Some of my most magical memories from childhood are from the couple of times my parents took me and my brother to the Renaissance Faire.
I was captivated by the Elizabethan costumes, the revelry, colorful ribbons everywhere, jousting matches, funny signs (such as the bathroom sign, which said “Privies,” hand-painted in what is sometimes referred to as “Olde English” lettering. Hmmm… Now that I think of it, the Ren Faire may have planted — or a least helped to fertilize — the seed that would one day lead me to become a calligrapher! But back to my story…)
Both of our visits to the Renaissance Faire found the family spending quite a bit of time at the harp booth. Not because either I or my brother had any great interest in harps (though I found the mini lap harps charming), but because my mother had harbored a dream to play the harp since she was a little girl herself.
I remember Mom asking lots of questions — How much do they cost? What size would be the best for a beginner to get? How hard is it to learn to play? What is the difference between this harp and that harp? — and she looked longingly at the beautiful instruments that the harp-seller played for her. But ultimately, she walked away.
“I don’t have time to learn to play a new instrument right now. But maybe someday…”
As happens for so many of us, someday never seemed to arrive. My mother tucked that dream away on a hidden shelf, and life went on.
But one day something changed. I’m not sure what made my mom decide that it was time to stop putting off her dreams, but over a decade later, when Mom was 50, I walked through the door to my parents’ house to find a beautiful, blonde, full-size Celtic harp in the living room, and Mom beaming with excitement about the lessons she had just signed up for.
My mother understood that learning to play an instrument doesn’t happen overnight. She frequently voiced her frustration at how long and steep the learning curve was (not to mention how sore her poor fingers were as she built up those necessary callouses that all players of stringed instruments know so well.)
But she kept at it.
Mom didn’t let her frustration stop her. She just got more determined. She committed to her daily practice time and guarded it as if it were her very life. She bought a “travel” harp to take with her whenever she and Pop went on a trip, so she would never have to skip a practice session. “I have to keep up my callouses!” she would say.
Inspired by my mom’s new musical passion, about 6 months after my mom took up the harp, my dad came home with a flute. “Now we can play the Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp!” he announced.
I believe Mom’s response at the time included much rolling of eyes and head shaking. “Honey, that concerto is one of the hardest pieces ever written for harp,” she protested. “It will take YEARS for us to get that good. Don’t hold your breath.” [Correction: after reading this post, Mom said her response was more like “Yeah, right — in your dreams!”]
Undaunted, Pop started taking flute lessons, and now their commitments fed each other — they could help keep each other on track, and the goal of performing as a duo added fuel to their fire.
Mom started off performing with the “beginner’s group” in the annual recitals put on by the harp studio where she studied. There was mom, with maybe one or two other adults and a gaggle of little kids, plunking away at the simple tunes arranged by the studio master.
It’s not easy to stand up and declare yourself a beginner as an adult, especially up on stage surrounded by kids (who always seem to be zooming past you!), especially when you’re not a ham (like your daughter!) and playing in public makes you incredibly nervous, but Mom did it.
And she kept doing it, year after year. She kept putting in daily practice after daily practice, and performing at those annual recitals, sometimes with my dad making a cameo appearance on the flute. (What a treat, by the way, to be able to go to my parents’ recitals and concerts, after they went to so many of mine when I was growing up!) Every year she got a little better and a little better, and got to play more and more complicated parts.
My parents also started taking their show on the road, performing here and there, getting gigs by word of mouth. Over time, their gig schedule filled up with concerts for senior centers and retirement homes, and the occasional church service or wedding.
All because my mom followed her dream, baby step by baby step.
Two years ago my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They rented out a restaurant and threw an enormous party. Mom pulled her wedding dress down from the attic and found a seamstress who altered it to fit her 21st century form.
(I should hasten to point out, because I’m sure she’d want you to know, that my mom weighs exactly the same as when she and Pop got married in 1960… it’s just that gravity has shifted things around a bit.)
Pop rented a tuxedo like the one he wore back then. (Which I don’t think was quite the same size as the one he rented before, but who’s counting?) They even hired a designer (guess who!) to create beautiful invitations, and a jazz singer (guess who!) to sing during the cocktail hour.
It was a lot like a wedding, but without the ceremony part. (I made them the book in the photo below, 50 Reasons Why We Love You Mom & Pop.)
My favorite part of the whole evening, though, was after dinner, when it was Mom and Pop’s turn to play. They had arranged a medley of songs that represented the sound track of the last five decades of their life together, from Around The World In 80 Days (their theme song, since my mom literally left on an around-the-world trip with her own mother days after their first, very romantic meeting on the campus of Scripps College), to When I’m 64, by the Beatles, and a bunch of others. It was delightful.
The real tour de fource, however, was what came next.
It makes me tear up even now, remembering how beautifully my parents played that Mozart concerto. They’d gotten private tutoring with a master harpist and worked for hours and hours to learn the piece. And now, some 60+ years after my mom first dreamed of playing the harp, and over 20 years after my dad set his sights on playing the Mozart concerto, here they were, celebrating a lifetime together, through thick and thin, past untold obstacles, sharing their dream with everyone in the room.
Mom (and Pop, too), you are my hero. Happy Mother’s Day.
Do you have a Mother’s Day hero? Share in the comments!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
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