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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Ballad of a Sandwich Girl: Which One are You?

Vintage Piano
Vintage Piano

Music was my safe place. It was where I found refuge, escaping what I feared, and finding my way when I was lost.

Our first family piano was a bigger-than-life upright that someone had painted a deep, glossy green. I vividly recall climbing up onto the piano stool when I was very young. I still get this rush, somewhat startling as my breath quickens when the smooth ivory keys glide under the flesh of my fingers. 

It wasn’t long before I was allured into creating harmonies. I spent countless hours experimenting with chord structures. I found contentment at my station, happily plunking away on the green monster. Strains of a crying baby, babbling sisters, and the yelling of an exasperated mother became the fading, distant chorus. I was miserable when the cover shut out the wondrous keys, limiting my possibilities.

“Come here! Listen to this song,” I called to anyone who would listen.

“That’s nice, Mary.” My mother never really heard the song, but sometimes she was kind enough to respond. I forgave her insincerity as she shook droplets of milk from the baby bottle onto her wrist to decide if it was too warm or not warm enough. 
She meant well and was in over her head.

One humid summer night, my parents took us to a concert on the village green in Plymouth. My cousin John played the trumpet in the town band. Soon, I was aware that he was a good horn player. If all went well, I would be like him. Dad nodded to all of the people as they waved to him, unable to contain his broad smile while carrying a wicker picnic basket and red plaid thermos. I liked that sometimes he seemed like a celebrity. We were known as Ramsey's daughters. The big question was, which one are you? My mother spread a blanket out on the grass in front of the bandstand. My older sisters played tag and swung from the black heavy chains between the granite hitching posts. They also played Ring around the Rosy with other children. I liked that game but was far too interested in the flurry of excitement before me.

The edgy, shrill sounds of brass chillingly washed over me as amber lights flashed, reflecting off shiny brass bells of all sizes. Despite the blades of grass poking through the blanket and tickling my ankles, I sat very still. I could not look away from the musicians gathered on the nineteenth-century bandstand, the bandstand of my future. 
 When the conductor approached the podium, there was a hush. Postures stiffened, and pages shuffled, followed by a pause before the musicians finally focused on him. Holding a baton in his right hand, he raised his arms, and then it happened. At first, I jumped. I felt the bass drum in the pit of my stomach. Initially, the blending of brass and woodwinds left me with a feeling of uncertainty—a surprising sound, much louder than I had imagined. How odd was this swirling of love and anticipation—these tears fueled by joy. Although new, it was entirely natural. I had found my way home.

My Beloved E-flat Cornet
My Beloved E-flat Cornet

Excerpt: Ballad of a Sandwich Girl (Memoir Unpublished) ******************************************** Note: I became what one dear old man referred to as a hotshot trumpeter, and I did play on hundreds of bandstand, including the one here. There is so much more to this story. (MjP)

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