Monday, December 12, 2011

Pot Luck

How often can I show up at a holiday gathering with my baggy of Kandy Kane Jo-Jo’s, while others bring their loaf of homemade lemon bread, Angels on Horseback, beef on a skewer with a Dutch-Indo peanut sauce fondue?

I don’t know, pretty often I guess. At least this Christmas season and maybe the next, and then I might need to regroup.

Everyone always takes a Jo-Jo, whether they eat it or not. It’s the gesture that counts.

When I was growing up in one particular city, my best friend was part of a musical family. They all played piano, but one daughter also played flute, another guitar, violin, and so on. For whatever reason, which will always remain a mystery, this family surrounded me like a warm quilt. I was loved and petted, falling somewhere between an adopted sibling and a favorite cat.

The parents parented me, “How are you coming along,” they’d ask, about this and that. And then, “How are you coming along on the clarinet?”

“Good,” I lied. I was used to lying if it would show me a favorable light, and I don’t remember conscience ever waving a hanky to stop me. “My teacher says I have talent!” My teacher had never hinted at talent. I didn’t play, I honked.

“Of course you have talent,” the mother or father of this family would say. “You are a most gifted girl.”

It’s not that my own parents were cruel, they were just hard, hard on me. I think my parents thought I’d take a compliment too personally, or too much to heart, then stop trying to stretch beyond a compliment.

I wouldn’t get to spend the actual holiday with this family, the family of my best friend, though they always put forth the offer. In fact, when my own family moved to another state, they asked my parents if I could live with them, which of course was out of the question.

But anyway, this family and I spent tween holidays together; they were the pillow for my head.

Then, one night, they planned to have a great many guests, and asked that I bring my clarinet to accompany them all on a piece. Prokofiev? Chopin? That I don’t recall.

“You can do it, Karin,” they said. “E Natural, A, E, and F. We’ll give you the sign.”

“No,” in this instance, wasn’t in my vocabulary. Nor was the clarinet in my vocabulary, but still, I showed up on the appointed day, when the family played their instruments most beautifully. Every few measures or so, I came in to honk.

After the recital, my humiliation was so total,so truthfully total, it was practically liberating. I remember, so clearly, thinking, what the hell, now you know, now you know.

“Let me tell you,” said the mother that night. “You hit a rough patch or two, I won’t deny that. But you also played the prettiest E Natural I’ve ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes. Your teacher is right, you have talent.”

I don’t think I’ve ever lied since. With held information, yes, but never lied. Except at certain times with certain men, where the relationship was so exclusive we closed the doors on all intruders, even truth. But that's something else altogether.

48 comments:

alex said...

oh the days of playing instruments. i can recall similar memories, but they involve a flute.

Shell Sherree said...

They sound like sweethearts! As did your E natural, it seems. And I don't know what Kandy Kane Jo-Jos are, but I imagine they'd fall on them with much pleasure no matter how many times you trotted them out.

Desiree said...

Oh for God's sake--that penultimate line--wow.

Compliments: no point in giving them, or taking them personally. Then we might feel we are fine JUST THE WAY WE ARE. Good heavens! What need then, for ambition or self-improvement? Where would the room be, for, say, self-loathing?

(And I took a Jo Jo, and ATE it, with gusto and delight.)

Mister Earl said...

You are a rascal!

Terri said...

We should get together. You play the clarinet. I'll play the violin. You honk. I'll screech. It will be beautiful.

Kaori said...

Can't be as humiliating as being the organist at a Christmas eve service where the pastor starts slapping his knee in front of the whole congregation to signal that you're playing too slow for his taste. Oh the memories. I bet you really did play a beautiful E natural :-)

MuseBootsi said...

I love reading everything you write!

Janet said...

That was really heart-wrenching, Karin.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

Yep, u got it out there. Aren't u glad u did?! :-) I admire your courage to just do it!!. I bet that fear is gone now...

Kalei's Best Friend said...

btw what is 'angels on horese back'?

Trish said...

shhhhhhhhhhhh Karin, don't tell the guys the female secrets that you know how to play an E natural! ;-)

Pierre said...

Someone will play an E Natural at your funeral. Everyone will whisper "It was her favorite", and cry.

Margaret said...

I was ready not to hate you until the very end, and then you had that beautiful line about men. I'm sorry it was too pitch perfect. Now I must hate you a new.

-K- said...

One of my absolute worst memeories from childhood was of a nun with pitchpipe having me try and "hit" some goddam note.

Her thory of teaching being, embarass the student badly enough in front of the entire class and he will hit the note.

Or understand long division.

Pasadena Adjacen't Mental Health Advisor said...

Another mini epic for the book. Your sense of self, even at a tender age, must have been darn strong to walk away from humiliation. Able to view it as relief instead of processing it as self loathing.

A half pint Viking

Patricia said...

I absolutely adore this story, thank you!

Marjie said...

Never played an instrument myself. But my older kids were required to take instrument lessons in middle school. We had to buy them: trumpets for the boys, and flutes for the girls, and they were all invited to leave the "band" within 2 years. All except Jeff, that is, who tried out for and was allowed to play the drums. He wasn't too awful.

Marjie said...

Oh, yes, and then there was my husband in Catholic school, whose teacher in 2nd grade, a kindly old nun, told him to simply move his lips so as not to spoil the sound of the other children singing. So I guess it's really good that you played a perfect E-Natural. Better than anyone in this family did.

Banjo52 said...

