My mother was kind-hearted. Once when I was little, she and I went to watch a seaplane land on Seneca Lake. After the pilot stepped out of the plane, a monkey jumped onto his shoulder. I was mesmerized and told my mother I really needed a monkey. She said that she’d recently seen one. We walked to a store on Franklin Street and there was a Steiff monkey. I don’t know where she found the money for it, but she bought it for me. Punky the Monkey sits by my bed to this day.
Every Christmas, even in those lean years, I received a new harmonica from my mother. She knew I enjoyed picking out tunes and it delighted her. Playing by ear, the harmonica became an early part of my music education.
She had a talent for whistling. She whistled songs like “Indian Love Call”. Perhaps because the depression made it financially prohibitive for many folks to buy a musical instrument, whistling became a popular alternative. I was a youngster when she taught me. I could do trills and warbles. My first musical performance was whistling in harmony with my mother at the Methodist Church in Montour Falls.
My mother’s bird calls were realistic and she performed them at local bird clubs into her old age. My own children loved it when she would “call” the chickadees at her home in Rock Stream. She’d put a little bird seed on my kids’ outstretched palms and tell them to be very still. She’d whistle and the wary birds would fly down, land on their hands, and cautiously peck at the seeds.
She had played piano as a girl and loved to dance. I inherited musical talent from both my father and mother, though neither were professionals.
My mother was resourceful. When I had an abscessed tooth, she took a job cleaning the local dentist’s office to pay for my treatment. At my very first visit to the dentist, he took a scalpel to my painful gum, then told me to spit. Not dreaming he’d meant into the pristine white porcelain bowl in front of me, I turned my head to the side and spit all that blood, puss, and saliva onto the floor. He yelled “What’d ya do that for?!?” My mother rushed in and dutifully cleaned it up.
🔹 This brings up an important point for instrumentalists. Keep your teeth in good shape. Your embouchure depends on it. Thanks to my mother, I’ve got my teeth at 96.