Today, I offer you two unrelated vignettes. Or are they?
Yesterday, I dropped off some loved ones, never to see them again. They had been with me for years, snuggled me warmly, made me feel beautiful… and here I was, abandoning them to their unknown fates. Yes, I am trying to sell old clothes at a consignment store.
I’ve been a proud consignment buyer for years, but my habit of wearing clothes to death means that while I do donate items, I’ve never had the audacity to think people might pay me for them. Recently, though, my mother-in-law moved houses and I found myself with bags of simply gorgeous hand-me-downs. Normally, you might scoff at a 29-year old wearing “retired lady” clothing, but believe me when I say that my mother-in-law is far more stylish than I will ever be, and has the looks and youthful attitude to pull off clothes that any “Mean Girl” would covet.
Not every garment can be a winner, though. After a few months of test-driving, I did some literal driving to drop off the pieces that didn’t work on me, along with some of my own nicer dresses that I’ve just never worn enough. I’m in a simplicity phase, and cleaning closets is one of the fastest ways to feel accomplished! So now my clothes have two months to prove their worth to the good women of Durham, while I bite my nails and wonder how much my 40/60 split will add up to be.
Today, I was in my car again on the way to work. Some days are music days; others are for stories. Today was a story day, and I hit play on my 15th-to-last-ever podcast episode of The Story with Dick Gordon.
One reason I both love and fear NPR is you never know what you’re going to get. Will it be a tale that proves truth is stranger than fiction? Will it be a reassuring piece about family? Or will it be something that shakes me to the core?
This morning I listened to “Saved By My Trumpet.” The piece was about a World War II fighter pilot, Col. Jack Tueller, who flew 140 missions and came home safely. As the story began, I learned that Jack had a hard childhood, and his aunt encouraged him to take up the trumpet and use music to work through his feelings. That trumpet brought him a series of what I deem “magical moments” – as a young boy, he played to soothe a dying woman, and his notes were the last sounds she heard on this earth. Years later, he played a fast, difficult piece to welcome first year students to his college, and fifteen minutes later he met his wife. She said that anyone who could play that score must have “strong lips,” and when he offered her a kiss to test them out, she accepted.
Later on, Col. Tueller went to war. He never drank, but he played old favorites every single night to entertain his comrades while they enjoyed their beers. One night, he played despite a direct order not to: he had heard there was a single German sniper hiding behind American lines, and his commander didn’t want the music to draw dangerous attention. However, Col. Tueller couldn’t stop thinking about how lonely and scared the enemy soldier must have been. He took a risk and played “Lili Marleen,” which he called “the Germans’ love song.” The following day, when the 19-year-old sniper was captured, he asked to meet the trumpet player. He said the music had made him think of his fiancé, and he wasn’t able to fire a single shot.
The thing about this story that sent chills down my spine was that, days before he serenade the lone sniper, Jack had been ordered to shoot down innocent French civilians. As he flew his mission path over targeted enemy tanks, he noticed bright spots of yellow, blue, and red on top of each metal behemoth. When he and his fellow pilots figured out that these colors were the clothing of French families, forced onto the tanks by German soldiers in an effort to deter the bombing, they called off the attack. Soon, though, an order came through from the French government: these people were “expendable” in the larger scope of war. Jack’s voice quavered as he recounted the vibrant red movement of one mother’s dress as she realized the Allied bombs were coming, and folded herself around her children.
And yet… just days later, Col. Tueller was able to overlook the memory of those primary colors of sadness and feel empathy for an enemy soldier alone in the woods. Instead of blaming him for the atrocities committed by his countrymen, Jack played him a love song – and that compassion may have saved his own life.