The magic flute

Last week a thought occurred to me. I should get out my flute. Not only would it be nice to play again after a few years of not playing, it might give me a burst of creativity. I’m always looking for ways to encourage my creative spirit including walks, sketching or reading. However, in my advanced age, I promptly forgot about playing the flute.

Actually after moving, the flute got tucked away along with my music. At our former home, my flute was out on the piano and I’d walk by and stop to play. We donated our piano to our kids’ elementary school before we moved.

I was reading through blogs yesterday when I ran across a mouse playing a flute in a story on Nuggets of Gold called Moonlight Sonata. A note went off in my head. Yes, I want to get my flute out — and music.

I remembered where I squirreled away my music in the guest room dresser. My flute was hidden in my closet. My favorite flute music is falling apart, but still readable. I also found piano music for the Phantom of the Opera and Wizard of Oz. The good thing with the flute is that it’s in the key of C and I can play piano music easily — at least the melodies.

My mom played flute since she was a child and took me to lessons when I was around 10 years old. I played her beautiful silver flute at lessons and practiced with it. She got the flute from her high school flute teacher as a teen. When I was 11 years old, she gave me her flute. Her friends asked why she would give a child such a valuable instrument and she took it back. My parents bought me a flute appropriate to play at school when I joined Band.

When I turned 30, I asked my mom for the flute. She said no even though she hadn’t played it after taking it back from me two decades before. I was planning to make a leap and join our church choir. A friend of mine played flute in choir and suggested I give it a try. I could have played with my old band instrument, but it sounds tinny and is hard to play compared to the rich tone and ease of Mom’s silver flute.

Anyway, that was my excuse — also I was scared. Buying a flute at that time wasn’t even an idea we could consider.

I asked mom at age 40 and again at 50. The answer was always no. Sometime in my early 50s she told me she wanted me to have her flute. On one of my visits, she insisted I take it home on the plane. I held on to it for dear life on the flight back to Palm Springs.

My son and I practiced Christmas Carol duets each year, me on the flute and him on piano. I’d go through phases where I’d practice daily and then stop and start again.

Then the phone calls began. Mom had moved into assisted living. When she was in her 80s she wanted her flute back. I tried to explain that I was enjoying playing and I knew she wouldn’t play her flute or even open its case. She assured me she would and wanted to practice for a concert. Then she’d forget all about it and months later she’d call again about the flute.

I think in the back of my mind, I was hurt when she took the flute away from me as a child. I overheard her telling a friend that I was getting my sticky peanut butter and jelly fingers all over it — which was not true. I also felt that it was wrong to hang onto a possession for thirty or forty years and not let someone enjoy it.

My aunt, her little sister, had a similar story with china inherited from their family. My mom gave it to her little sister (my aunt) before she moved from her home, but once in assisted living kept calling to get her china back. There was obviously no room in the assisted living studio to display the china or store it.

Looking back, I wonder if I should have returned the flute for a few years to appease my mom. I think she was attached to these possessions because they reminded her of her earlier years and she saw them as her identity.

In any case, I have the flute and music out and it brings me joy to play and connects me to Mom in a good way, that I am able to enjoy her beautiful instrument and her musical talent. RIP.

Do you think people hold onto possessions because they see them as part of their identity or youth? If yes, what other things do people hang onto for that reason?

46 thoughts on “The magic flute

  1. I don’t think that at the end of her life she really wanted it back, I think she just sporadically remembered it and talked to you about playing it. People do want to have familiar things around them for comfort or nostalgia n

  2. I’m so glad for you that you’re choosing to get the instrument back out and play it for your own enjoyment. Music, and having the skills to share it with others, or just for yourself brings such joy. I’m sorry our mom chose to hold the beauty and magic of the flute from you for so long. Perhaps as a child I understand as my kids worked their way up to better instruments throughout their band years as well. However, as an adult- denying you the ability to play a lovely instrument- that is hard to understand. I think there’s no need to feel any guilt whatsoever EA. Personally I believe you should have had the flute in your life all along. Enjoy it!

    • Your words make me feel better. Mom had dementia in her later years when she was calling me for the flute back. But I don’t understand the prior decades.

  3. I loved this…it made me smile about a ‘note’: “A note went off in my head. Yes, I want to get my flute out — and music.” Yay for all of that…remembering you mom, your music and allowing yourself to return to the joy. I bet you’re right about your mom’s attachment to the flute…it carried memories that were probably magical and musical for her…reminding her of who she once was. I think some tangible items become touchpoints and anchoring tools for folks with dementia and Alzheimer’s. My mom had fixations on her artwork. Maybe there’s a thread there about “creating” for your mom and the flute carried that goodness. Most of all, I’m with Deb…play your flute. I suspect your mom’s listening and enjoying. xo! 🥰

    • Thank you! I do think Mom had an attachment to her flute and her identity was tied up in it. Especially after she had dementia and kept calling to get it back. I felt guilty keeping the flute but frustrated, too. My favorite flute book is missing pages but I was able to find the missing J.S. Bach pieces online. For a few dollars I was able to download and print them out. I’ve also discovered I’m rusty, but I’m enjoying practicing! I hope the neighbors enjoy it too 😅

  4. I have similar stories of my mom’s possessions but like you said when their short term memories fade those long ago memories still remain. I look forward to hearing you play one day.

