THE PURPLE HEART

 

The soothing strains of Clair de lune drifted down the stairs, through the dining room and into the kitchen where Jim and Pat Cooper were preparing dinner. She had made a Chocolate Mousse for desert and had steaks under the broiler. He was putting finishing touches on the salad.

The music came from Christy’s room, their seventeen-year-old daughter and only child. She was practicing her violin for an up coming competition. The winner would be awarded a college scholarship.

To look at Christy, one would never guess she would be interested in the violin. She was a tomboy at heart. She wore her long, golden, brown hair in a ponytail and the only time she wore dresses was for church or special events at school. Otherwise she wore jeans, shorts or jogging suits. She had very large, brown eyes with long, thick lashes, which every woman who met or knew her, envied.

“ I love that song. Said Pat, She’s really good isn’t she? Do you think she has a good chance of winning?”

“As good as any, I would say.”

Most people thought Pat and Jim made an odd looking couple. He was twelve years her senior with salt and pepper hair. He wore thick, black-rimmed glasses and carried a corncob pipe between his teeth, which he seldom lit. He was a man of few words and at the age of forty-six, had been the president of Liberty Savings and Loan for twenty years. That’s where he met Pat. She was seventeen and working part time as a teller, going to school to learn the realty business. Now at the age of thirty-four, (Looking twenty four) she owned her own company. Her body was lean and trim and her ash blonde hair was cut in a pixie style. She had small hazel eyes that almost closed when she laughed. Unlike Christy, she dressed very feminine in frilly dresses and high-heeled shoes. Wherever she went, the aroma of expensive cologne lingered long after she was gone.

Well, that’s it. Said Pat, taking the steaks from the oven, if you’ll pour the coffee and ice Christy’s tea, I’ll go get her.”

The conversation at the dinner table eventually got around to the competition.

“Well, I’ve heard the others play at recitals and I think you have them all beat.” said Pat.

“Oh, I don’t know, Mom. Jason’s been working awfully hard. About the only thing he’s done lately is practicing his piano. He’s really good and so versatile.”

Jason Micelli lived four doors down the block. He and Christy were the same age and had grown up together. They were good friends, more like brother and sister they were so close. He had one sister, Jill, who was ten. There were no children in the neighborhood her age to play with and she simply idolized Christy, therefore made a pest of herself as often as possible.

Jason was a tall, slender young man with dark hair, eyes and complexion. He was of Italian descent.

Their school mascot was the Raven and both Christy and Jason belonged to a very elite group of students called The Raven Sensations. So elite in fact, that they had to pass an audition and be invited to join. The requirements were that you had to be able to either play a musical instrument, sing or dance and you had to do it quite well.

They were always in competition with other schools. There was the local, which included the surrounding counties, then the state, and if they were lucky enough to win state, there was the national.

Jason had been playing piano for seven years. His parents gave him lessons after he started picking out tunes by ear. He picked it up in a short time and even composed a little. He also put together a small band consisting of two guitars, a drum and his piano.

Tom Kenny and Joe Green played the guitars. 

Tom played well enough to get by but his specialty was dancing. He looked like a young Robert Redford and danced so well they nicknamed him, Limber Legs, then shortened it to, Limbo.

Joe played the guitar almost as well as Jason played the piano except he didn’t go in for the classical. He was a little guy, quite handsome, however, with brown hair and blue eyes. They called him Shorty but he was comfortable with it.

Wade Watson played the drums. Now there was a character. Picture Art Garfunkle with red hair and you have Wade. He was the comedian of the group, always cracking jokes, keeping everyone laughing. He was good on the drums but he liked to clown around with them and did a little comedy skit, also some stand-up comedy.

On the weekends when they didn’t have practice with The Raven Sensations or competition, they played for nursing homes and weddings.  They’d all pile in Wades old Chevy Station Wagon with their instruments, except for the piano of course, and off they’d go.

Occasionally, Christy went along. She and Tom did a little dance routine. Joe did a solo on the guitar, Wade did his comedy, the band played requests and they put on a nice little show. One day while loading the instruments into the wagon, everyone noticed that Wade had put decals all over the drums. They were purple hearts, pierced with silver arrows.

“Why in the world did you put purple hearts, of all things, on the drums?” asked Joe.

