This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

A Band in the Sun

15 September 2018

A very short fiction
wrangled out of the haze of an old photograph.

The voice came from a dream. "Miss Emma.. Miss Emma.. you got a package in the post. Mr. Bridges just brung it."  The old woman blinked, her eyes slowly focusing on Sarah the house maid who held a small package wrapped in brown paper. She placed it on Emma's lap.

"What's this," she rasped, her throat dry from sleep. 

"It's a package. Mr. Bridges says it's from Nebraska," said Sarah. "You want I should open it?"

Emma nodded and the girl took a paring knife from out of her apron pocket. She carefully cut the string and folded paper to reveal a a photo, yellow and cracked. "It looks like some old band," exclaimed Sarah. 

The old woman smiled as she took in the picture. "I know these men," she murmured. "I was there when they played." She pointed at the short man in the bowler hat. "That's Professor James. He was the best cornet player in the county. He could play violin and flute too." She pointed again. "That's my cousin Fremont on bass drum and my sister's first beau." She paused. "B..Bud? Burton? Bolton! That's it."

"How come you know them, Miss Emma?" asked the girl as she folded up the paper and string.

"Why I used to live here. That's my daddy's livery stable."

"That man is Doc Gleason. He ran our town drugstore. Oh, how he could make his clarionet sing." Emma chuckled, "And funny too. If folks were talking too much at a concert, he'd make it squawk and scold everyone to hush up."   

Her fingers gently traced the line of faces. "There's the Benson twins, Mark and Matthew with their paw and big brother Paul. They lived way out along the old Burlington line. The four of them used to march into town playing their horns as they kept step along the track. One time they nearly got run over 'cause they was blowing so loud they couldn't hear the train whistle."

The old woman paused again, finger poised over the last bandsman. "And there he is," she whispered. "That's George. The one with the tuba." Decades of time collapsed as she touched the man's face, his hand. "We got married the next spring. I remember how handsome he was in that straw hat." She sighed as Sarah tried to quietly back out of the sun room.

"Wait," said Emma. "Where did this package come from? Let me see the wrapper." Sarah pulled out the paper from her apron and showed her the postmark. Arcadia, Nebraska. "That's where George's niece Helen lives." She turned over the paper. Written in soft pencil was a short message. 'Clearing out daddy's old things. He would want you to have this. Hope all is well. Love, Helen.'

Emma smiled as a tear slid down her cheek. Looking at the band's photo it seemed like she was just there yesterday. Though she was now in Oregon, a thousand some miles away from Nebraska, she could still smell the dirt road, feel the warm summer sun, taste the dust, and hear the brash sound of George's brass band.

How is it that married 40 years, separated by death now nearly 20 more, the image of that lovely man and his tuba would trigger a memory of that happy day in the sun? She reached for a pencil and turning the photo over, she signed her name. Mrs. Geo. Fromong. 

She always loved the sound of the tuba. 

* * *

This faded cabinet card photograph probably dates from the 1890s or late 1880s. There is no photographer's name and no location marked on the photo. Only a penciled name: Mrs. Geo. Fromong

Though it is an uncommon name, there were enough men named George Fromong distributed throughout the census records to make identification impossible without more clues. But as some names were in Nebraska and others in Oregon, I was inspired to make up a simple story. 

I often ponder how old photos survive to end up in my collection. Who saved them? A relative? An old friend? And why? What did this photo commemorate? 

I think many old photos are talismans to someone's memory. This was once a token or souvenir of a musical occasion in a small American town. Even though no one can truly touch or feel it again, the image was considered important enough to preserve someone's emotions and thoughts of a frozen moment in time. And even an unknown band of musicians from an unknown place and date deserve a recognition of some kind. Even fictional.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more plays of the day.


La Nightingail said...

Ah-ha! Another writer among us! Loved your story and, as usual, the way you divide a photo into portions, then bring them all together. Thanks for a special treat this week - well, every week, actually! :)

Barbara Rogers said...

Lovely story about the photograph...and such fun thinking along the lines of Mrs. George. I wonder why there are no females in the photograph...maybe some all-male society perhaps?

tony said...

Yes ! The Idea of a Photograph as a 'talisman' is a perfect one .
A shared physical link across 2 people & 2 times.
A tangible ,physical bridge .
Much like an old peice of clothing (or a hat,say?).

Mollys Canopy said...

This is a lovely fictional treatment of a photograph from your collection. And thanks again for the comment and link you posted on my Sept. 7 blog about Giesboro cavalry depot. In researching the Veterans Reserve Corps from the U.S. Civil War, I discovered a photo of one of their bands I thought might interest you at Enjoy!


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