Written in July, 1966
Dear Nephew Ray,
Did you attend the band concert Friday evening? That was a weekly outing when I was a child. The band then was made up of men, young and not so young, who played with great gusto if little training. We had a band one year that was good enough to go to Buffalo for the Fourth of July parade. They had new red flannel uniforms to wear on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the summer. It took four hours for the line of march to pass by the reviewing stand and men were falling over by the dozen all along the way.
Each spring the bandstand in the park received its refreshing coat of dark green and white paint. Wires were strung through the trees on which to hang lanterns on concert nights. Park benches were painted and distributed around the lawn though most of them were drawn near the bandstand as the crowd gathered on Friday evenings.
The band concert was about the only occasion when a man could appear in shirtsleeves, long white shirtsleeves with a tie and his jacket over his arm. A young man could spread his jacket on the grass to save Nancy Sue's ruffles from grass stain. His straw hat made an excellent fan, too.
On band concert evenings everyone helped with the supper dishes. Pa, laughing his protests, was hurried out of the house and on to the park in time to reserve a bench for Ma and Grandma. Each of the children received a nickel for ice cream or a lemonade and cake treat from the booth set up by the band's Ladies Auxillary. Children were admonished to: "Be good and stay around where we can keep an eye on you."
Of course you knew every band member. Perhaps you even had an uncle, cousin, or brother sitting up on that resplendant platform. Somehow even fat Uncle Joe looked impressive garbed in a bright red uniform well decked with gold braid and buttons, a high cockaded hat perched on his perspiring brow. Willie Jones' hat was too big for him and kept slipping over his eyes but then he couldn't read music anyway.
The program never varied much since the band's repertoire was limited. Often the audience joined in singing words to favorite melodies. Occasionally the Barber Shop Quartet would provide an interlude or a vocal soloist would contribute a selection or two.
The concert started at seven so the sunlight still streamed through the trees as the first strains of music poured out of the park and washed over the town. At intermission the lanterns were lighted to dispel or deepen the gathering dusk. Nick's Ice Cream Parlour stayed open late and its open door spilled a golden path of light across the dirt-surfaced street.
Families whose homes bordered on two sides of the park, could lounge comfortably on the piazza enjoying the music and speaking to friends strolling leisurely past. Perhaps one of the children would be sent to Nick's for a pint of ice cream or to Tony's Popcorn and Peanut Wagon, postioned near the park entrance for the evening, to get a bag of hot buttered corn or fresh roasted nuts.
Courting couples drifted through the park. Best girl-friends wandered with arms entwined about each others waists and envied them. Children darted about like frightened rabbits, which seems to be the eternal way the young have of enjoying any gathering. All was peaceful, musical, and calm.
There was one concert that was not calm. Some enterprising and resourceful young man had saved a giant firecracker from the Fourth of July and wriggled under the bandstand with his prize. Placing it in a large tin can, he lit the long fuse, wriggled back out and made good his escape. Within moments the band was in an uproar as the firecracker exploded with a resounding bang. No damage was done except to the dignity of a few bandsmen who fled willy-nilly over the railing, abandoning instruments and hats in the process. No one knew for sure who was responsible but one father must have had his suspicions for one bicycle was ridden in a standing position for several days thereafter.
At the close of the concert sleepy children were led and prodded toward home and bed. Goodnights were called softly back and forth. Aunt Em Jennings who lived two streets away would call out from her front porch: "I heard every note. Wasn't it grand?" She probably had heard it all and the music had lost nothing in transit.
One of the nicest things about summer is that you see old friends who have returned for a few days visit to their childhood homes. Often I wonder if these visitors find me as much or little changed as I find them. It is strange how kind time is to some people and how cruel to others. When I heard myself introduced as "a girl I went to school with" by one old school chum to her (already-a-grandmother) daughter, it gave me pause. Yet that was what we were to each other, still the girls who had shared classes, crushes, and hours of tears over "Little Women".
The rain last night has left the air washed and sweet. It is welcome to our lungs after the many days of dry, dusty air they have had to endure. I try to remember how cold it was last winter but as usual, long for a bit of that icy breath to cool my summer baked brow. Never satisfied, always wanting what we haven't got. That is human nature, I guess.
Uncle Jos sends regards as do I
Your Aunt Katy