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For B.T. Collins

I am old, and he is not young.  Or, he seems old, and I am not young.

It is possible we are both on our last legs, except I do not have any legs. If I did I would probably turn into a centipede. He has one full leg, and one that from the knee down is a prosthetic which he takes on and off. In fact, he grimaces whenever he puts it on, and when he takes it off.

I am a flute, have been a flute, and remain a flute. But, I too am unusual. I am made of sterling silver, and some bamboo. I am quite unique, and so too is he. We are both reconstructed. We are meant for each other. You might say that we are star crossed, and soul mates. Some say that is in fact the case.

We have played everywhere, including in parks, back yards, stages, ball games, weddings, marches, funerals, quinceañera, bar mitzvahs, solo (including from a balcony in a theater, and a balcony at a hotel), and with groups large and small. With limited exception I go everywhere with him.

His name is Doug, but when introduced to groups he is “Douglas”. He bought me from a store. I have some recollection how I wound up in the store, including that for a period of time I was not doing well. This is because they had to piece me back together.   I was blown up along with a large group of instruments, including in no particular order a piano, trumpet, guitar, several violin, and an accordion. We were all friends, often playing together. We were rehearsing when a bomb exploded. Human parts and fragments of the musicians were scattered, there was a ghastly smell of smoke and horror, and I was sure it was a nightmare, except that it actually happened. I recall the conductor, who was fine tuning our performance for that evening, grasping his chest, falling forward, and then disappearing. I remember being very, very hot, very uncomfortable, and I could see that my chimney length was either cracked or severely bent. I believe part of me was missing, but my head joint was still intact. I was aghast at the sight of the guitar which was utterly decimated, in pieces, parts of the violins were still in the air, or seemed to be. The accordion was nowhere to be seen, and the piano looked like a shipwreck. At that point all went dark, quiet, and into uninterrupted unconsciousness.

I eventually recall waking up with a very focused man peering at me. He had some kind of device over his eyes. He was “treating me”. I remember his words: “This one is salvageable… We can put her back together, but it is going to take some very precise work, and considerable time.”

My home was a tabletop, well I should say, I laid there. This same gentleman cleaned my inside, saudered a portion of me, changed my middle core, gave me two new tone holes, an end piece, and placed a portion of bamboo at two places interspersed with silver. I had been and remain in the key of C, and now have greater than three octave range, which seems to make everyone there very giddy.

However, the first time I was lifted to someone’s lips and played, the sound was dreadful. I knew I had been sorely wounded, and wondered if I would ever recover. I could see other instruments in similar disarray, some being pieced back together, some not making it. Some simply could not make it. Their parts were used for other instruments, if possible.  I managed to survive through all that.

Bottom line, I owe my second life to a group of people, particularly that very intent man, and feel very grateful to have been found by Doug so that I may attempt to return their courtesy in sound.

Part of what helped me to survive is that flutes have been around for so many thousands of years. I have ancestors made from mammoth tusk to vulture wing. The Bible in Genesis 4:21 identified Jubal as the “father of all those who played the ugab and the kinnor…”   (Ugab, in case you do not know, is believed at least by some to be a wind instrument. I am a wind instrument.)  Yet, here I am, or here I was, ripped from the friends I knew, torn apart, burned, wrecked, and in dire need of both reconstruction and rehabilitation.

“You’ll make it buddy! You will!  We have a bright future for you, just bear with!”

How many times I heard the man say that not just to me, but to other instruments there. One day I was taken to another location, where now a very studious woman spent time holding me, playing me, her left hand quite nimble. I was astonished that I sounded so well. I was absolutely astounded. In fact, I remain astounded about that moment. I know what it must read like to you but I was reborn, and soon Doug found me, and took me home.

Doug, I would learn, was oddly similar. He had suffered severe injury while in the military when he stepped on an i.e.d. He has a partial leg, part of his face was disfigured, mostly around his left eye and cheek, and his right arm is missing. He has a hook at the end of that arm which now serves as his hand.

“Flute, we will support each other. I understand you went through a lot because of the war, and you must know I did as well.  I still suffer. For years I played flute, and vowed to be virtuoso. Today, I just want to play. Like me, you are very unique. You are still you, but you have borrowed a few parts here or there, ok? We have both borrowed some pieces. They put us back together. I did not think I would make it, so we are a good fit. It matters little what we look like, or how we came to this point…”

Doug drank from a small bottle, wiped his mouth, and laughed. He frequently talks to me. I cannot recount it all here. He talks to me incessantly at times. He lives by himself, and while he has many friends, he is most often alone. The hook at the end of his arm, it holds onto me as a hand would.  I should say it “grabs” onto me.

We recently played as part of a famous orchestra, during which there were fireworks. I could not get over the exploding sounds overhead, and yet this was not harmful. This was not destructive. This was a celebration, I would come to understand. Still, I was very unnerved, frightened, and tried to take my lead from Doug. He seemed to be in his glory so I figured it must be ok.

On one occasion we went to a very large, cavernous house. It was white outside, with lots of columns. There were all sorts of officials, and people saluting. Doug walks ok, but the prosthetic part of his leg is not perfect. Between that and his hook he is a bit of a sight. He makes such a to-do when he takes me out of my case. “My baby, my pride and joy, none like it in the world! One of the reasons I carry on so well, and folks you may not know but this guy was put back together as well…”

Doug played Vivaldi ‘s Flute Concerto in G Minor (known as La Notte). Everyone, when he was done, everyone there stood and applauded. In all the times we have played together, that remains by far the loudest and most prolonged applause I can recall. Doug held me across his chest, holding me in his left hand, and bowed several times. He firmly saluted to a man in front of us, who was seated, and then came forward to put some kind of medal around Doug’s neck, after which there was yet more ovation. The man who came forward was joined by a woman, who I presume is his wife, and they held hands. He said: “You know we are so proud of our Veterans, and so proud to be Americans, and Doug, sir, you and your flute remind us there is no obstacle that cannot be over come, by any of us, no matter what they try to do!”

Of all things, as more people came up to Doug and hugged him, talked to him, and saluted him, of all things I was thinking about the guitar I knew, who was blown apart that terrible day. I just kept thinking about what happened to the guitar, and wondered why I was the one who was brought back to be able to play again.

Then I saw a young girl, I would guess 7 years of age.  She was eyeing me. She said, “Daddy, can I please get a flute? Please?”

Her father looked at me, and walked toward us. He said to Doug: “Captain, thank God they were able to save your life. To this day I am certain of at least one reason why…. you remind us to keep on, to carry on, to stand tall. Man, that was so good, it sounded so damn good. I will buy Cathy here a flute, and if you do not mind, we will name it Doug, in your honor sir, in your honor!”

I felt a droplet of water, actually a couple, which at first I was not sure where they came from, but Doug inadvertently lifted me toward his eyes, then realized he needed to use his other hand.




(B.T. Collins, to whom this story is dedicated, served honorably in Vietnam, losing part of a leg and part of an arm. Resilient to the point of no return, he (among other accomplishments) turned the California Conservation Corps into a major success, served as Chief of Staff to Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. – a Democrat but B.T. was a staunch Republican – and became an elected official. A remarkable, thoughtful, larger than life person, and so very much missed).