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Judith Alexander Brice: My Papa’s Music

We weren’t a talking family
      especially when it came 
to discussing why I locked myself
      in the bathroom upstairs, 
in order to avoid my mornings 
      at Sunday school.
On those days of rest, my mother
      retreated in her slippers 
to the kitchen, downstairs. 
      Minutes later, my father 
would remove his belt. Twice, Papa 
      shook the door, pounded
it with such twisted fury that it 
      cracked, broke the hinges 
before a single word blurted 
      from my terrified mouth—
We weren’t a talking family, even 
      when he and I 
took the dogs for their evening walk,
      the two misfits
of dogs: the one I’d chosen at 
       the pound because
its coloring suggested I was getting
       a St. Bernard— 
the large dog I’d always wanted— 
      until it grew into
a medium-sized, ungainly critter 
      who, all clumsy, walked
like a wobbling tortoise. Papa 
      and I would laugh at him and
at our little, portly beagle 
      who, with her waddle,
she resembled a beach ball, so 
      round she was from puttering
to the neighbor’s homes, begging
      food at each.
We grinned, watched those dogs, 
      and walked blocks,
but even after a mile and more, 
      hardly a word emerged
from our clothes-pinned lips. 
      Back home awhile, and
soon ensconced in our tiny music 
      room, Papa’s mood— mine too— 
would slowly shift when he’d 
      grab his burnished violin and
lift it gently, tilt it with his left arm
      to his handsome chin.
I don’t recall how we conveyed to 
      each other that we would do this: 
play our duets, after the walks—
      so few words 
hovered in the air. But soon, I was 
      tightening the shafts
of my oboe, grabbing a reed 
      from my tiny shot glass
(at the ready): two reeds soaking
      in a sip of water. I had practiced 
The Bach Concerto for Violin and Oboe, 
      though we’d both honestly say
it was the Concerto for Double Violin 
      which my Papa and I preferred— 
the easiest for my lips to play. 
      Soon, we’d be off, our instruments 
“singing” the music— “talking” 
      the sweetest and most touching way 
we’d ever speak as the notes, their beats 
      and phrases, pervaded the room.
We played ‘til my shaking embouchure
       collapsed, ‘til papa’s wide smile 
and mine curved into hardy belly 
      laughs. For those moments, 
that joy, the thrum of each measure, 
      and my Papa’s tender music 
soothed all memory of my fears, 
      that strap, even his panicked rage— 

Judith Alexander Brice’s books include Overhead from Longing (David Robert Books, 2018). She lives in Pittsburgh.

Copyright 2020 Judith Alexander Brice.

Bach Concerto for Violin and Oboe

5 comments on “Judith Alexander Brice: My Papa’s Music

  1. Susan E. Heeres
    January 15, 2021

    Such a vivid description of a complicated child-parent relationship…heartbreaking and tender.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Susan E. Heeres
    January 15, 2021

    Such a vivid description of a complicated child-parent relationship…heartfelt.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. rosemaryboehm
    January 13, 2021

    Exceedingly moving. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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