I remember the first time I put the uniform on. They’d given it me the day before, and Edna had wanted me to try it on right away, but I’d said no, first time I put this on, I want to go straight out there and get started. She’d worried it wouldn’t fit, but I’d had a fitting and everything, and I told her, these tailors know what they’re doing. So I waited until the morning. First I took the jacket and laid it on the bed, then the shirt, and finally the trousers. I left the tie hanging on the peg. Then I put them on, trousers, shirt, jacket and then the tie, well, my goodness, I had to ask Edna to help me with that. All fingers and thumbs, I was. It was the nerves, I said to myself, just the nerves, perfectly normal. It was the first proper job I’d had, you see, since I’d been demobbed. All those other places I’d worked, you couldn’t call them a proper job. I was still shaking when I kissed Edna goodbye and went off to join the rest of the band. And then when I was actually standing there, at the front of that fine bunch of men, bass drum strapped to my chest, sticks in hand, I was still shaking, until I struck the first beat and we began marching. And then I saw all those kids, and their parents, smiling and laughing, and the nerves were gone, just like that. I was steady as a rock, and I felt like I belonged, right there and then.
Aye, I remember that alright. One of the best memories of my life. I also remember four weeks ago, standing in the camp director’s office. He asked me to sit, but I said no, I’d rather stand. I’ve always stood, you see, when I expected bad news. I was standing in the barracks when they told us we were going to the front, although we didn’t know it was bad news at the time, in fact, the way they told us, you’d have thought it was good news, that we were the lucky ones, the ones getting the glory. And then I was standing in the trenches when I lost my first one, Archie it was, I can remember his name at least, although I’m ashamed to say I’ve forgotten most of the others. He just dropped in a heap, his legs gone from under him, his life gone, just like that. Some glory.
I was standing in the clerk’s office too, when they gave me my discharge papers, after it was all over, when he told me there were no jobs to be found for a musician like me, sorry, he said he was, but what with my ‘disability’, it was best if I forgot about the music and found myself a good solid factory job. Disability?, I wanted to shout, these hands didn’t shake before you sent me into hell, you bastard, but of course I didn’t say anything, just took the papers and walked out.
And then I was standing in the kitchen, years later, when they called me from the hospital and told me Edna had gone in the night. Although if I’m honest, and I’m ashamed to say this, but I’m not sure I can count that as bad news, it was almost a mercy after what she’d gone through those last few months. Still, it knocked me for six, not having Edna around, I think if it wasn’t for this job, the camp, the band, the kids, I’d have given up. I’ve no children myself, you see, it couldn’t happen for Edna and me, that was just the way it was, no point complaining about it.
I was standing in the doctor’s office too, what was it, three months ago now, when he told me why I’d started forgetting things all the time, well, he told me in all his fancy medical terms, but I knew already really, I was just trying to pretend I didn’t. How long have I got?, I asked him. Can’t say, he replied, some people last six months, others for years. He hadn’t understood. No, I said, I mean how long before I can’t march in the band, can’t play my drum? Oh, he said, well, it’d be best if you stopped now, or one or two months, maximum.
So that’s how I’d ended up standing in the boss’s office. I’d considered keeping it a secret, just carrying on regardless, but that wasn’t fair on the other lads, so I’d told him, and then I knew what he was going to tell me, that this would be my last season at the camp, that he was grateful for all my years’ service but it was time for me to take a well-deserved rest.
So, I guess you could say I’ve had a lot of bad memories in my life, too. But as I stand here, tying my tie for the last time, about to go out and march my last march, beat my last beat, I’m going to look around at all the happy people, grown-ups as well as children, they all love to see the band march and play, I’m going to look at all their faces, and when I’m done, and I’m put out to pasture in some godforsaken retirement home, I’m going to look back and think of those faces, and that’s what I’m going to remember.
Author Notes: This story was inspired by the postcard shown in the image.