Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Leader of the Band

     Seated in the bay window the old man gave a grunt of satisfaction as the grey sedan bubbling with grand children drew to a halt at the kerb. His four sons had done their work well when producing nine off-spring offering an inherent guarantee that he’d never be alone, could never be alone and that loneliness would never be a consideration. Through the line of trees flanking the property he could distinguish unrecognisable shapes as those so young spilled onto the grass verge and raced each other through the gate to the accompaniment of slamming car doors and squeals of delight and anticipation. There were three of them today along with their dad, Martin, the third son.
     ‘You’ve been old for a long time now, granddad,’ had said Paul who was eight and who these days readily provided answers to his own questions which left his grand- father musing. Old man? He thought not, but through the eyes of a child and in a world designed for the young it was a perspective which could be easily appreciated.
     Paul wasn’t among the visitors. They were Martin’s children who charged onto the porch making a bee-line for the kitchen, not failing to get their priorities right. Catherine and Larry were two methodical scheming youngsters whose vision of potted yoghurt and fruit juice in Granny’s frig never faded and they were never to be disappointed..
     Martin carried his third child Rachel on his hip and planted her solidly on the floor of the old man’s room. She was ten months old and almost ready to walk and most certainly able to crawl. As yet she wasn’t sure about her grand father and she eyed him with apprehension from the patch of sunlight that had become her stage as he towered above her in his chair. It had been a stage for so many, but they grew so quickly and predictably moved on in a world of many attractions and distractions.
     Rachel sat straight and her bottom lip trembled as she looked around for her dad who had joined his mother in the kitchen to supervise the raid on the pantry. It wasn’t a hint of a tear. No, they came in a torrent resulting in a protective granny appearing in a flash like a fairy godmother to sweep the baby up into her arms and glance accusingly at her husband.
     ‘What did you do to her, the poor little thing?’ she challenged.
     The old man was used to this, but he went along with the game.
     ‘I didn’t do anything’ he protested. ‘All I did was look at her and she burst into tears.’
     "There’s little wonder" chided the woman. "You’re enough to frighten anyone."
     Husband and wife fully understood each other after forty five years of marriage and as a soothing granny took delight in the consolation of her granddaughter the old man reached across and picked up his guitar. It worked every time. The firm fingers of his workman’s hand ran through a series of chord changes as he gently stroked the strings. The result was predictable and in an instant Catherine skipped into the room and leapt into the solar spotlight to let the dancing begin.
     "Hello, granddad" she beamed.
     Catherine was six and for her this was part of the magic of coming to granddad’s house. She was the one who had started this game five years before when she had begun to totter around the place making her first footprints with each step becoming more certain than the one before. What she did that first day paved the way for a paper chain of events of a similar nature which was to stretch through the genes of a budding generation and sew the seeds of joy in an old man’s heart. There was hardly a time whenever the grandchildren came to visit when the music wouldn’t play and the feet wouldn’t tap; and the hearts wouldn’t swell.
     That first day was a lifetime away. Her lifetime, but she remembered it as clearly as the old man; maybe more clearly for it seemed it had always been a part of her growing. He hadn’t been old for as long then. At the time she was not aware of how badly he played, or how well, but she had been totally magnetised by the beat as the gentle strains of ‘Hey, hey, skip to my loo" fertilised a seed within her and she’d begun to sway. She’d begun to sway and she’d begun to hop, all in time to the music. Thus before she was able to talk, she was able to communicate with a new language, when her entire vocabulary was ‘mumma and dadda’.
     Her actions sent a message to the old man who warmed and upped the tempo slightly and extended the lyrics. ‘I’ll find another one prettier than you . . ..’ and the baby jigged and twirled disjointedly in response to the unleashed rhythm within. Granny took delight in sharing centre stage with her little star and she too clapped and twirled as grandfather eased his way through another verse and yet another.
     As he sang the old man marvelled at the natural rhythm of the child. ‘Where does the music begin?’ was a calm thought that brushed across his mind. Nobody had taught the child this yet there she was moving with ease in time to a language which was international. Where does the music begin?
