Mrs. B

Several years ago an old friend of ours lay dying in a hospital bed. She was 92. Her family was gathered around. I was there, too, holding her hand and talking to her. Her name was Sarah Brunetto. We called her “Mrs. B.”

At one point a little Filipina nurse came into the room. She stood off to the side and just watched us all for a bit. She didn’t say anything. She looked like she wanted to belong to the family. Everyone in the room was being very loving at the time. After a few minutes the nurse left without saying a word.

Later that night I was the last to leave Mrs. B’s room. As I stood in the hallway the little nurse reentered the room. She didn’t see me.

She fixed up the room and adjusted Mrs. B’s bedding. Then, still thinking she was alone with Mrs. B, she took Mrs. B’s hand and gave her a kiss on the forehead. Then she said very quietly, so no one else would hear, “I love you, Mrs. B.”

The Restaurant Gig

I was nineteen years old, playing in a wine cellar. I’d spent two hours bringing the audience to this point — chatting them up, telling stories about the composers, mixing in a Classical Gas here and a Jobim number there.

Everything was set for the knockout. The waiters had stopped serving, the cash register had stopped cha-chinging, and a full house of patrons had put down their forks and stopped talking to hear me finish burning through Leyenda.

In those days, playing Leyenda, I used to picture a great wheel rolling across the Spanish countryside in darkness, with the landscape periodically lit by a flash of lightning when the big chords were struck.

So there I was, racing across Andalucia with the audience in the palm of my hand, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a sweet little old lady shuffling toward me. She had a kind smile on her face, one hand holding her cane and purse, the other hand extended toward me.

Now she was right in front of me. I still had a minute to go in the piece, but she wanted to give me a tip right then and there. She began nudging my right hand with her own outstretched hand, smiling sweetly all the while.

Still furiously rolling through the arpeggios and banging out the lightning, I motioned with my head to indicate where the tip jar was, but she just kept smiling and nudging until she finally separated my fingers from the strings.

I gave up, smiled at her, and opened my hand to receive the offering. She smiled even more sweetly and dropped five dimes into my hand. Then she wished me a good night and slowly made her way out of the room.

I couldn’t think of anything to say or do, so I just put my guitar down, thanked my audience, and wandered outside for a walk under the stars, wondering what I had learned.