My nephew turns 18 tomorrow – coincidently the age I was when we first met – and in a few short months, he will take up residence in my favorite city, New Orleans.
I don’t know why I was so surprised when he chose the Big Easy as his college town, I mean, who wouldn’t. I guess I thought she was my city and my city alone to love. But it wasn’t until today that I realized that our love for the Crescent City was genetic when he asked me for my father’s (his grandfather’s) trumpet.
The first and only word out of my mouth was a resounding no.
And from the look on his face, I could tell that this wasn’t a word he heard often – and was especially not expecting it the day before his birthday.
I decided to interrogate him on his intentions, hoping he would say something ridiculous that would help my case in denying him his capricious ask.
“Why do you want it?”
“I want to learn to play it.”
And like the great flood from Katrina, the memories of my unrelenting nagging and begging of my father to teach me to play this unforgiving instrument came back to me. I remembered his notes on my sheet music, where he drew eight sets of three circles, representing the finger buttons, and shaded the ones I was supposed to depress to hit the notes Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si-Do, all written in his meticulously neat, all-cap handwriting.
While my nephew continued to give me reasons of why he wanted his grandfather’s trumpet, I poured over music books and opened folders like a mad-woman…until I found it. Exactly the way I remembered it. He wrote it on the back of my sheet to “Spanish Eyes.”
“This is how he taught me,” I showed him.
I saw the excitement on his face and we both ran to the closet where my mom hides things, my dad’s trumpet being just one of those many things. I’m not sure who she hides it from. Would-be thieves. A cleaning lady with severe musical inclination. Me. My nephew. We all know where you keep it, Nola. (Yes, her name is really Nola.)
He stretched his tall body to pull down that black case I spent my entire childhood coveting. And when we opened it the horn was just as golden as I remembered it. I pulled it out and put my dad’s old mouth piece on it. For a moment I could smell him. I could taste him. And I tried with all of my might to blow through the scale he taught me, while the buttons stuck and my notes got louder with the frustration.
“Tia, it just needs a little oil. I need to open it up and clean the pistons,” he said.
I looked at him and handed him the trumpet. It was always his.
Just like New Orleans will always be ours.