“Well, sissy had them laying around the house for months and I got this brilliant idea. We need a name for the band and I thought we could call ourselves The Purple Hearts or The Silver Arrows or The Pierced Hearts. I kind of like The Purple Hearts myself, it’s different. What do you guy’s think?”

After some debate, they all agreed with Wade. They would call themselves The Purple Heart Band because, said Jason, they were willing to go above and beyond the call of duty when it came to pleasing their audience.

Jason’s parents were Mick and Rona Micelli. Mick was Jim’s age and an older version of Jason. Tall, dark and handsome, friendly and out going. He owned an Italian restaurant called The House of Rona. When he first started the business, Rona did all the cooking but the business grew rapidly and they could afford to hire a chef plus a salad maker and a baker. Now Rona stayed busy with the home and her volunteer work at the hospital. She was quiet and reserved until she got to know someone, then she talked non-stop. At the age of forty-two her black hair showed specks of gray and her petite frame showed a hint of the beginning of the middle age spread.

“You are just as versatile as Jason.” Said Pat.

“ I meant he’s versatile on the piano, Mom. He can play anything. All I play is classical and he wants to win really bad.”

“Well, does that mean, you don’t?”

“No, I think it would be great. It’s just my personal opinion that Jason is better than me.”

The doorbell rang.

“That’s probably Jill, Christy said with a sigh, I’ll get it.”

She opened the door and was surprised to see Jason.

“Oh, hi. I thought you were Jill. Come on in.”

“I didn’t interrupt your dinner, did I?”

“No, we were just talking about you and the competition, in fact.”

“Oh, the dreaded competition. Well just five more days and it will be over. I’ll be glad, won’t you?”

“I sure will. What are you up to?”

“Some of the gang’s meeting at Dawson’s for ice cream. I thought I’d see if you wanted to go.”

“Hum; mom’s made some of her famous mousse I’d have to pass up. But, then Dawson’s has some mighty good ice cream, so yeah I’ll go. Just let me go tell mom and dad.”

“ I’ll go along and say hi.”

Pat and Christy went shopping for a gown, as the competition was to be a formal affair. Pat picked out a frilly pink gown and had Christy try it on. She knew she wouldn’t like it and when she came out from the dressing room and looked in the mirror she said, “Oh mom, this is awful.”

“What’s wrong with it? I think it’s lovely.”

“On you it would be. Please mom, this isn’t me. Please let me pick one for myself.”

“Be my guest.” Pat answered in an irritable tone.

Christy looked over her choices and picked out a white gown with a straight skirt. It had tiny diamonds of metallic, gold, brocade sparsely placed here and there. The bodice was plain white and free of the gold except for a tiny row around the plunging neckline and the straps that went over the shoulders and crossed in the back.

When she emerged from the dressing room, Pat got a lump in her throat and tears burned her eyes.

“It’s elegant, she managed to say, just elegant. I have a gold necklace and earrings that will go just perfect with that dress. You look so sophisticated, so grown up, so beautiful.”

“Gosh mom thanks.” Christy replied, a little embarrassed, a little proud.

“I have to admit, you did a much better job than I did. You are just gorgeous. Now, to the shoe department.”

“Mom, I have that pair of white pumps you bought last Easter. I’ve only worn them once. Don’t you think they will go with the dress? They’re comfortable at least.”

“I was thinking something gold but maybe you’re right, it could be too much gold.”

The day of the competition finally arrived. Everyone was in a nervous dither, especially Pat. She fussed over Christy’s hair half of the morning and finally decided on a French twist with a long, spiral of a curl at each temple.

“How do you like it?” she asked.

“I like it, it makes me look sophisticated. Which I’m not.”

Pat placed the gold necklace around Christy’s neck. It was a delicate gold chain with a small, filigree butterfly. The earrings were matching butterflies.

“Your dad gave this to me on our first anniversary. I think it’s beautiful but it’s not my type of jewelry. You know me; I prefer something a little showier. So, it’s yours now.”

“What will dad say?”

“He’ll be pleased as punch to see you wear it. That is if he even remembers it.” She added laughingly.

“It’s beautiful, so delicate. Dad has good taste. Thank you.”

“AHEM!”

“Oh, sorry mom. You have good taste too, when it comes to you anyway. You always look good. I’ve seen the way the men turn and look when you walk by.”

