The Sounds of Love

By the time I was 6, my parents thought there might be something wrong with me. By age 12, they were certain.

By then, I was playing in an oom-pah band, in our rustic little village 30 miles outside Chicago. There wasn’t much history there, just a smidgen of German heritage, and some of the shops had hints of rough-hewn timber embedded in stucco.

So there I was, a seventh-grader playing lead horn in an oom-pah band, dressed in shorts, suspenders and a little cap with a turkey feather in it.

“Isn’t it too soon for German music?” I remember complaining.

I mean, we were only a couple of decades after Hitler, and here we are at some happy-go-lucky fall festival honoring Bavarian culture.

“Just shut up and play,” the leader said, a very totalitarian response.

Oom pah-pah, oom-paaaaah…

Oom pah-pah, oom-paaaaah…

The crowd reaction was meh at best.

“Isn’t it too soon?” I heard a father mumble between songs.

Oom pah-pah, oom-paaaaah…

The worst thing about being in an oom-pah band? They want you to piston up and down as you play, buckling slightly at the knees on every other beat – up and down, up and down, alternating between the root chord and the 5th.

But we could never get the hang of that. We looked like a broken train set.

See, in a traditional oom-pah formation, there are maybe six players straight across — a pair of strumpets, a slide trombone, a snare. Strangely, no tuba, usually the heart and soul of an oom-pah band. Instead, a couple of clarinets.

The clarinets were there for one simple reason: to keep the crowds down. For, there is no more unpleasant sound than a clarinet, poorly played.

Honestly, I’ll take a lute over a clarinet anytime. Or a chainsaw. A whoopee cushion. A pundit. Even Ariana Grande.

And sadly, there was no accordion. You’d think a top-notch oom-pah band like us would spring for an accordion, right?

But this was the late-’60s, the glory days of the electric guitar, and you weren’t about to get a kid to take up the accordion. It’s a miracle there were even strumpets and clarinets. Obviously, America was in steep decline. Even baton twirlers were mostly extinct.

Anyway, I flashed back to all this the other day as I saw my son Smartacus standing in the kitchen blowing softly on a daddy long-legs spider.

And I immediately thought to myself: “You know, there’s something not quite right with that kid.”

Oom pah-pah, oom-paaaaah…

To his credit, Smartacus doesn’t try to hide his fears. I’ll hear a yip from the bedroom, and I’ll think to myself: “Damn spiders. They’ve cornered him again.”

Me, I really like spiders. They are great engineers. Terrific work ethic.

In fact, I will often grab a Kleenex and gently capture an intruding spider – softly, with my heart surgeon hands. I will then release it back into the hundred-acre wood behind the house.

Of course, if I’m in a hurry, I’ll just smush it like everybody else.

I’ll give Smartacus credit though. At least he got close enough to the spider to blow on it. In that sense, he was confronting his fears.

“Confront your fears!” I’m always nagging him.

“Even my sisters?”

“Dear gawd no,” I say.

Meanwhile, here’s another teachable moment: When Smartacus blew gently on that daddy long-legs, seduction filled the air. And the little spider fell instantly and unexpectedly in love.

I mean, who goes around blowing on spiders – warm little puffs of air flavored with gum, Popsicles, Raisonets, French fries, cookie dough, paella, onion dip, egg rolls, Dr Pepper – all the items a healthy young man like Smartacus eats for breakfast every day.

The flavor profile of those little puffs of air proved too much for the spider. Instead of retreating, the spider lunged for Smartacus — ”leaned in,” as the kids like to say — for a first kiss.

Of course, Smartacus yipped. I yipped a little too, and White Fang went on full alert. Dogs can sense when their masters are scared. She immediately hid under the dining room table.

That’s where we stand right now.

Honestly, things have gotten so bad around our house that God has started praying for us, rather than the other way around.

God’s prayer for us:

What’s become of that young man and his widowed father?

Please forgive their foolish ways.

And would someone clean their fridge?

Will anyone step up to watch over this these two goofs so that they might one day cope with the simplest of tasks?

Can they ever find the courage to march ahead, amid all the mayhem they seem to self-create.

Dear Lord, as one father to another…


There will be no oom-pah music at the Gin & Tonic Society’s summer bash on July 22. Yet, it is still sold out. Props to Eileen and John Madden for hosting this hoisting. Remember, past columns and books are available at More fun to come. Stay tuned.

13 thoughts on “The Sounds of Love

  1. From Oompah to daddy long legs, a delightful way to start a weekend. If God’s praying for you, who is He praying to? Mrs. God? Whatever….I know you and Smartacus and White Fang are all in good hands!

  2. Oompah band? All I remember from Middle school was the marching band…Ms. Bollyard? marching us around the parking lot and around and around the entrance…sorry I missed you in lederhosen…

    1. Her marching bands were so much better than Mr. Shaw’s. She’d have us play the 5th Dimension. He’d have us playing John Philip Sousa. Even her drum cadences were better. Funny what you remember.

  3. You’d take a lute? You know, the lute almost died out in England during World War II because many soldiers misunderstood the standing order to shoot all looters.

  4. You’re a real hoot! You make everything special by describing it your way! Keep writing and inspiring !

  5. In the mysterious and wonderfully resolving way music combines the most disparate sounds and thoughts, an oompa band may be the ultimate amen to a childhood. Spiders are a different kind of amen, since their facility for saying hello is only exceeded by the speed of their departure—if no web impedes it, that is. Ah, Summer:: all drifting thoughts…..and spider heaven. Amen.

  6. Ooom Pah ! I used to play every year at Merry Tuba Christmas (just google that) ~ !
    and no need to bother with kleenex for poor little spiders ~ they are very clean ~ just gently grab one skinny leg between 2 fingers and carry them outside ~ ~ ~

  7. “See, in a traditional oom-pah formation, there are maybe six players straight across — a pair of strumpets, a slide trombone, a snare. Strangely, no tuba, usually the heart and soul of an oom-pah band. Instead, a couple of clarinets.”

    A pair of *strumpets* — as musical instruments? especially for middle school boys???

  8. You’re still the cats meow………. You still got it.
    Thanks for putting a smile on my face:)

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