XXVII. The Horn Section

I treated myself for my birthday last week and gave myself a Kindle. Since then I have engaged in stuffing the grand court of my mind to the galleries, mezzanine and balconies with great classics and other good things to read – Jane Fonda’s new book, Prime Time (With Bonus Content): Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit–Making the Most of All of Your Life; Jane Austen: The Complete Collection (With Active Table of Contents); Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, (In Search of Lost Time (formerly translated as Remembrance of Things Past)), which I have been wanting to read my whole adult life – I guess I had to wait until I had my own experiences to remember; and more, many of the classics, out of copyright, free.

If you haven’t gotten a Kindle yet, you can buy one right here from this very page, through my Amazon store, Babylon Revisited (click on the link in the upper right-hand sidebar), and through the Amazon search box lower in the right sidebar. You know, I love holding a book in my hand and leafing through the pages; I love the smell and feel of books; I love the way a library smells; I am a library nerd; in fact, I’d like to find some candles or incense with a library aroma. But with a Kindle, I can download classics that I’ve been meaning to read, free, and I’ll always have them, without having to be concerned about dusting them.

How appropriate that I write this about great books on my favorite author and kindred spirit, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday. He’d be 115.

And while I’m blowing my own horn, I suggest you check out the other sections in my store. Here at my Salmon Salad and Mozart theater, I hope my symphony composed of journal entries, counterpointed by essays, poems, music, videos, Emma’s watercolor and my photo gallery develop a theme and a harmony you will enjoy and maybe intrigue and inspire you to purchase the items for yourself or someone special.

There are those who don’t blow their own horns. I’m thinking of our Hospice team who interact every day, all day, with humans who are performing the grand finale of their lives: the gentle and patient doctor who paces hospital halls seeing the suffering lying in beds in room after room, or drives the highways and byroads visiting nursing homes and entering all kinds of private home situations to see patients; the nurse who specializes in the heart, whose true specialty is her own compassionate heart of a Mother Teresa; the chaplain who sits at the bedside, holds the hand and sings, and coos comforting words to some who are mute, unable to respond beyond a glimmer of a smile; the music therapist who looks and sings like an angel playing her guitar; and the bereavement counselor who prepares families for the before and hereafter. My bereavement counselor, Geri, and our nurse, Tess, spend hours patiently listening to my long narratives; they sit with me in my horn section and listen to my cadenza to the Concerto for Emma and Samantha.

Our loyal and conscientious aides have told me that some families keep their ill one – I can’t even say loved one – in their Jane Eyre Mr. Rochester room, locked alone in a room upstairs at the back of the house or left alone in a basement room, say, that they do not do one thing at all for their ill one, they do not see their ill one’s suffering; they wait for the aide to come for her daily hour or two of service. Or, they dump the ill one in a nursing home. Maybe sometimes, the latter is the only solution. I remember when Emma put her mother, my Nana, in a nursing home. We went to visit her. As we concluded our visit, and were walking away, Nana cried. “Don’t leave me; ohh, don’t leave me,” she begged. I’ve never forgotten the incident. Well, maybe Nana had to be left there, because, once the finest seamstress who sewed me beautifully smocked dresses, born of a textile family come to Philadelphia from Lancashire, England, a woman who canned her own vegetables, regularly carried the rugs out to the clothesline and beat them, and washed all the windows in her Victorian home every week, she had had a stroke and lost much of her mobility and ability to do for herself. Nana was 72 when she died.

Before Nana was married, she was a seamstress for the Philadelphia Wanamaker’s department store, doing alterations for the customers. You had to be one of the best to be hired by Wanamaker’s. When I came along and was old enough to go shopping, I used to thrill to listen to the Wanamaker’s organ. Once I sat by the console up in the store gallery overlooking the grand court and watched the organist play. You had to make an appointment to do so. This organ is one of the finest in the world. With 28,543 pipes and six keyboards, it is said to be the largest operating musical instrument in the world. Macy’s, who ultimately bought the center-city Philadelphia store, together with funds and efforts of private donors, restored the organ. Macy’s marketing strategy is that when the organ plays, people feel good and when people feel good, they shop more. During the restoration, 61 new pipes, a rank of vox humana stops joined nine others, their vibrato tones, it is said, calling to mind a choir of angels. According to a June 9, 2007 New York Times story, “The instrument started life at the St. Louis International Exposition of 1904, when the Los Angeles Art Organ Company built it along orchestral lines, rather than according to the baroque organ ideal, as Bach and Buxtehude knew it. It was a smash hit at the fair, but bankrupted the company. Then it languished in storage until 1909, when John Wanamaker bought it for the Philadelphia store that he was planning to open two years later.”

