Professor Pennyworth’s Parade
It is late in the evening, the sun just beginning to set. I walk across the street to the music building to retrieve my trumpet case after a hard rehearsal of our student-run chamber group. Just about everything that could have gone wrong has. The concert is a mere week away. Two of our players have come down with the flu, and our cello player’s instrument fell off the stage and broke when one of our members tripped over it on the way to his seat. Understandably, the cellist was livid, and I’d been listening to the two of them snipe at each other all night about who was responsible to pay to fix it. Each claimed the other was at fault, but that didn’t change the fact that we were without a cello for the moment, and the school had none to borrow.
With a heavy sigh, I start up the steps to the music building, lost in thought. I reach for the door handle, only to have it open right in front of me. I look up, a little surprised. Coming out is Professor Alvin Pennyworth, clad in his ever-present tweed coat and matching hat, his unruly white hair peeking out from underneath, carrying a briefcase stuffed to overflowing, and his black umbrella. My heart gladdens a little at the sight of him; Professor Pennyworth is my friend, indeed my mentor, and his quirky brand of humor and slightly odd manner always makes me smile.
He looks down at me, his eyes taking in the trumpet without it’s case, and my slumped posture and frown, and a gentle smile spreads across his aging face. “Looks like you’ve had a rough night.”
I sigh. “Yeah. That I have.”
He puts his arm around my shoulders and guides me down the steps. “Practice can wait. Come, walk with me.”
Tucking my trumpet under my arm, I do. We head in the direction of the nearby parking garage. Almost without thinking, I find myself recounting my night, the trouble with the cello, the difficulties faced in getting the group together and ready in time for our scheduled concert, and my fears that we won’t be able to pull it off. I pour out my frustrations and fears, and he says nothing, just smiles and lets me talk. When I finally finish, I look to him for a reaction. He stops walking suddenly, sets his briefcase and umbrella down, and reaches for my horn, taking it from under my arm. Removing the mouthpiece, he buzzes on it for a moment, then puts it back in the instrument and places it to his lips. My eyes widen as the first strains of a Sousa march sing out strong in the cool night air. Professor Pennyworth is a woodwind player, a bassoonist, and I had no idea that he could play trumpet, least of all as beautifully as he is! Leaving his things lying on the sidewalk, he turns and starts marching a high-step down the street, back towards the music building. My mouth drops open, and then I start to laugh, and run to catch up with him. Falling into step beside him, I throw him a huge grin, and he wiggles his eyebrows at me comically, still playing. Every few steps he adds a goofy little jump or spin or turn, a kick or lift of the foot, wonderfully comical and eccentric. I can’t help it, I’m laughing hysterically, and can hardly catch my breath as I march beside him. We must make quite a sight, I think, this odd little impromptu parade... he takes a breath and a huge grin splits his face, and he lifts the trumpet back up and goes right on playing, never missing a beat. We cross an intersection, and a driver in a truck pulls up behind us after we pass and shouts with a smile “You should do that for kids! They’d get a kick out of it.” I turn around, and with a laugh say “Oh, he does.” After all, I’m still a kid at heart...
All too soon, we arrive right back where we started, at the music building. When we reach the sidewalk there, he stops, snaps his feet together, takes the horn down, and offers me a grandiose salute. I’m laughing too hard to talk. Without so much as a word, he hands my trumpet back to me, turns around, and walks away. As I stare at his receding figure, I realize that this strange, totally unexpected little two block parade was all for me, just to make me smile. My heart swells with love for this odd, wonderful little man, and suddenly nothing else really seems to matter.