That's one fine story, AH. I especially like "my humiliation was so total,so truthfully total, it was practically liberating. I remember, so clearly, thinking, what the hell, now you know, now you know." As you may remember, the question of honesty interests me--which is in now way my claim of being honest. I think you've hit on something big here.

altadenahiker said...

Alex, the good thing about the flute is that if you're bad, it won't make any sound whatsoever. Kalei, an Angel on Horseback is a raw oyster wrapped in fried bacon. Don't curl your lip, it's food of the gods.

S, JJ's are an insidious combination of oreo filled with peppermint whip.

Des and PA, self-loathing requires a deeper dive than I'm ever willing to take.

Earl, I like that. Better than Pierre planning my funeral. Then again, he might coax Terri to play.

Kaori, that's so bad it's good. Your music irritated a pastor, visibly? And K, well, you know, he's Catholic.

Now see, MuseBootsi, Margaret, Patricia and Janet have some Jo-Jo's in their future. It's just that easy.

Marjie, my sister was one of only two kids excluded from their 5th grade choir. She because her voice was absolutely awful, and he for religious reasons.

Banjo, wait. I wish you hadn't brought that up. Are truth and honesty the same thing?

Paula said...

Better to be true to yourself than to prop up someone else's expectations and take the blame for their disappointment,lesson given and lesson learned.

I think self-loathing only runs as deep as one's lack of self-understanding. You know yourself very well, KB.

Mister Earl said...

A few appropriate lines from the Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man":

How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?
Tuned to a natural E
Happy to be that way.
Now that you've found another key
What are you going to play?

Ms M said...

You write so well! Powerful story. You have a fine way with words.

altadenahiker said...

Back to Banjo's point -- truth and honesty don't always travel together, do they? or shake hands when they meet.

Honesty is mercurial,unbeholding. Truth is the solid citizen. We dance with one and the other waits and brings us home.

Katie said...

Wow, what a story. And what a tough way to realize that lying would lead to a horrifying recital where all would be exposed. At least the mom was sweet about it. I don't know an E Natural from Adam as I chose swim team over learning an instrument when I was 8 (and happily no one ever asked me to show off my swimming skills at a party).

Ken Mac said...

as always, the most original comment!

Paula said...

I don't know, Hiker. I woke up this morning with the thought that honesty is something personal and measurable but that quite often the truth is simply the bigger picture where everyone can be wrong/have a different POV about what is true and that alone can be the crux of the matter.

Darn you Banjomyn, always with the deep thoughts...

Anonymous said...

Subjective versus objective.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Geez, natural E? Is it different from any other E?
I'm impressed, AH. That's all I can say.
And I can't wait until you have another story to tell.

Lori Webster said...

What a beautiful story, Karin. I'm glad you honked and had this experience. BTW, I tried the cello when I was small....darn thing was bigger than I, and I screeched as well, only in a lower tone.

Carolynn said...

Oh boy...your adoptive mother had the gift of tact, I'll give her that.

amy said...

oh man. i lie all of the time. lie lie lie lie lie.

no little bump in the road like the clarinet issue can stop a dedicated liar.

xxa

CafePasadena said...

Four sum reason after reading this I'm thinking you need to pen a sequel called, Pot Roast. Includes pictures.

Virginia said...

I loved this. That's all I can say.
V

Bellis said...

I will try to be like your adoptive mother - she said all the right things! I loved the kids my friends brought home, but I betrayed one teenager I was very fond of when I told his father (in a joking way) that he'd eaten almost everything in my house. The poor boy was then told off for that, and never quite trusted me again.

Petrea Burchard said...

Sometimes I get here too late.

I had an extra family when I was a kid. I don't suppose I'd have made it without them.

West Coast Grrlie Blather said...

A lovely memory, and so well told.

You know, you could start with the penultimate line and write some more...I know I'm interested.

TheChieftess said...

Sweet story Hiker!!!

Banjo52 said...

I think of the two sort of like PJ. Truth is the Big metaphysical Thing out and up there, which we say we seek. Some honestly seek it, but some fake it. Some only pretend. Or run like hell if they think they've gotten close.

Maybe?

altadenahiker said...

I don't think we're disagreeing, Banjo. And if that was what PJ was saying -- though I wasn't quite sure and read her comment several times. Honestly.

bandit said...

Honestly, what have you got against self-loathing?!

altadenahiker said...

Now I'm on a tangent, wondering if self-loathing isn't guilt dressed in a tuxedo. Truthfully.

Mister Earl said...

A wise man said that guilt is anger held inward. So yes.

Susan Campisi said...

These are some heady themes to consider before bedtime. Today's letter on Salon's Cary Tennis was this:

"Do I have to tell my girlfriend I’m gay? I was thinking, maybe, I could just tough it out and marry her and have some kids and not ever have to tell?"

He should consider your humiliation/liberation story.

bandit said...

Susan, you are very wise.

Paula said...

I've been with the same guy for 36 years. The only truth is that we're still together because we quit worrying about what is true. Honestly.

Bandit, I should have known you would champion self-loathing. Maybe it's those MN winters. I've lived through a few of them, a few in SD too.

wv hytared
Just quit with the hyterating, OK?

Trish said...

Susan..if *you* are with a woman and you want to marry her and she doesn't know you're gay, there are other issues. ;-)

About truth...

it makes me think of Merrit Malloy's poem "An Argument For Absolution":

He thinks his honesty
redeems him...
He thinks
telling the truth
will change the
facts

He thinks confessing his crimes
and giving you their brutal details
will change everything
But
Honesty has never
changed the
truth

altadenahiker said...

Yes.