In fourth grade, my mom decided I was old enough to start playing an instrument. Or at least an instrument that sounded more appealing than the plastic recorder I screeched music from, the mouthpiece stuck at an awkward angle because I jammed it too hard, too fast.
“So, PJ, what do you want to play?”
“The harp!” I excitedly exclaimed.
“No way, pick again.”
“Piano!” I sang as I drifted off on dreams of banging the keys like Billy Joel.
“Uh-uh. Doesn’t go with the décor of the house.”
I let out a sigh. “Violin?”
“How about the flute! Doesn’t that sound like fun?”
The flute teacher lived two towns over and taught students in her basement, a damp room with green carpeting that resembled Oscar the Grouch. First she showed me how to put my rented flute together. Then how to clean it, jamming a cloth covered poker down through the tubes. Next came the hard part: teaching me how to read music. Hebrew School officially fell to second place in my ranking of most torturous after-school activities.
“Can I quit?” I asked my mom as I crawled into the backseat of her station wagon idling on the curb, my flute case tossed across the seat.
Every week I asked and every week she refused. In protestation, I stopped practicing. Curiously, my teacher never caught on. Or perhaps she didn’t much care, my mom’s fifty dollar checks buying her silence. Together we honored the code. She pretended to teach and I pretended to learn.
Three months into lessons, I ventured down to the kitchen where my mom was shredding potatoes to make latkes. The menorah was already on the counter. Behind it sat a box of colorful candles waiting to be used.
“Hey Mom, wanna hear me play?” I asked as I twirled my flute like a baton.
She grabbed her mug of tea and took a seat at the breakfast room table.
I lifted the cold metal to my lips, set my fingers across the flute, and began playing Joy to the World. After fourteen notes, my mom raised her hand in the air like a crossing guard stopping traffic.
“Now you can quit,” she said as she stood to her feet and retreated to the kitchen.
Standing there alone in the breakfast room, the smell of sizzling latkes filling the house, I couldn’t help but believe in Christmas miracles.
Merry Christmas, everyone (yes, everyone)!