“Well, that’s not much of a compliment. Most men will turn and look at anything in skirts, but thank you anyway.”

Pat chose a lavender, blue, gown with an A line skirt and spaghetti straps, with a Bolero type chiffon jacket. She accessorized with three strands of pearls, pearl stud earrings and an evening bag embroidered with tiny seed pearls.  

When Jim turned his car into the parking lot of the university, where the competition was being held, Christy saw Jason, Tom and Wade standing around the entrance. She wished they would go on in. She felt good about the way she looked and wanted to make a grand entrance.

It was not to be.

Jason saw Christy walking up the sidewalk with her parents but he didn’t recognize her at first. He had seen her in formal attire before but it had always been some frilly thing that Pat had picked for her and she looked awkward and out of place.  Now, as she walked up to him, he was floored.

“Is this you, Christy?” was all he could manage to say.

Christy took an elegant pose and held out her hand as though to be kissed and said in a haughty voice, “Christina; if you please.”

Jason responded, took her hand and kissed it, totally mesmerized. He had fallen head over heels in love.

Wade bent over with laughter, slapping himself on the knee and without a word turned and walked inside, dragging Tom with him. “They’re finally getting it, he said to Tom, what everyone else has known all along.”

Christy noticed the change in Jason’s eyes as he looked at her and thought she could look into those eyes forever.

Jason held out his arm for her to take and they walked proudly into the university with Pat and Jim close behind.

Pat could feel the magic in the air and told Jim that it would not be long before Christy would be on his arm and he would be marching her down the aisle.

She gave Christy and Jason a hug before they went back stage and wished them both the best of luck.

Mick, Rona and Jill were already in their seats and Pat and Jim squeezed in beside them.

The judges were in their places. They consisted of, the music professor from the university, two previous winners, the conductor of the university orchestra and a local D.J.

The students were to perform in alphabetical order, which put Christy pretty close to first. When it came her turn, she walked quite regally out on to the stage.  Although it was not her personal favorite, she honored Pat’s request and played Clair de lune. She played it perfectly and received the first standing ovation of the day. She was overjoyed and gave a most gracious bow.

Pat and Jim were so proud they both had tears in their eyes.

When Jason’s turn came he, like Christy, walked tall and proud out on stage. The people who had heard him play at recitals and with the Raven Sensations began clapping and chanting, Jason! Jason! Jason!

He decided to play a medley and began with Nocturne in E flat by Chopin, working his way into a very fast Tico Tico and ending with 12th Street Rag. It brought the house down, so to speak.

The students who were left to perform lost heart because they knew they didn’t have a chance.

Rona and Mick were very proud and Jim gave Mick a pat on the back saying, “congratulations” even before the winner was announced.

When it came time to announce the winner, Dean Watson stepped on stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, he said, I will keep this brief. We have had a grand time here today. Never, have I seen so much talent. I think you will all agree with me that each and everyone who performed here today is a winner. Unfortunately, we can have only one and the judges have come to a unanimous decision. Ladies and gentlemen, that winner is; Jason Micelli!”

As Jason walked out on stage, everyone began clapping and chanting again. When they composed themselves, Jason gave a short speech, thanking the university for the scholarship and his friends and family for their support.

By the time the competition was over, it was almost dinnertime. Mick had made arrangements far in advance to close the restaurant for a private party in honor of the winner, whoever it may be, and their family and friends. He was almost certain it would be either Jason or Christy. He also made arrangements for the chef to prepare a dinner of Lasagna and Fried Chicken with all the side dishes and deserts and for the waitresses to serve.

After dinner he made an announcement.

“ My dearest friends. Rona and I can’t begin to tell you how very proud we are of our son and how much we appreciate all of you being here tonight to help us celebrate. We have a surprise gift for Jason but it is to big to bring inside so, we would like for everyone to follow us out into the side parking lot.”

When they got to the parking lot, there was something huge under a tarp. Mick, all smiles and quite proud of himself, asked Jim and two other men to help unveil the surprise.

When they removed the tarp, there sat an old school bus. It had been painted silver and on either side, in huge purple letters, it read, THE PURPLE HEART.

Mick was beside himself. “ It was supposed to say THE PURPLE HEART BAND! You can’t get anyone to do anything right these days. Oh, well never mind, I’ll have it taken care of. Come see the inside.” he said to Jason.