    • They do get fixated on possessions that don’t make much sense to us. We miss seeing you and Jan. I have quite a lot of practicing to do before I let anyone hear me play!

  5. I’m combining your posts and mine… my next one is about hard things that happen and how they may be agents of good. What if God orchestrated your mama holding into the flute as long as she did because it made it possible for you to have it now. What if He saved it from being lost in a move or stolen or something, because she had it safely tucked away. Things that make you say ”hmmm”. Haha! Great post, my talented friend!

    • That is such a great perspective. Also thanks for your kind words. 💕 Yes, it was tucked away where nobody could find it. When she told me to take it, I had to search her house for it, and she didn’t remember where it was!

    • Thank you! That’s great your daughters play the flute, too. My son has played piano since he was five. His girlfriend’s family of seven siblings all play stringed instruments including viola and cello. Two are professional musicians in the Bay area. I love hearing them play at Christmas. Music is such a treat!

  6. I have not held on to many possessions from my parents. When my mom passed away, my father gave a beautiful day bed (from France given to my parents by a dear friend) to her best friend. Sometimes I regretted not having this but as I got older I find I am happy with the wire rooster hanging in the kitchen with the pretty glass eggs (from parents). Being able to play the flute is lovely. I always wanted to learn to play the piano.

    • The wire rooster with glass eggs sounds like a nice keepsake. I tried piano and I couldn’t coordinate both hands and the treble and bass clefs. Flute was easier for me.

      • Yes, it is. And I have my mom’s handwritten recipes. The day bed was more for one person very low to the ground given to my mom by a famous model named Suzy Parker who she worked with when she was a stylist for photographers, and for House and Garden Magazine in NY. Suzy gave it to my mom as she was my god mother.

      • That’s so special to have your mom’s hand written recipes. My mom had a book of hers and I have no idea where it went. What a cool godmother and gift!

      • Yes, my parents were pretty interesting folks. With all the stories they had, it was no wonder I ran off to NYC after college! But they were both native New Yorkers. Thanks. Enjoy the day. Very hot here.

  7. What a beautiful connection with your mom as you played yesterday. It reminds me that our relationship with our parents goes on long after they pass. The back and forth of the flute over all the years maybe has some deeper significance than just the object?

    And I love the creative inspiration! Thanks, EA!

    • Thank you for saying that our relationship with our parents goes on long after they pass. I’m learning my way through this. I have no idea why she wouldn’t want me to enjoy the flute for decades. Her nature was normally loving and giving. My best guest is that the flute was her tangible reminder of her years as a singer and musician. She was a soloist at Presbyterian churches around the state by invitation and she had roles with the Seattle Opera and at the Seattle Center Playhouse.

  8. Oh, this makes my heart smile. So glad that I could help bring you back to playing the flute again and feeling the connection with your mom. So special! <3
    I know that people with dementia go back to their past a lot and I am sure that was why she kept asking you for the flute, but I wouldn't feel bad about not giving it back. For as others have said, its something she probably quickly forgot that she asked you about it. Plus there is the possiblity that if you would have given it back, she may have lost it. I like to think that she is smiling down at you and enjoying your sonata. 🙂 Thanks for sharing my link.

  9. That’s such a good question. What things have the ability to comfort your identity as you age? I love that you have your mother’s flute and the music to comfort you. What a gift. I think you hit it on the head when you said maybe it was part of her identity. So astute. I think I will always want to be surrounded by images of the people I love, my wedding ring, my favorite books, a little bud vase my mom bought me when antiquing, and maybe my tandem bike repurposed as a wall decoration. I don’t know. I suppose our ability to let the things of this world go might enable us to move more freely into the next phase…it’s a mystery. Hugs, C

    • Thank you for your astute comments. I love this, “our ability to let the things of this world go might enable us to move more freely into the next phase…” Adding a bit of music to my daily routine feels amazing!

  10. People hang on to things to remind them of who they were, and sometimes have trouble realizing they’re no longer that person anymore

  11. I’m glad you didn’t give your mother back the flute. It could have got lost. She could have given it to someone else in a rash moment or in confusion. I think people hold onto things that contain memories and maybe she never shared to you the real reasoning behind keeping it for herself. Maybe she always dreamed it would be her second or third act, and even at the end wanted another crack and making her flute dreams come true. Whatever the reason, I think you did the right thing.

    • Thank you for your supporting what I did. I wrestled with guilt because I got feedback from other family members that I should just let her have it. You’re correct, she could have given it away to someone else or had it stolen. I remember my brother and his wife if I had a beautiful opal and diamond necklace that Mom wore every day. I didn’t have it and they couldn’t find it in her assisted living room.

      • My mother worked in an assisted living home when I was a small child and the residence were always trying to give her things. She knew better (they were always supposed to check with family first), but not everyone is that honest.

      • I had a friend whose mom was in assisted living years ago close by. My friend would find comforters and things missing. She told them she’d be there every single day to check and it stopped.

Leave a Reply