Left before the end

The Hot Sardines played hot jazz to us all last night at the new old amphitheater at the Chautauqua Institution. The audience was younger and cooler than the images of the crowd you might have in your minds. In the vast great not indoor not outdoor just completed space of the amphitheater we moved along the wooden seats, gliding down bundled in every piece of clothing we had brought. It wasn’t cool. We weren’t cool. We were freezing! So we left that wonderful combo and their slinky singer and tapper and drove home.

The conversation in the car settled on opera. We all love opera. We told opera stories. We told Cleveland and opera stories. My Mother loved opera. She waited each year till the Metropolitan traveling production of the opera came to Cleveland. We went, my sisters and my mother and I. We went in our outfits made at home by loving hands. We followed the ushers in to the concert hall. We sat in the padded seats in the middle of the 4th row. My mother was not worried about my sisters and whether they would behave well during the operas. They loved operas, especially the last act when, with any luck, many people would die slowly and painfully by the sword. The last act always made me weep.

My mother was not worried about them. She was worried about me. She fussed over me. She sat me next to her. It was the first time I was out of the house since contracting whooping cough. I felt fine. I really did. Except, every now and then, I had to cough. The cough of whooping cough is the origin of the name of the disease, of course. The cough is very loud. It comes from deep in the diaphragm. It fills a concert hall.

The concert goers were very excited. The famed soprano, Joan Sutherland, was singing ‘Lucia di Lammermoor.’ They had come to hear this marvelous soprano sing the mad scene. bringing the rich voice to the high f. The audience became very still as the scene built. Every eye was on Lucia. Every ear was tuned to her. Except mine. I felt the cough building from the depths of my diaphragm. Just as she hit the high f I whooped. No one heard Joan. No one heard Lucia. They all heard me.

The ushers took me out, one at each arm. I was marched to the door. In shame. Alone. It wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t control it.

Last night we glided down to the edges of the seats high at the sides of the amphitheater. We left in the twilight of a Chautauqua evening under a Maxfield Parrish sky. We drove home. We talked opera. We talked Metropolitan Opera in Cleveland. We talked ‘Lend Me a Tenor.’ I didn’t tell this story.

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