Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Monday, December 10, 2012

Valve Oil and Brass

            Today’s post was on its way to my blog when I made the mistake of asking Gayle and my daughter Shannon to read it.  I thought it was funny and appropriately sarcastic, shedding light on the sea of insanity that we swim in these days.  Their impression was that it was “in poor taste,” so I deleted it.

            Believe me, I struggle with writing what I really want to write about regarding politics, social issues and our moral decline, but I also realize that people don’t need more negative stuff and if I step over the line, my wife will remind me. 

            I run these posts past her, since she is a woman and many readers are women.  What my buddies and I think is funny may offend others.  So Gayle said, “Why don’t you write something nice about Christmas.”  We still call it “Christmas.” 

            In a quick response to her request, I thought back on a Christmas that stands out in my memory.  As you know, the olfactory section of the brain is most closely related to memory.  Smell brings back images faster than any other sense.

            When I open my trumpet case, I smell the familiar odor of valve oil and brass.  That fleeting smell always reminds me of when I was a kid opening my first cornet case under the Christmas tree.  I was only six years old, but I’ll never forget that smell.

            Of all the gifts I received, that old horn stands out as the most memorable.  That memory lingers today.  Man, I wish I still had that cornet.

            A cornet differs from a trumpet in that it is more conical, which produces a softer, warmer sound.  I have a couple of flugelhorns that go even further in that “mellow” direction. 

            Christmas with the Higgins family was always centered on the birth of Jesus.  In our travels, Gayle and I have noticed that this event is sometimes celebrated more in third world countries than it is here in the U.S.

            Santa Claus also played a roll when I was a kid.  My dad always dressed up as Santa and, with only the lights from the Christmas tree gently lighting the scene, he would quietly enter the living room with a bag of gifts.

            My brother Tom and I, along with my mother and others, would watch the scene unfold from hiding places just feet away from Santa. Our hearts beat like jackhammers and we tried our best not to make noise.  It was something that Tom and I will never forget.

            Tom and I both carried on the tradition for our own kids, with the same Santa suit.  Now it’s the grandkids turn.  The sad part of the story is that I used to wear a pillow for a stomach.  Tom still does, but for years I’ve had trouble buttoning the suit without padding. 

            Christmas memories conflict so dramatically with what passes as Christmas today that I don’t get involved in the commercial aspects of it anymore.  We do our best to see family and friends, but avoid smiling snowmen.  In fact, Gayle and I once spent the holiday season on a cruise and Christmas day in Costa Rica to avoid the frenetic activities that have replaced the real “reason for the season.”

            When you subtract Christ from Christmas, what is left - a gift list, frantic shopping, depleting budgets, guilty reciprocations, a red-nosed reindeer, and colored lights? 

            As far as Gayle’s suggestion this morning to write about Christmas memories, all I need to do is open my old trumpet case and get a quick whiff of valve oil and brass.  That always does it.  


  1. Our childhood Christmas memories are very special and it's our duty to provide wonderful memories for our children and grand children. I find it difficult to find the right gifts for my grand children. We could relate to what our children wanted but the gap from our children to grand children, holy cow, I haven't a clue. I never liked the idea of gift certificates or cash, seems cold. I start out by questioning my kids for hints and go from there. Somehow it always seems to work out. It is all worth the struggle to witness Christmas morning and all the fun and happiness.
    Love to you both and MERRY CHRISTMAS.
    Jimmy Loar

    1. Thanks, Jimmy. And merry Christmas to you and your family.

  2. Gayle, let him write the "bad taste" stuff!!! Maybe it is not as bad as you would think! Maybe it is worse but we can put Ralph with Jimmy if it really all that bad!

    Some of the Old Testament sure doesn't qualify as "uplifting" Ask Job!

    Ralph, we heard Tim Zimmerman & the King's Brass Friday night at Mt. Hermon. There was some fantastic horn blowing with that group. 2 of the guys had over 20 years with military bands. All 9 are part of a Symphony Orchestra in the Mid-West. The guys on the trumpets were awesome!

    Next week Ralph Carmichael and his 16 piece "Big Band" will be at Mt. Hermon.

    1. Excellent musicians. I'm glad you had the chance to hear them. The Carmichael group should be good too.

  3. Merry Christmas Ralph. Much love to you & Gayle this year and many years to come.