Wednesday, September 22, 2021

riddle me this

I have been walking in circles.

Like a horse that has been injured in a jump, I have shied away from public walking spaces. At least, until my ribs heal.

And I have the perfect alternative space for exercise. The upper terrace in my house. Ten laps is a mile. The steps add up quickly.

Because there is little variety walking in circles like that, I have re-awakened a long-dormant interest in music. When I am in Oregon, I listen to KWAX, a classical music station out of Eugene, on the radio. Fortunately, for me, the station live streams its broadcasts.

This morning I was walking along at my usual brisk pace when I heard the distinctive French horn chords that open Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto number 1. I suspect that I have heard the concerto hundreds of times. For some reason, though, those notes evoked my first memory of the piece.

While growing up, I was almost oblivious to popular music (with the exception of a brief interest in The Beatles). The music I listened to at home was what is confusingly labeled "classical," but includes music far afield from the Classical Period.

The year was either 1966 or 1967. The place was Linfield College -- one of those church-founded colleges that dot the western edge of the Willamette Valley. 

Our high school speech team was at Linfield to compete for positions at the state-level tournament later in the year. At the closing dinner, the entertainment was provided by the Linfield orchestra. The featured performer that night was a young student who had chosen the Tchaikovsky piece to display her talent. It was my first live performance of serious music. And nothing is better than a live performance.

Enjoy it I did. In a rather pedestrian way. Being seventeen, I was enamored with the pianist. She was pretty, talented, and, I assumed, witty (because back then I believed all women musicians were clever dinner partners -- a notion of which I was soon disabused). As she played, I imagined that we had married, moved to London, and were just sending our third child off to university when she ended the piece with a flourish.

Now, this essay is not about teenage hormones -- or even speech tournaments. It is about connections.

The photograph above is of the 1967 members of the Rex Putnam Forensics Club. I am missing because I am averse to having my photograph taken. Just ask my mother.

But several people in my life are there. My foster sister, Diane Abraham. My friends Gary Welk, Bob Robinson, and Jim Gassaway. Tom Hanson, who is now a high falutin' antiques dealer in New York City. Plus my debate partner, Marcia Jacobson. I still see or hear from a few of them.

But the photograph is here today because of the young woman on the left. She is Carolyn Riddle, our speech teacher. We were some of her first students.

And the connection part? While writing an essay about rhetoric a couple of years ago, I was reminded of a quotation that was our first assignment from Miss Riddle. She wanted us to memorize and internalize it.

I could not conjure it up fifty years later. In fact, I even muddled the first portion. The internet was no help.

Then, about a year later, I received a Facebook friend request from someone named Carolyn Kilmer. It only took me a moment to realize it was Miss Riddle.

We spent several lengthy message threads catching up on our lives. I asked her about the quotation. It was lost to her as much as it was to me.

But here is something that was not lost. That connection. Every time I hear the Tchaikovsky, I remember that night at Linfield College when I was introduced to the joys of live classical performances. And I thank Carolyn for that opportunity. I have since been hooked on live music.

Not only did she help build my confidence in speech class and as a competition coach, she let me see that the boxes in which we live in are actually connected to one another.

In a very real sense, Mexpatriate would not exist without teachers like her. It is only appropriate that they should receive the thanks we forgot to give them long ago.

Even when we are just walking in circles.   

No comments: