Eva playing the tuba (Photo by Peggy Booth)
Eva playing the tuba (Photo by Peggy Booth)
“You suppose we’ve got a book around here that will show me how to put together a sousaphone?”

As readers might recall from previous comments, we have quite a few books in this house. Quite a few more, perhaps, than would normally be considered useful by right-minded citizens. However, experience has proven that now and then we have need for very specific technical data, and in fact, the answer in this case was yes. I was able to find a book that imparted the required knowledge, and my husband and I were able to successfully assemble the large wrap-around tuba.

It was time for the island’s Fourth of July parade.

Small towns are all about tradition, and our extremely small town is extremely inclined toward such routines. Matinicus has had a Fourth of July parade for a whole six or seven years, not including last year, which we skipped. That’s long enough for people to think of it as the sort of ironclad local custom islanders appreciate. 

The weekend weather was undeniably perfect, and every bunk on this island was evidently filled. Everybody had company, everybody was cooking, and more than a few boatloads of consumer fireworks had been procured by the more eager young lobstermen. We could blow this ledge halfway to the moon, one chrysanthemum shell at a time. 

There were to be several very large parties with massive quantities of barbecue and halibut, and there would be a harborside display to rival any large city later, but at 10:30 in the morning, it was parade time. Loretta ran around and got us into line on the church lawn. Various dogs ran around underfoot trailing red and blue ribbons.

Our parade this year began with the oldest of our three school kids marching in the lead, brandishing a large stick in the style of a drum major. Behind him followed a utility trailer loaded with small children all wearing child-size orange Grundens oil pants; little “Miss Matinicus” (11-month-old Leah, in her glittering tiara and dignified red sash); and another trailer-load of revelers in red, white and blue. The Tiki Bar truck kept us all refreshed, that being a flatbed done up to look perfectly tropical and including three young men in coconut brassieres and grass skirts serving (and enjoying) a very welcome rum punch. Wagonloads of toddlers, a phalanx of kids on bicycles, Dave the drummer set up in another festively draped trailer, Ann and Blair the Mermaid Taxi ladies, and Paul on his flag-bedecked John Deere tractor followed, as did Fire Chief Robert driving one of our better pieces of firefighting apparatus, still lettered up with the town from where it came to us. Maury’s truck paid gentle homage to the obscure muse that encourages the sophisticated collector to believe just about any ol’ pile of random stuff is “art.” Three-year-old Eli had his kid-size truck in the parade, lettered up to advertise “Eli’s Eggs,” his friend Kenzie in the seat beside him and a large crocheted chicken in the back. All local businesses should be represented, chicken farmers included.

I was the brass section. Apologies are in order to John Philip Sousa.

Actually, I was to a certain extent the fiberglass section, as this particular borrowed sousaphone was at least half composite. It was still a decent load to carry, and to play, largely because it was missing a piece of the necessary brassworks, and the musician was obligated to effect a certain tortoise-neck stretch to reach the mouthpiece. Such technique results in a sloppy embouchure and a stiff neck, but hey, this is America. Never having played or even attempted the tuba before, our Fourth of July parade seemed the perfect place to start. As I told nearly everybody that afternoon, there is a first time for everything.

The evening before, when we uncrated the tuba (it lived in a carrying case the size of a medium-ish Volkswagen), we learned a couple of things. First, it could be played even with a piece missing, which you probably cannot do with a violin or a flute; second, the tuba player, once attired in his or her instrument, cannot stand up in the living room with the bell attached; and third, next time warn the cat.

Once we got the thing put together (with the help of a book) and wiped most of the dust out of the bell, Paul climbed into it and blew one deeply earnest blast. Riley the cat, sleeping on the couch a few feet away, came out of her reverie looking like she’d been deliberately assaulted by a moose. Her eyes, wide as dinner plates, were fixed sternly on the unit. “What the Sam Hill have you people done now?!”

That cat was getting entirely too complacent anyway.