The inside was painted a light purple. Three bunks had been installed. One at the very back and one on either side, with plenty of storage space under each. Behind the drivers seat was an apartment-sized refrigerator that ran either on batteries or electricity. On the other side there was a small table with three chairs. The windows had bamboo shades and the carpet was the color of the bamboo.

Jason was speechless.

“ Now you and the boys can go to your gigs in style.” Said Mick.

“ I don’t know what to say, mom, dad, except thanks, it’s too much.” Jason said as he gave both parents a big hug.

The boys in the band all got busy and sent out fliers to every club in the state. They would play for birthdays, weddings, picnics and fairs. It was not long until they were swamped with work.

Pat and Jim gave Christy the choice of going to work at the bank, learning the reality business from Pat or finding something on her own.

“ All I am interested in is making as much money as I can over the summer. Because; dear parents, in the fall, I plan to go into nurses training.

I have already applied and been accepted at St. Andrews Hospital. So, what kind of pay do you offer?”

Pat and Jim looked at each other in surprise.

“ Honey, you never gave us a clue that you wanted to be a nurse. Said Jim. We just assumed you would go on with your music, perhaps becoming a teacher. This is quite a surprise.”

“ Well, I didn’t know what I wanted until just recently. I’ll keep up with my music and learn all I can. In the meantime, I have a couple of kids wanting lessons. I can do that on weekends and in their homes, to save you all the screeching.”

“ Yes, we’ve had our share of the screeching. Laughed Pat. But seriously, Hon, don’t you know we will help pay your tuition?”

“ Of course, mom, but I want to help. I don’t want you to do it all.”

Jim put his arm around Pat’s waist and said, “ Come here, you gorgeous woman and let me thank you for giving me such a beautiful and wise daughter.”

“ And I thank you for the same.” she replied.

“ Oh, you two! I’m getting out of here so you can be alone.”

Christy went to work for the Liberty Savings and Loan at one of the branch offices where they just happened to have an opening. She would have three weeks orientation.

Jason and the band toured the state. They were even hired to play the state fair.

They didn’t get home often but when they did, he and Christy made up for lost time, spending every minute together, talking over plans. When the fall rolled around and it was time for school, Jason proposed marriage. Christy accepted. He told her his plans had been changed. He had thought most of his life to be a professional musician but that would require a lot of travel. Now he wanted to make a home for Christy and have children more than anything so he was changing his major to business management. Possibly go to work for his dad and eventually take over or start a restaurant of his own and give the old man some competition.

Four years passed during which time they saw each other as often as possible.

After graduation, Christy went to work for St. Andrews. Specializing in pediatric nursing.

Jason went to work for his dad, doing everything from sweeping the floor to running the dishwasher and playing the piano each evening for the dinner crowd.

They both saved their money. It was their plan to buy a house before they were married.

When they had saved enough for a down payment, plus furnishings, Pat helped them find a nice, two bedroom, bungalow in a nice neighborhood. Unbeknown to them, Jim and Pat bought the house and sold it to them at a reduced price, knowing they would refuse the help if they offered.

They marched down the aisle on a beautiful Sunday morning with their family and all their friends in attendance. The reception was held at The House of Rona. Their parents wanted to go together and send them to Paris for their honeymoon but they preferred to spend it in their new home, so, they were given the money instead.

After three years of marriage, Christy gave birth to beautiful twin boys. She left the work she loved at the hospital to stay home and be a mother.

Mick retired and left Jason in charge of the restaurant.

Jim retired from the bank and helped Pat sell houses.

Wade, Tom and Joe all married and had families.

Every Saturday night after closing hours, they meet at The House of Rona, play music and talk of days and nights when they toured in The Purple Heart.

The Purple Heart is still going above and beyond the call of duty.

It sits in the back yard of Christy and Jason’s home, under the shade of a huge Elm tree. It has been converted into a playhouse for the twins and their little sister. They load their toy instruments and pretend they are going on tour. Occasionally, they play a concert for a select group of devoted fans, gathered around the picnic table. Christy, Jason, Pat, Jim, Rona and Mick. And, of course, their Aunt Jill who followed in the footsteps of her idol and is now Head Nurse in the pediatric department of St. Andrews.

Life is sweet for the Cooper’s and the Micelli’s.

Ó Lora Cox

GUEST BOOK

 

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