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 Sister Duo

23 November 2012

A short novelty drawn
from a postcard
of two nameless young girls. 

The door was locked. With a grumble he set the cases down on the sidewalk and peered into the shop windows. It looked open but maybe not. He could see dozens of photographs along the walls and a glass case with fancy frames. There was a light in the back.

The wind was brisk as Ches pulled his coat tighter around the collar. Hard to do with bandaged fingers. That blasted coupling came loose so quick and near took the whole hand off. Suppose he shouldn't complain though. A lot of brakemen had trouble counting to ten with missing a digit or two. Still his fingers were sore and it was hard to grapple with these dang cases. Eight days riding the road in freezing weather; eating boxcar soups; stealing sleep whenever the train pulled onto the sidings for the express. Right now he just wanted to close his eyes in his own bed proper.

But no, he's got to get up early and carry these dang instruments through the snow and down to Friedmann's  photo house. Esther wasn't very big, but her holler could rattle the window sashes, and it wasn't half as bad as her sulk. Best to get it done. She was making most of the money at home now anyway. Seemed like every gal in town had one or two of her dresses.

The door gave a jingle as it opened and a little red-faced man in spectacles squinted at him. "Can I help you, sir?"

"Yeah, my wife made a time for some pictures. I come early to bring their stuff." He pointed to the cases.

The man waved him in. "Oh sure, sure. You must be Mr. Maguire. Yes, I have you down for 8:30, but now I have another family in the studio, so if you'll just wait here, I'll be with you presently." He turned and scurried through a curtain behind the display. 

Inside was not  much warmer than outside, and Ches looked around at some of the big studio photos. There was the Applebaum's wedding, and Schneider's store all draped in bunting with a band standing on the steps. From July he guessed. On the wall was a couple dozen prosperous gents and ladies sitting around with their families. The Methodist church picnic back in May. Up on the counter was a revolving wire stand with postcards of various people and places around the county.  He picked out one with a big 2-6-2 engine lying on its side. He remembered that one. Two? No, three summers ago when the rains washed out the Topeka loop bridge.

Where were they? He reached reflexively for his watch, then grumbled. It was still over at Goldstein's. Maybe after next payday he could reclaim it, if they had any money left. Used most of his September pay for these dang instruments. Doc Marstin said the cornet would be good for Aggie's lungs. He didn't see how, but the doc explained that all that blowing might strengthen her breathing after the diphtheria two winters back. He shuddered at the memory. Then this fall it was mumps. Both of them. One more paycheck gone.

He heard voices as an old couple came through the curtain with the little red-faced man. "Yes, sir. I'll finish these tonight and then you may pick them up tomorrow afternoon." He scribbled away on a notepad. "All together with the duplicates, it will be two dollars."

Two dollars! Ches didn't have 60 cents in his pocket. Why'd they need photos anyway? Just cause Esther wanted them for Christmas to post to her folks back east. He'd have to see if the station boss would put him on a second shift again at the roundhouse. 

Just as the door closed, it opened again and two little girls in long coats burst into room. "Daddy!" they squealed with steaming breath and rosy cheeks. Esther was right behind. 

"So you found it alright," she said as she removed the girl's coats. "When you get back to house, Chesney, there's biscuits and gravy on the stove and an apple tart in the pie safe." She cocked her head and gave him a sly smile. "Think you can help Margret with her boots?"

The photographer held back the curtain. "Yes indeed, a fine morning for music. You girls just step this way." As Ches untied the strings on the cardboard case and took out the bass drum, he carried it onto a small stage. "Yes that will do nicely. Now you girls need a dark backdrop for contrast with those pretty white dresses. It won't take a moment to pull out." He went over to a corner and began shuffling through several large canvas rolls.

"Daddy, I can do a triple paradiddle now. Mr. Wisner showed me how. You want to hear me do it?" Margret took out her drum sticks from a leather roll. She began a slow but rhythmic beat on the snare drum. 

The little girl gave a loud blast on the cornet. "Aggie dear," exclaimed Esther. "Don't dribble spit on Mr. Friedmann's carpet. Come on now, we got to get you girls over to the armory after this for the band rehearsal." Esther fussed with their bows and pulled up their stockings once more. "Mr.Friedmann, you are so kind to do this for us. I know my parent's will be so impressed with how the girls have grown. My papa used to play trombone in Gilmore's band and he so wants to see them with their instruments."

"Oh, you are most welcome, Mrs. Maguire. My wife thought this a nice exchange for altering that graduation dress so wonderfully to fit my Gertrude. Such a big gal." He moved the camera in closer to the little stage, tossing a black cloth over his head. "Very nice. very nice." He turned and smiled at Ches. "Yes, sir, Mr. Maguire. You got some talented girls here."

Ches blinked at the sparking dresses. "Yes, I do," he said. "I surely do."

The preceding is a complete work of fiction, as the postcard photo
has no record of names, date or place.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you will likely be introduced to even more sisters.


Cameron said...

I am finally taking this opportunity to say how much I enjoy your blog!

I particularly enjoyed this little piece of fiction, which suits the unidentified photograph perfectly.

Keep up the good work!

Jinksy said...

This sparked your imagination and no mistake! Well done you!

Unknown said...

So when are you publishing that book of short fiction?! This is the kind of story that I want to read while curled up under a blanket by the fire. I could read stories like this all night.

Peter said...

A short story in optima forma! And also the first time I hear that a cornet serves as a medicine.
Great post Mike! You see, there is a writer in you, he is just waiting to leave his closet :)

Unknown said...

What a great photo -- aren't they wearing Mary Janes? Those shoes were still popular when I was a youngster; that strap across my foot drove me nuts...using photos as writing prompts is a nifty idea; I'll have to try it!

Bob Scotney said...

Another great post, Mike. You must have a store of stories that could be published, as Liz says.You need imagination and writing skills to come up with a piece like this, linked as it is to a photograph.

Kathy said...

Well, that was delightful! This is a great photograph and the girls look comfortable enough with the instruments that they don't just look like props were shoved into their hands.

21 Wits said...

I did enjoy your story, the door gave a all gave me the idea of another red faced man! You sure gave these poor to unknowns quite a fun time!

Little Nell said...

The perfect story to accompany this delightful picture. There had to be a nice little twist at the end. Wonderful stuff!

Postcardy said...

I used to play the drum at school, so I enjoyed your story and the photo with the drums. I don't think the drummer would have owned a bass drum even if she had the small drum. I think the photo was probably taken where the band played unless the instruments are just props.

Wendy said...

Very enjoyable. You've actually managed to trick me into believing it is true. Was it common for girls to play drums?

Mike Brubaker said...

I'm flattered that everyone enjoys my short fiction. The photo itself is interesting because little girls with cornet and drum are rare. Usually girls would be much older in this era, 13-18 year old. It's possible that these two sisters were in a family band and I toyed with inventing a story about that. The bass drum is not for a marching band but is part of a typical drum kit or "trap set" for indoor performance, and has a foot pedal I think.

The girls might be the daughters of a theater musician too who has posed them with his instruments. But it was taken in a studio with a painted backdrop and floor cloth, so that was the direction I thought to draw the story.

Jana Iverson Last said...

I absolutely loved your story! A who knows...maybe there's more fact than fiction in your story regarding this photo.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful story, Mike, full of lots of little details and beautifully written. More please! Jo :-)

Bruno Laliberté said...

You can play, and you can write!!!


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP