I am suddenly realizing I have no pictures, only memories.
My oldest was a new 6th grader and had enrolled in band. She needed a clarinet, and a place that rents them to kids like her was starting off the school year by selling some of their old stock over the weekend. Buying used, if at all possible, sounded a lot more cost-effective than renting endlessly and less worrisome than having a kid be responsible for something expensive someone else owned.
We knew Al had been in a band in the Army so he seemed a logical person to ask; Richard called him that Saturday morning and asked, How do you tell a good one?
Al, surprised: Why, you play it!
Richard: (oh well).
Al: Where’s the store?
Richard: Oh, it’s way down in San Jose…
Al: I’ll see you there in thirty minutes.
He must have walked right out the door.
Richard and Sam and Al all met up in that music store, Al picked out the best of the lot, and then asked what we were doing for lessons.
Richard, a little on the spot: The school…
Al: That won’t do. And he turned to Sam and made her a deal: if she would bake him bread every week he would teach her a lesson. But she would have to practice. He told us he wanted her to be personally invested in those lessons and if she had to work for them then she would value them.
And that is how Sam learned to bake bread in sixth grade. Some batches, well, Al told us years later, he took his little granddaughters to the duck pond and let them toss crumbs to the mallards, a tradition in town since the 1930s when what was envisioned as a small pool for kids, un-chlorinated because it was right next to the Bay, quickly turned into one for the birds and that was that.
Grandkid time. It’s all good.
Al had no way to know at the time that Richard’s then-employer had been laying off workers by the thousands during what was the first dot-com bust and his group was quite sure that, even though they were actually bringing in revenue, they didn’t have much time left. We were cutting all expenses to the bone. (With reason, as it turned out.)
And here was Al, saying he wanted to be paid in bread and that Sam had to make it and that was all the payment he was willing to accept.
The band teacher was so impressed at her progress that he asked her a few years later if she would take up the oboe for the high school orchestra come the next year? They needed one and he knew he could trust her to do the work to learn the instrument well.
She did, and Michelle started sixth grade and started taking clarinet lessons from Al. And saxophone. By this time we certainly had no problem affording lessons but he refused: he said Michelle had to learn how to bake bread too. For her own sense of accomplishment, and besides, he liked having homemade bread!
What we didn’t know was that Al had been putting in for retirement right about the time Richard called him that first Saturday morning and had been thinking that what he’d like to do next was to share his passion for music with kids. But he’d never taught lessons before. Sam fell into the picture at just the right time as his test case to see if he liked doing this as much as he thought he would. And he did. He ended up teaching a lot of kids. And a lot more than music–he was a deeply kind, compassionate man who taught my children what they wanted to be like when they grew up.
I got back at him, a little bit; I knitted for his wife and I sent my piano tuner to him a few times till he protested enough that I let go. But those two quickly became friends and I’m glad for that. Two very good people blessing each other’s lives.
Al grew up with a lot of fruit trees in the back yard because in the Depression his father wanted to always be able to feed his children. Plant the trees, do a little work, and let G_d help you help your own.
And so Al had a lot of fruit trees in his own back yard, which was not big but he packed a surprising amount in.
He told me something once about his peach trees and I was surprised: a neighbor down the street had told me right after we moved in here that peach leaf curl disease is endemic here and the fog and morning cool create the perfect conditions for the disease and it kills them just like it killed his, that you cannot grow peaches here.
Al roared with laughter: Of COURSE you can grow peaches here!
And that is how it all got started over at my house. The peaches, then the cherry, then the pear, then the sour cherry and the fig and the mandarin oranges and another apple besides the ones the house came with… Oh and yeah, the mango. Because if you can grow peaches, of course!
Al wasn’t in church on Sunday. He hadn’t been driving in quite some time but he always got a ride. But not this time; he wasn’t up to going.
Word came in this morning.
Al had quietly and peacefully passed away yesterday evening. It was not expected. It was not really unexpected.
He will be sorely, deeply missed. We are so much better off in so many ways for having had him in our lives. G_dspeed, dear friend.
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