     The image of his wife dancing and clapping volunteered a part answer for it was a half century almost since they’d first danced together on the sprung floor of a city ballroom and shared the beat of one of the big bands of the day. Ted Heath was the leader of the band that night, the night the old man, a young man then, became the leader of her band. They had shared the beat as they had shared everything else that was theirs as they danced their ways into each others hearts unsuspecting of the harvest of love that would be there to be reaped in their twilight years; and the harvest was a full one; tenfold, a hundred fold.
     Yes, to the old man the answer was apparent. This gift of music, of rhythm, was a legacy of his heritage, passed down through the family genes by his forefathers. He recalled well tales of his own grandfather performing on the boards of the ‘Old Time Music Hall’ as did his father. Song, dance and humour were a strong strain of that heritage which chose to blossom in various forms throughout the different branches of the family tree.
     There was nothing more clear in the scrap book of his mind than the pictures of an uncle stomping out a tune on an upright piano (no guesses who this is)  and of his father picking away quietly at a mandolin, or squeezing the last strains of ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ from the corrugated confines of his favourite concertina. Some things are easy to forget. Others are never forgotten. Having received these gifts as part of his heritage how thankful the old man was to be able to bequeath them to his own kin.
     Sitting there thinking and playing the old man had a broader thought. It wasn’t just his side of the family that was blessed with such a tax free gift. The not so old lady’s family had been known to carry a song. Sadly her father had never been one to confide in his kin as to his up-bringing and there was no record to hand, mental or visual, of those gone before. On his first meeting with him the old man was given reason to think that maybe he’d never had a father at all for his daily attitude was not designed to encourage further association.
     To his credit his voice had been compared favourably with those of successful tenors of the day in reviews in the local press following one lone appearance in a local production. The clear, resounding tones of Nessun Dorma erupting from the bathroom when in one of his better moods were not easily forgotten.
     In this age the old man could look back with understanding on his father-in- law’s situation. There was never enough money for an overlarge family that struggled to survive, but there was just enough for the drink which provoked actions on the part of the bread winner that should have been beyond his nature.
     It had not been difficult for a budding son-in-law to believe all his Christmases had come at once when he was able to carry his bride off to brighter horizons. He felt as though all his life time goals had been fulfilled in one stunning action when this beautiful young woman, who by comparison tended to make Marilyn look like a bag-lady, said ‘I do’. Sitting and playing this day to their grandchildren he had no reason to think otherwise.
     She had a brother. She had two brothers, but the elder brother was special. He was protective and full of understanding which led to a special bond between the siblings. He was never a member of any ‘Rat Pack’, but Sinatra could have readily given the nod of approval to one who handled his selections with such finesse. Thinking of him now the old man could understand the talent that was emerging in this new generation. They were called ‘crooners’ in those days and socially there was none better than this young man when he rendered ‘Body and Soul’ to the swooning locals. His father thought otherwise, but ‘Body and Soul’ could never be forgotten.
     "Bloody crooners. They won’t last" he was often heard to remark, but he could sing. They both could.
     The six year old Catherine protested when the old man stopped playing as number three son returned to the room with the youngest under his arm and deposited her once more on her stage in readiness for the second act. Larry had been busy with his felt tips in a spasm of creativity and Martin laid a sample of his work on the desk for his father to approve.
     "What am I looking at?" asked the old man as he began playing once more, but at the same time studying the pre-school Picasso before him. Two vivid green lumpy legs mushroomed from two solid blocks which were supposedly shoes to disappear into an angular purple skirt that stopped short two inches above the hem-line. That was it. Very colourful. Very creative.
     "What is it again?" he repeated. "It’s very good."
      The bulky form of Larry wedged its way between the guitar and the desk and wide brown eyes gleamed as they sought approval.
     "It’s the bottom part of granny, granddad" he said proudly.
     Of course. How stupid not to see.
     "Play ‘Ten Guitars’ granddad" urged Catherine.
     He played ‘Ten Guitars’. He was going to do that anyway and as he did the rocking and the rolling began once more. The words came easily as always and it was Larry who joined the trio as Catherine burst forth .
     ‘I have a band of men . . . .’ she began and the old man lapsed once more into his thought pattern. A band of men! He surely had that. Four sons and seven grandsons and to be politically correct he should certainly include the ladies. It would not be complete without them and most definitely not without his wife. It seemed pretty clear to most that he was the leader of his very special band for there existed a certain strength within him which was often drawn upon by the players at the most unexpected times; but that was to be expected and that was the reason for him being there.
