The kids in the band gave Cass and me the nicest gift you could imagine for our third wedding anniversary on May 25th. They bought us tickets to see the premier performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Schubert Theater in New Haven. In case you don’t know, the Schubert was where most Broadway shows tested their wings before opening in the Big Apple.
Even better, the kids provided free baby-sitting service, driving the hour each way to our apartment to take care of Jenn. Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice had certainly created a totally new genre of Music, called the Rock Opera. To some, sacrilegious and scandalous. To others, exciting and challenging. Count us in that second category, if you please. To this day, that was one of the best live performances we’ve ever seen, made all the more special by the gift of free tickets and babysitting. Believe it or not, that was our only night out together that school year, and the first time we had ever left Jenn with anyone, including our own parents. It shows the trust we placed in my students.
The remaining few weeks of school passed quickly, everyone caught up in the upcoming graduation ceremony rehearsals. The band performed a farewell concert in the park for the community, and I had a blast fronting the group on trumpet in what was to be my last bit of fun in Connecticut. In a picture taken prior to that performance, you could clearly see ‘Jeff is an A…’ chalked on the blackboard. I’d like to tell you it said‘Jeff is an Astounding teacher,’ but in truth, it said something entirely different, further attesting to the camaraderie this young teacher enjoyed with his even younger students!
Much to my displeasure, all faculty members were required to attend the formal graduation ceremony on the high school lawn. I suspect Mr. Bushy Eyebrows was afraid no one would show up without strict orders. I thought long and hard about whether to bother showing up. After all, what could they do, fire me? But Cass rightly advised me to fulfill my professional obligation, so I got in the car and drove the hour to school. Hey, what’s one more day, right? Even if it was a Sunday! I could handle it. But I’m afraid I couldn’t, as it turned out. The ceremony was long and boring, as all such ceremonies are. But finally, the caps flew into the air, and gowns were removed to reveal what was (or wasn’t) underneath, to the delight or horror of parents. I stood in the back row, watching it all unfold as if we were on a movie set and I was nothing more than a stunt man standing in for a lead character.
The kids were all hugging and laughing, and I found myself walking alone to the parking lot, observing from a distance. I caught sight of many of the Jazz Workshop members. None of them acknowledged my presence or my ultimate departure. I knew why. They must have known, as I did, that good-byes would be very difficult and painful. It was too happy a day to ruin with sadness. But it hit me like a ton of bricks. I would probably never see any of these kids again. Although separated in age and life circumstance, we had all grown so close. Of course, it couldn’t have been otherwise, could it? The more you share, the more you grieve when it’s gone. There I stood, next to my car, watching them all disappear into the proverbial sunset. It would have made a great ending to a movie.