A SHORT SAXOPHONE SERENADE

Copyright 1989
Sam Elmore


Papa's daily habit, when he was working the fields putting in a crop, was to come home, eat his noon meal, then lay down for a short rest. The rest usually lasted no more than forty-five minutes or so, but it revived him somewhat for the long haul of plowing until sundown.

Us kids knew full well that any kind of racket we were likely to make, had better be made way down yonder in the pin-oak flats, away from where Papa was takin' his nap. When the weather was clear, Papa liked to take his folding cot and set it up under the chiney-berry tree in the back yard, where there was a good shade.

This was back when we didn't have electricity, or indoor plumbing, or runnin' water....except for when mama told one of us kids to "run fetch me a bucket of water". Of course, air conditioning was unknown to us then. Unless you consider "air conditioning" to be what resulted from the rapid fluctuation of a palmetto-leaf fan, that had a "Lewis Funeral Home" advertisement on the back.

Papa would unloose both of his overall galluses, kick off his brogans, and lay back on that cot with his head on a pillow. Then he'd prop his big Stetson hat down over his face, and rest. A lot of times, we'd want to just be around close to where Papa was, so we'd play real quiet beside the cot, while Papa rested.

Papa seldom had a problem with us three littlest boys disturbing his noon rest; and never a problem with the sisters; but, with brother Britten?....that was a whole 'nother ball game. (Britten was the one we called "Slim.")

For some reason, every time Slim saw Papa resting (or even sitting) unawares, it was just a "had-to" situation.....Slim just had to "mess with" Papa. He'd do things like take a crooked limb off the chiney-berry tree and sneak it up Papa's britches leg like it was a lizard, or a devilhorse or something.

Now, I'm here to tell you, Papa couldn't stand anything going up his britches leg or down his collar. I mean, he'd shuck down to his underdrawers so fast, it'd make your head swim! And, if there were any women around when something run up Papa's britches leg, well, that was their problem. If they wanted to look, they could look all they wanted to....'cause when somethin' got in his britches, he was comin' out of them; right then, and right there!

Of course, Slim never got away with any of these pranks; and he knew before he pulled his stunts that he'd catch "what-for". But, it never deterred him from his pursuit of messing with the man. As soon as Papa was finished chastizing him for his latest prank, Slim would already be working out his strategy for the next one.

When Slim got up into his late `teens, he "turned-off" on farming. According to him, farming was all right for country hicks, but not for him! He'd already "been to see the elephant" up-town, and knew where to find the pretty girls. Plus, he had already learn't how to shoot pool.

He could make more money in one night of shootin' pool for dimes and nickels, up at the domino-pool-beer-joint place, than anybody else could make in two or three days of hard labor for hire. Slim was as rambunctious and rebellious a teen-ager as the kids that were later called "juvenile delinquents".

One summer day, Slim thumbed a ride into Magnolia with the Watkins peddler. He was gone most of the day. When he walked into the yard that afternoon, he was carrying a saxophone. None of us knew that was what it was, because we'd never even heard of a saxophone, much less seen one.

Slim told us how another feller had lost a game of nine-ball to him, but couldn't come up the two-bit piece they were playing for, so he gave Slim his saxophone to square the wager. Slim handed the saxophone to Papa, who turned it over, and upside-down, and looked at it, and in it; then handed it back to Slim and walked off, without saying a word.

Papa was a musician, who taught quartet singing, and could play just about anything with strings on it (by ear; he couldn't read music); and he had taught all of us kids how to play music. But, that saxophone? Naw-sir! Papa didn't have no use for one `em thangs.

The only thing Slim knew about the instrument was which end to blow into, but he knew nothing about where to put his fingers or how to work the keys. He soon learned that there was a lot more places to put fingers than Slim had fingers to cover all the keys. He sat around for a week-or-so, blowing on the thing and fiddling with the buttons and all; but, if he ever got a note out of it, it sounded like an elephant with an ear-ache, or a dying cow, or something.

Us younger brothers had stopped paying any attention to Slim and that saxophone, as soon as the "new wore off" of the idea; which was about six minutes after he first brought it home.

One day, Papa came in for his dinner, ate, and went out and lay down on his cot and balanced his Stetson over his face. Us little-un's picked that day to want to stay close to Papa, so we were sittin' on the ground beside Papa's cot, doodling in the dirt and keeping quiet, while Papa rested.

Slim came around the corner of the house, carrying his saxophone. When he saw Papa laying there with his shoes off, and his toes wiggling contentedly, Slim's face lit up like he'd found a hundred-dollar-gold-piece!

He eased over to the chiney-berry tree, and sat down with his back against the tree....right beside Papa's head! He licked the mouth-piece of that horn like it was home-made ice cream, took a real deep breath, hung the "bugle" end that thing right beside Papa's ear, and blowed it! SQUEEeeee--OONNKK!

Papa appeared to levitate two feet above the cot, and screamed out loud. Almost before he'd started back down, he yanked the horn out of Slim's hands. When Papa's feet hit the ground, he warped `at saxophone around the chiney-berry tree! That thing bent waaay around the tree, until it was almost bowed double.

Slim was still standing there with his jaw dropped in surprise, when Papa shoved the deformed horn back into his hands and, in the same motion, laid down on the cot, pushed his Stetson over his face, wiggled his toes, and let out a loud snore.

I've listened to some fine sax players in the last fifty years....but, I have to say that Slim's was the shortest saxophone serenade I've ever heard.