My cousin Leah is a trumpet professor/trumpet player, and she capped my grandfather’s overwhelming memorial service off with a wrenching rendition of "Taps," which, according to my cousin Naomi, my grandfather really loved. It’s only fitting, considering his chairmanship of the Glencoe Patriot Days Committee, not to mention…OH I DON’T KNOW, his service in the Battle of the Bulge. My grandfather’s patriotism was admirable and complicated, given his visceral hatred for war and unspoken demons as a result of World War II (he never talked about his service). Anyway, Grandpa loved "Taps" and Leah played it, and it was beautiful, but it got me thinking–first of all, about how lucky we are to have a trumpet player in the family, because what if my mom had tried to play "Taps" on the violin? The mournful majesty afforded by the trumpet would be replaced by the incongruity of a brass song played on strings and it would end up sounding like my own favorite song to play on the violin as a child, "Vaccuum Cleaner," which involved my mom going "mwawawawawaa" with the bow all fast and making a big ruckus (oh yes, my musical genius came out at a young age–almost as young as my current baby cousin Hannah, who very very wisely greeted her grownup cousin Rebecca for the first time by dissolving into sobs and hiding). Anyway, I got to thinking about other bad instruments on which to play "Taps," and yes this list includes "kazoo," Prof. Awesome and Erin, you great minds who think alike. Other contenders are: xylophone, pan flute, marimba, steel drum, harp (although put all those instruments together and you get the Arcade Fire). Anyway, I’ve been missing my grandfather a lot (despite the fact that we didn’t often talk, in that he was not a big one for phone chitchat) and coming to terms with his death a little–and if you don’t understand how someone can be shocked and angry at a 92-year-old’s death, then you just didn’t know him–and I’ve been coping in the only way I know how: list-making. In addition to the aforementioned bad venues for "Taps" I have also been thinking of the best things about my grandfather. Unfortunately, I can’t count to "infinity" (even COUNTABLE INFINITY, Prof. Awesome, give me a degree in the philosophy of math RIGHT NOW), but I can count to one and whatever that number after one is (jetzt weniger zahlen!), so here’s a random list of two irreplaceable qualities of my grandfather.
1. Perfect vocal pitch that managed to produce complete lack thereof in at least two of his sons–in addition to my father’s negligible vocal abilities, I also have fond memories of the cassette tapes Grandpa and my Uncle Joe made me when I was a very little girl, of them goofing around and talking and telling me their "bloody accident stories" (I was obsessed with secondhand gore as a child–don’t ask), and ending every tape with a Grammy-worthy duet of that one song about the worms crawling in and worms crawling out. And no, this is not me being macabre about my grandfather dying, I really did just love that song as a kid, especially as replicated by Grandpa in his perfect gravelly rumble and Uncle Joe approximately a half-tone off. Did you eeeever seeee a heeeearse go by/and think that you’d beee the next to diiiiiiiiiieeeeeee….thaaaaaaaaa worms crawl in/the worms crawl out/the worms play pinochle on your snout/they chew and chew and chew on you/until there’s noting left but goooooooooooooo (no, this does not disturb me; like all Schumans, my grandfather was cremated and thus the worms have been given no chance to crawl in, out or engage in old-person’s gambling activities.
2. His way of doing things. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. Everyone who knows him knows what I’m talking about. When I graduated from high school he just kind of matter-of-factly bought some flowers from the flower stand down the street from my parents and then just kind of matter-of-factly shoved them at me. It was the first bouquet anyone ever gave me.
I saw my grandfather about a year ago, at the memorial service for his brother, my great-uncle Albert. It was another emotional time for the Schuman brigade, and an unseasonably hot day in the Santa Barbara vicinity, and my grandfather slipped out almost-unnoticed to go rest at his hotel. We’d just had a conversation about his great-granddaughter and how he was so fascinated by what went on in her tiny baby head, and about how I liked living in California and being (almost) thirty. I almost didn’t catch him before he left. I ran out of the house after his car and caught him as he was climbing into it. Good-bye, Grandpa! I said to him, and gave him a hug. I love you! I’ll see you soon, he said, vaguely embarassed at my odd display of affection. Then his car drove off. It being the memorial for his brother, the fragility of all life (and especially that of oldies) was especially apparent to me at the time. And that was the last time I saw him.