By Lorene Cary
I wanted to play trumpet. Blow blow hard! A kid who had asthma, whose breathing sometimes felt like sucking air through a cocktail straw—ghostly, small, gaspy. Trumpets seemed shiny and strong, loud and brass and hard. A wall of shiny sound. I wanted to make that.
Mom said that I would not want a callus on my lip like Louis Armstrong. Actually I did. I liked his lips. I liked to look at the black and white photo of him on the record album in Nana’s cupboard. Happy sound, moan, dance, grieve, explain. Blow hard. Hard instrument, hard, funny sound, hard.
But in the 1960s, girls in West Philadelphia did not play trumpet. Plus our apartment was small. When I received a violin, I had to admire the deep amber of the wood. OK, violin, OK.
It was shiny, too. I’d accept it and say thanks, because of all those other kids who would kill to have an instrument, but couldn’t.
Old Mr. Bove, who had escaped from Europe ahead of Hitler, told us that when he was a child, teachers tied a tac to the neck of the violin so that lazy children who let their wrists flop would be pricked. Mr. Bove sprayed us when he said plosives in his strong accent. But he loved us.
So when I left that school and moved to Yeadon, I began to read to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
My mother said it was morbid of me, so I read it in the library.
I would have missed Mr. Bove and missed WWII at 11 years old if I’d taken the trumpet and grown a gorgeous lip callus.
I did mostly outgrow asthma.
Lorene Cary is a writer and teacher, the author of the memoir Black Ice, three novels, including The Price of a Child, and Free!, an Underground Railroad book for kids. She is the founder of SafeKidsStories and #VoteThatJawn. Her latest memoir, Ladysitting, My Year With Nana at the End of Her Century, is out now with Norton Books.