     At the back of everything the old man knew his strength came from his partner. Being associated with her and having the need to provide for her had instilled a force within that was irrepressible. Yet he was always ready to defend his position as ‘leader of the band’ and was pleased to explain his belief that the man is the head of the family and the woman is the neck. As such she is able to turn the head any way she chooses.
     The music continued and none seemed to tire of it. The words of the song came without thought and he was able to run the soundtrack of his mind silently behind the lyrics as they spilled from his lips.
     ‘Through the eyes of love you’ll see a thousand stars. . . .’ sang Catherine with a confidence and balance that saw her dictating proceedings with hand actions and mime. He observed her through the eyes of love. Was there another way? And she was a star. They were all stars. It was a foregone conclusion on the old man’s part that eventually she would break a few hearts with that winning smile and shock of shimmering straight black hair. It easily reached below her shoulders to compliment the olive tones of her skin. She had her granny’s eyes; heart breakers, alright.
     The ‘bottom part of granny’ lay on the desk and as he sang he marvelled at the wisdom and innocence of children and accepted such as his lesson for the day. Each person may view any situation from a different perspective, but from whatever position the situation remains the same although it may appear to be different. Larry saw the bottom half of a granny. The old man saw the top half of granny and occasionally glanced at the bottom, but whatever way you looked at granny she was still granny. Is that the way children view life, he thought? Just the bottom half of everything? In which case do we as adults take into consideration only the top half of life tending to take for granted the bottom half that served as a basic ingredient for our climb up the ladder of life? The basic ingredients? Love, trust, faith, giving?
     One can learn so much from children. How important it is to consider another person’s perspective. How important the perspective of a child? When the old man and the not so old lady had first met, had they known then about Catherine dancing in the sunlight forty to fifty years on down the track they may well have wished their lives away, being anxious for those years to pass. Would it have been possible to wait those years for a Larry with half of his granny etched in water colour? Had they been given a hint of Rachel swaying to the beat in a new millennium would they have shown dissatisfaction and impatience with those years between. It is as well none of us is allowed to know what lies in store. What a prize! What a reward for a marriage made in heaven. Like a new penny in the toe of a Christmas stocking.
     The old man knew he was rich beyond belief. He’d played to all of the children in turn and no amount of coin tendered could come close to a mere deposit on the true value of the sparkle in the eyes and the wiggle of the hips of innocent youth. Some things can never be forgotten.
No matter how old one is one can only benefit from considering the perspective of a child.
* * * * * * *
     The thirty two year old ‘child’, Martin, stood in the doorway and watched the antics of his family. His dad was on form today and how he loved to fiddle with that guitar. For as long as he could remember the family had tolerated the old man’s passion for country music. The names of Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers had long been engraved on the daily work sheet and many a time he had wished that he too, could have carried a tune and played an instrument as did his brothers.
     We can’t all be all alike and life carries its compensations. Martin’s love for driving and unerring sense of direction drew benefits for the outdoor life and because of that he’d fulfilled an early dream and travelled the world. It had been easy to come home and settle down and it seemed the right woman had been waiting for him. They’d married. The product of that marriage was the three kids who were at that moment raising Cain with the old man. That old man was a good father and Martin had no illusions that things had ever been easy for him. He had always made it look easy, though, whatever the circumstances and when either he or his brothers were in trouble, or thought they knew better, the old fellow was always there with advice and support.
For Martin there was still much to strive for in life, but if he were to wish for one thing it would be that he could prove to be as good a father to his children as their grandfather had been to him.
As the music stopped the old chap relinquished his treasured instrument which served as a signal that another raid on the kitchen was imminent. A timely side step by Martin avoided the exodus which left father and son alone in the room and the conversation was as normal. The new job, the old job, the big game, his mate’s new Harley; the old man was always interested; and then . . . . .
     "I was over to see my birth mother this morning" said Martin. "It didn’t do much for me. I don’t think I’ll bother any more."
     The old man didn’t seem surprised and raised little comment.
     "You’re birth mother. That’s good" he replied. "How was she?".
     The idiot deep inside him was slowly recovering. He and his wife had adopted Martin at birth. Some things are easily forgotten.

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