Monday, May 11, 2009

The Best Gift Ever

We had an essay contest at work. The prize was Boston Red Sox tickets. While I personally don’t care about the Sox, my nephew is a huge fan. I entered the contest to try to win the tickets for him. The essay had to be about the best gift I received before finishing high school and wanted elaboration about who the gift was from, and what I would do with it if I received this gift today. The winning entrant talked about how she’d been in an accident and lost a great deal of blood. The best gift she had gotten was blood donated her by the community. And now, one of the entries that didn't win.

The best gift I’d ever gotten in that time of my life was music. I am not talking about CDs or concert tickets. I am talking about the ability to release a melody that only exists inside my head into something that other people can hear.

When ever I, or one of my siblings, expressed an interest in learning to play a musical instrument my parents did whatever they could to make it happen. Mom scoured the want ads for used saxophones, then went and haggled the price until it was something we could afford. Then she and Dad tolerated my incessant honks and squeaks as I learned how to play it.

Over the years my brother, Kaz and I amassed a veritable arsenal of musical instruments. From age 5 to 18 I collected a menagerie of guitars, saxophones and keyboards from under Christmas trees. However, I claim no ownership of the accordion--a standard fixture in the average Polish-American household. Our house was filled with constant musical creation, with never a “Would you stop that racket?” from my parents. We were loud. Kaz’s electric guitar blared in the room above where we watched TV. Somehow neither of us expressed interest in learning to play the drums. I wish I had asked for a set back then, just to see what my parents would say.

While I dabbled in every music-making device I could get my hands on, Kaz became an amazing guitarist. His flying fingers nearly melted the neck on my Gibson SG electric guitar. We didn’t get along so well when we were kids, but it was our love of Pink Floyd, Ozzy Ozbourne, and Queensryche that kept us in the same room together playing for hours on end. Kaz could hear a scorching guitar solo once and replicate it perfectly note for note. I played chords to accompany him, however to this day I could never convince him that I am the better singer. It was all those hours spent playing that made him my friend now that we’re grown ups.

Eventually life got in the way. I haven’t performed for at least 10 years. I still can pick up my guitar and strum a few clumsy chords, and I can still play saxophone parts I learned in high school from sheer muscle memory. I have fragments of lyrics scrawled on random slips of paper. Now I just need to give myself the gift of time to play more, and to get those random lyrics to fit into a full song. Overall, I am an angry songwriter, and haven’t had much to be angry about in the last decade or so. I fumbled my way through writing our wedding song as a surprise for Todd, and I wrote some gut wrenching songs after Mom died. But other than that, the songwriting well has run dry and I have changed to blog writing and fiction writing to get my creative outlet.

My parents’ gift of music is not about receiving anymore. My niece Rachael played my alto sax at school for a little while. Kaz’s daughter, Maggie, plays my tenor sax in the school band. Kaz’s son, Krystian, will get my Gibson SG for his13th birthday this summer. At Christmas every year I buy Kaz a CD he’s never heard of and say, “You really need to hear this, it’ll blow your mind.”

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