Twenty years can be an eternity. It had been that long since I last saw her. There was a lot to catch up on, but I remained mostly silent during the visit. It was more important to me to simply be in her presence. Aileen had her own missed needs and wanted to share thoughts with our old high school music teacher. Just being there with her was all that I really wanted. I permitted Aileen to do most of the talking. Sometimes words ruin the warming sensation of visiting a beloved acquaintance from our past. I wanted to take in every moment of the reunion, absorb the harmony of missed love, and not interfere with the soothing sensation of seeing her. Babbling melodies of the stories of my life for the past two decades would only take away from the sheer joy of being in her presence again.
Bonnie’s son Nin followed in her footsteps. He is a music teacher at a local area high school as well. He teaches at Huntingdon High School– a much larger school district than Southern.
Huntingdon now produces high school musicals as professional as the ones that Southern has put on for the last thirty years or so. Nin is doing for Huntingdon what Bonnie had created down at Southern in the mid-seventies. According to Bonnie, Nin is considering offering a lead role this year in Huntingdon’s high school musical to one of just a few Blacks who go to public school there.
“Nin wants to offer a black student the lead role . He’s got a very strong, melodic voice infused with soul. He wants to take that chance and cast him as the main character. The part is perfect for the boy.”
I asked about the antique shop that my mother told me about. The Hiles family opened one in Orbisonia, soon after Bonnie retired from her career as a school music teacher.
“It is doing quite well. Thanks for asking. I have always loved nice furnishings, Charles,” she said to me. I saw a different side to her just then. The profile of a well- preserved soul. One that has harness the power of grace and longevity. Her eyes lit up when she spoke of the antique furniture shop. The business is a new life adventure for her and her husband. I could see the happiness in their lives as clearly as the rings on a trunk of a tree that show the weather– wet periods and dry spells, over the centuries.
She was just as enthusiastic about antiques as she was teaching school children to sing– “Imagine the sound coming out of the space between your eyes, Charlie. Use the diaphragm.”
During the summer, Bonnie offered private singing lessons in a local church basement. For $4 an hour, I was granted one- on- one coaching by the trained Irish teacher. I paid for the lessons myself, from my paper route job. My love for music blossomed under the guiding wings of the woman who ran a little shop of ancient melodies, years ago, at Southern High.
My first partner Anthony was an interior design master. I’ve learned all about the secrets to making a house feel alive with couches from the past– those stuffed with springs. Many pieces of old furniture, made of both wood and upholstery, were carved from single pieces of wood– sacrificial trunks of trees were carved down for the purpose of creating frames that are one piece and not molded and glued together. Anthony loved furniture like that. I learned all about the pleasures of embroidered fabrics, flowing linen curtains and hand tailored napkins of the past. Anthony taught me everything there is to know about fabulous decorating and furnishings. I had developed my own love for such pleasures in life. Bonnie had that same fire that Anthony had. I asked more about her collection and the things that were in her house including a wooden chest like the ones seen in pirate movies and on treasure maps.
“We just bought a Victorian Mansion down the street. Nin and his brother are living there now. We’re going to make it into a guest house. Would you like to see it?” Bonnie asked.
“It’s not too late? Will little Nin mind?” I asked.
“Of course he will not mind,” Aileen insisted.
Big Nin agreed. “They will not mind,” the man of the house insisted. I realized that Nin, Jr. still lived at home during the twenty years that passed by when I went away to the Army and other adventures. I never could have lived at home that long. I was happy to be out at 18. One must feel incredibly pressured when living at home as a grown adult. I assessed that Nin would be tickled pink in his new home, living as a roommate with his brother and running a guest house on the side– away from the peering eyes of mom and dad.
“I’ve been trying to bring my partner home for several years now. He does not want to stay at my parents place. I don’t blame him. But the closest hotel is in Huntingdon and that’s almost an hour away. I would love to stay in your guest house on my next trip home. How soon will it be before you open?”
“We already have a guest booked for October 4th. We’ll give you the friends and family rate,” Bonnie promised as we jumped in our cars to drive less than two blocks down the street. If it were New York, we would have walked it, but we were in Orbisonia, the town of just a few traffic lights, where finding a parking space is never really a problem.
Nin, Jr. answered the door with a hardcover Rembrandt book in his hands.