Giving Away Dad’s Sax

The old man’s gone, but the music lives on

Photo by Molnár Bálint on Unsplash

It’s approaching the third anniversary of Mark’s dad’s death. And he’s just given away the old man’s saxophone.

It was the day of their son’s graduation. Mark and his wife, Sue, went to the university for the ceremony, accompanied by Mark’s mum, Mary. It was a sunny day with blue skies. Mark’s dad, Jack, wasn’t good with crowds, so he stayed at their house to look after the dog.

Mary was on edge all day. She and Jack had barely been separated in 50 years of marriage, and with a few minor health conditions, she didn’t really like him being on his own away from home. Mary was fairly relaxed all day, but by the time they were placing their order in a restaurant that evening, she kept looking at her watch. She just wanted to go back to Jack.

When they got back to Mark’s house that evening, Mary touched Jack’s cheek and asked him if he was all right. She thought his skin looked waxy. Jack said he was fine, they said their goodbyes, and within a few minutes Mark’s parents were driving off into the night to go home.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

20 minutes later, Mary phoned. There was panic in her voice. She said they had pulled up at a road junction, and Jack had suffered a heart attack or a stroke or something. She babbled. She told them Jack was now in an ambulance, called by a police officer who just happened to be in the car behind; he was now driving Mary to the hospital.

Mark and Sue rushed to join them. Mark now remembers the night as a series of snapshots: the call from his mother; running along the road; wet leaves on the ground, reflecting street lights.

At the hospital, they sat in the Emergency Room watching people come and go. After several hours of waiting and hoping, the family was taken into a small room. The kind of room where the news is never good. The kind of room where doctors and nurses have to convey complex information in terms laypeople can understand. It’s the worst kind of room, the worst part of the job.

Do you understand what I’m saying? One of them asks repeatedly, as he talks of bleeds and the brain and scans and seizures.

One of the nurses passed tissues around.

Jack had suffered a brain aneurysm, they said. They tried to convey the severity without the words actually being spoken.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

Mary spoke of the life they had shared. How they lived and laughed and loved. How they had spooned every night for fifty years, and never spent more than a day apart.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

They were being told he would not recover.

Jack spent several days in an ICU, being cared for and spoken to by medical staff who’s attention was unwavering. Mary stroked Jack’s hair. Said she could feel him squeezing her fingers, would point with wide-eyed hope at each twitch of his legs. But Mark watched as the nurses opened Jacks eyes and shone light into them. They were dead, unresponsive eyes.

Mary bought the sax for the man she loved. Like him, it’s gone now.

In the immediate aftermath of Jack’s death, Mary gave away a lot of his possessions: his clothes, his tools, his iPad. One of the things that came Mark’s way was Jack’s saxophone.

When Jack was a child he played the clarinet. He didn’t want to play the clarinet. He wanted to play the sax. But Jack’s dad needed a clarinet player in his band, so that was that.

When Jack and Mary retired and were a little more comfortable, she finally bought him the sax he’d always wanted. But by that time, approaching the age of 70, he’d no longer got the urge or the energy or the desire. He blew into the golden instrument a few times, and managed to produce a few reluctant squawks and squeaks. Moonlight Serenade it wasn’t, but everybody laughed.

Mark didn’t know what to do with the sax. His was a musical family, but a saxophone wasn’t something they would use. For a while it went in the loft, but that seemed a sorry end for a virtually brand new instrument that had hardly been touched. On one visit to his mother, Mark tentatively raised the subject. He wasn’t sure how she’d react. Her grief remained all-consuming, and although she was showing signs of improvement, the process was slow and unpredictable. When Mark asked what they should do with the instrument, she said she didn’t know. She didn’t seem to care.

Mark contemplated selling it: the sax was pristine; it must be worth something. But that didn’t feel right. Jack and Mary came from poor backgrounds, but had worked hard to build a better life. Mark recognised that he’d had a fairly soft upbringing, got pretty much everything he wanted, and never went to bed hungry. Profit didn’t feel like an appropriate outcome.

So, following his mother’s own very giving personality, he donated the sax to a charity. It provides instruments to young musicians who can’t afford their own. It gave his niece a violin to use when she first started playing. It felt like the right thing to do.

Mary bought the sax for the man she loved. Like him, it’s gone now. But hopefully it’s helping some young player as they begin their musical journey. Who knows, maybe big band harmonies, sassy jazz swing or rudeboy honks may emerge from its shiny golden shell yet.


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