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  • Mj Pettengill

Ballad of a Sandwich Girl: Deals with God

Updated: Dec 26, 2020


Fantasy Trumpeter
Fantasy Trumpeter

That night when I went to bed, I prayed earnestly. I asked God to forgive me for being clumsy. I prayed for a solution. I also prayed that my mother wouldn’t stay angry with me. I promised that I would be more careful. I used to always make deals with God. He listened. The following morning my mother called the school and my trumpet was sent out to be repaired. When I got it back, it looked like new. Thank you, God. I then made a promise to my trumpet that I would guard it with my life, and I did. I still have it. I have had several instruments come and go, some in good ways and others in ways that would be better off forgotten, but I never let this old one go.

Every Wednesday the music students from my small hometown piled into a van and went to a nearby regional school and took lessons for our individual instruments. I was eager to learn how to master the trumpet. And I did. I was disciplined and played almost every day. My father liked that I was a trumpet player. He didn’t actually verbalize it until later in my life during my days as a professional musician; he was rather quiet about those things. My sisters and mother usually protested. Maryjane, do you have to play that thing now? Can you go somewhere else?

I headed outside, clutching my trumpet, music, and clothespins that I used to keep the music from blowing away. We lived in a farmhouse with an immense barn, and I sometimes played there. There were apple trees in the backyard and stonewalls around the horse pasture. On nice, sunny days, I perched on the stonewall and played. The horses would briefly look up with curiosity and then walk away. Sometimes I would sit under one of the apple trees, never in the fall; there were too many bees. If the choice is between horses, cows, or sisters, the cows are the audience of choice because they are polite. Cows are curious and will meander over to see what the commotion is all about. They express an interest. After they look, they return to grazing, seemingly more aware of the music, unlike horses who barely take notice or a family that objects.

Before getting my first trumpet, my mother took me to piano lessons for about a year. The teacher was an older Swedish woman with silver braids wrapped around her head. She was strict but possessed a certain kindness and warmth. It was a relief to have some structure on the piano. Until then, I was like an untamed rosebush—promising beauty, surrounded by thorns.

My mother tried to keep it all together. She was in over her head with five daughters. I was the driven artist in the family. It was hard for her to relate to it, to me. I didn’t take piano lessons for a long period of time. I learned enough to grasp the fundamentals and build a foundation. I played by ear. I used to hear music and teach myself how to play. Like the trumpet, I played the piano every day. Eventually, I took lessons again with a different teacher. I became the official musician of the neighborhood. On special occasions, I lined my friends up and led them in a parade, me playing the trumpet while they banged away on homemade drums, proudly waving American flags. I was comfortable being in the spotlight, but only as a musician. Excerpt: Ballad of a Sandwich Girl (Memoir Unpublished)