If you love pipe organs, I recommend you click here to read the full story, where you go inside the organ and see a slide show with close-ups of the pipes, and hear the organ.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/09/arts/music/09orga.html?scp=1&sq=Amid the Shirts and Socks, a Concert Can Break Out&st=cse

Three years ago, I wrote a magazine profile of Bill Carter, organist at the historic Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware. And, although he has never played the Wanamaker organ, he, too, has sat up by the console while the organist played. This organ has 729 stop-control tablets, and 462 sets of pipes, ranging from 32 feet to less than an inch long. It would take too many hours of practice, Mr. Carter said, to learn how to play it, because some of the pipes are spread across both ends and multiple rooms and floors off the store’s grand court, effecting, as you might imagine, a delay between what the organist plays and what he hears. “It’s disconcerting,” he said.

The sound of this organ, the heart of the store, opens your heart. If it blows your socks off, you’re right there where you can always buy another pair.

Emma did bring Nana’s sister, Aunt Mary, into her own home and cared for her there for the short time until she died. But Emma was in her 40s then with much more energy than I have now at my age. Aunt Mary died of natural causes of old age.

Susan Jacoby, in her book Never Say Die, the Myths and Marketing of the New Old Age, states that most of us, even if we try, have no foresight into what our lives will be like at the end of our time. With the little help I get now from family, I cannot imagine what my life will be like when I can no longer care for myself. And, don’t think you can rely on friends to help, says Ms Jacoby; they’ll all be dead.

Emma, with her dementia, has no idea how fortunate she is. Or maybe she does; she just doesn’t vocalize it. She does occasionally smile; and now, in the hospital bed in the living room, she has her little dog, Jetta, at her side, and is surrounded by people and activity all day. Even in the afternoons when the aides are away and she is sleeping, often she is immersed in the camaraderie of visitors –Tess, biweekly, to check Emma’s heart and blood pressure; on alternate weeks, Tess and Geri and I together telling stories and laughing about the events of the past days; and the chaplain comes and sings and plays Emma’s electronic organ, alternating weeks with the music therapist, who sings and plays her guitar. We sit and talk, laugh and play music, and Emma, eyes closed, looks content. She loved hosting parties and being surrounded by people – her friends and her family. Often one of her friends would sit at the piano or organ and play while the others stood around and sang.

I believe God has a sense of humor. At least she does around me. She snickers when Dr. Patel opens the door a crack and I stumble through like a drunk. She laughed at things Emma used to do, that weren’t funny to me at the time but were later – like when Emma rebuked me to “Get out of my whale!” when I stepped in front of her, trying to guide her walker. She laughed heartily the time two years ago when my daughter Kellie and my two granddaughters were visiting – The Three Kellies. My friend was here with her son and daughter. It was a dreary, rainy April day. The three girls and a boy, 5 to 9 years old, had just finished a session sliding down the narrow, carpeted front staircase. When my friend’s 5-year-old daughter came down with a case of rug burn, we all ended up in the living room for a breather. Emma sat in her usual spot on the loveseat. Even then, she didn’t speak much. My 5-year-old granddaughter sat in the blue swivel chair and swiveled back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Suddenly, “Sit still!” said Emma. The whole swirling, spinning room wobbled and settled to a halt. My friend’s and Kellie’s eyes got as big as the pancakes my 9-year-old granddaughter had made us for breakfast. “That’s how I grew up,” I remarked.

One of the stories I enjoyed telling Tess and Geri when they were here one afternoon patiently listening to me was the time I walked downtown to visit my friend Jackie’s store, The Gathering Place. I was wearing sneakers and walking along the concrete sidewalk on Main Street on my way home when I tripped over nothing. I sailed horizontally past two storefronts before landing on my feet. No horn fanfare, but I can only imagine the looks on the store inhabitants’ faces when they saw me sail past their plate glass windows.

That trip illustrates how life is, I think. For now, I’m going to pick up my Kindle and read Jane Fonda’s book and see what’s in store next for me, and pick up some navigational pointers while I am still able and eager to explore the many mysteries of life and of myself.

My older granddaughter, now 11, who doesn’t like to focus on many things, is passionate about music, asking me to teach her the guitar when she’s here (she now has her own and takes lessons.) But when she visits, she will sit by the hour at Emma’s organ, read the sheet music and play.

Well, I ranged all over in this piece, as if I had six keyboards. Nonetheless, I, leading the life of the mind as I do, am easy to please. Given someone to stay with Emma all day, and given a ride to the Wilmington train station (Why rent a car when I love riding the train?), I’d take the train to Philadelphia and Macy’s. Even better it would be with a traveling companion to whom I can say “Listen to that! Look at that!” I’d be in heaven just to listen to that Wanamaker Grand Court Organ again.

–Samantha, September 24, 2011