack pitch for the percussion section, but just the thought of that kid with drums or cymbals sent shivers down my spine and made my ears bleed. Besides, we still had Savannah’s school trumpet in the house, and I knew Mack’s heart was not in the band so why spend any money? Always respectful of parental money arguments, Mack accepted the trumpet and said she would probably kick her sister’s trumpet talents in the butt, so perhaps the trumpet was the best instrument choice anyway.
Band was a scheduled class at Franklin Middle School, so a little practice time at home and a handful of evening concerts did not interfere with Mack’s involvement with sports. Mack loved the very cool and youthful band director, Mr. Keys (isn’t that a hoot?), and several of her best friends were in band, so Mack never complained about it. She made some pretty horrible honking sounds during the first few weeks of school, but after that I barely noticed Mack on trumpet anymore, so she must have gotten the hang of it. Besides, Mack was a three-sport athlete, so I had no expectations that I was raising a musical prodigy, nor did I hold any real hopes for trumpet solos or the jazz band. But since she never moaned about band, kept an A in band class, and participated in the first couple of concerts, I believed she was learning to read a little music and broadening her musical and intellectual horizons. And when my friend Alica reported that she had come home one day after work to find her daughter Maggie (one of Mack’s best friends) and Mack on their front porch playing their band instruments, I was like, wow, maybe this band thing was having an influence on my hyperkinetic child and would become a happy habit.
At the Christmas concert that year, the sixth grade band sounded so much better than it had sounded during their first concert at the beginning of the year, and I figured Mack on trumpet had at least a little something to do with the band’s overall progress. But then, sometime in the spring towards the end of the school year, when I was sitting in a camp chair in the grass at a track meet waiting to watch Mack high jump and run a slow 800 meters, I noticed all of the band instrument cases piled up with all the book bags near where the Franklin track team members were hanging out and waiting for their events. I wondered to myself if Mack had her trumpet over there, and it put in my head the idea to ask her on the way home if she still liked the band. Mack, who did not, by the way, get into the car with a trumpet case, skipped not a beat when I put the question to her. She said something like, “yes, it’s ahright. I’m not first or second chair or anything, but I’m pretty boss.” She said it without a hint of sarcasm or fear in the eye or facial tick that belied the words, but at that moment I knew damn well it was a Mack-happy answer and had absolutely nothing to do with the truth. The past months of school flashed across my brain. I realized that I had never checked to see if Mack was practicing her trumpet. I had no memories of hearing Mack on trumpet in her room after those first few days of honking. I had not a single memory of seeing her schlep to the corner of our street with that trumpet to meet the school bus in the morning. I could not, in fact, remember any time other than during the previous band concert when Mack was in the company of that trumpet.
I had a momma bear fit, accused Mack of being a band slacker, and told her she had better practice and be ready for the spring concert. She was unfazed, refused to make any practice promises, and said she would do just fine at the final band concert of the school year, which would also be the final band concert of her life. She had no intention whatsoever of participating in the seventh-grade band, and she informed me quite sternly that I just needed to get over it. I was not heartbroken about the band necessarily, but I was frustrated by Mack’s lack of effort on trumpet and I was mad at myself for failing to notice that lack of effort for an entire school year. At that final spring concert, I settled into my seat and trained my eyes on Mack on trumpet. As the band played, Mack pressed the keys of her trumpet, but it was absolutely clear that she blew no air into the instrument. And, it turns out, she had never played a single note at any of the previous band concerts either. She had faked her way through the entire school year of band. Mack on trumpet was, it turns out, never a thing. Mack on trumpet was a lie. And Mack deemed the farce one of her favorite Momma Bear scams.
Many years later, when we were packing up our Springfield house to move to St. Louis, Mack found the old school trumpet in the back of her bedroom closet. She opened up the dusty case, wiped off the mouthpiece, and played a “tune” (which I captured on my IPhone). Pepper, our Pomeranian, was, according to Mack, entertained by this impromptu concert; I am not so certain. But the concert definitely took us back to Mack’s great band hoax, which sent us into fits of laughter, and then we put that trumpet in the “keep” pile and packed it for St. Louis. Mack thought that even though she never really played the damn trumpet, it was a funny memento of her childhood, a reminder of the Mack on trumpet that never really was.
And for your listening pleasure, I introduce to you, Mack on trumpet: https://youtu.be/lYPal2JX1fc