Buck Buck Nicole

I still remember the day she was born. Or some of it, at least. We were rousted out of bed in the middle of the night and loaded into the car. I vaguely remember walking up the stairs in my grandparents house; sleepy but knowing something big was happening. A couple of days later, we met her for the first time.

It’s not easy growing up with two older brothers, especially two as obnoxious as we were. But she took everything in stride, so eager to be part of everything. My brother and I invented an entire mythology where she was an alien from another planet and we even labeled an old carpet cleaner as the “Becca buster” machine. Honestly, we were awful. But she was always good, always looking out for us, always willing to shrug off whatever we’d dished out and join the latest escapade.

There’s another world out there where things turned out differently. She was smart and creative, once rewriting one of my stories into a better one. She was compassionate, providing outstanding shadowing to an autistic child for a long time. She once went to Paris on a work-study and told me about clinging to a tree to avoid being stampeded by a happy mob after France won the world cup. In this other world, she’s a successful lawyer, not rich or famous, but the kind of basic modest-pay legal work that keeps the entire system from collapsing. She has two kids of her own and looks after her mom. Two things those two worlds have in common: she is a doting aunt to her niece and nephew; and she continues to share with me a love of Doctor Who and Blake’s 7.

But she was in a horrible car accident where she was almost killed. The long-term back injury, exacerbated by a fall down the stairs, would haunt her for the rest of her life. The pain made her turn to medication and an electronic pain relief system worked briefly, during which she got a certificate to go into nursing support. But the electronic system failed and her insurance had lapsed, so it made life miserable for her. Then came the pseudotumor and various other things and her life for years had been a mess of medications, weight fluctuations and seizures. A bout of pneumonia a few years back almost finished her. She still managed to find happiness in the occasional trip or the latest episode of Doctor Who or sometimes just in a phone call. It had seemed that she was getting better lately, losing weight and taking control of the rebuilding of her flooded apartment. But on an awful Monday morning a little over a month ago, her heart stopped. She had said she had died three times before, only to be revived. This time, she couldn’t be.

The title comes from a story. When we were kids, we used to spend summers in Wisconsin, visiting my grandmother. One of our favorite events was the Wisconsin State Fair. During one of those visits, my sister got lost. We were looking all over for her when the announcer came on and said they had found a lost girl named “Buck-Buck Nicole”. That was Becca, crying and trying to say, “Rebecca Nicole”. She did love her middle name. Although, for a long time, the name she would take for herself was “Elizabeth Pandas Pretties”. It was odd because my mother had wanted to name her Elizabeth but my dad wanted Rebecca.

Wisconsin is also the site of one of my other favorite stories. Rebecca used to spend her afternoon on the patio of the farmhouse, doing these little one-girl plays that she would make up as she went. My grandmother, who was weak from heart disease, like to sit in the kitchen overlooking the patio and listen to these plays. Rebecca could go all day, with multiple characters. She had such an imagination.

A long time ago, I read an article by Mike Royko written after his friend John Belushi died at 33. He said he’d long known that life wasn’t fair, but it shouldn’t cheat that much.

Classical Music and Hockey

So a couple of week ago, the Nashville Predators advanced in the NHL playoffs. Among the congratulations they got was one from the city’s symphony orchestra.

And it took me back a bit …

The year was 1991 and I was finishing out my freshman year at Carleton. Carleton hosted many cultural events and speakers. And almost every year I was there, they would have a concert from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. This was a big deal, especially to a classical music lover like myself. The St. Paul Chamber Chamber was and is a world-class symphony; I had several of their performances on CD. This was a chance to see them for free!* That night they did Hayden’s 83rd Symphony (“The Hen”) and Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings and I fell in love with both pieces.

(*”Free” = after paying 30 grand in tuition.)

What I really remember, however, was their conductor, Hugh Wolff. Wolff was young and dynamic and conducted with verve, passion and flourish. My only prior experience with a major symphony had been the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which had the more staid pace that one usually associates with classical music. But Wolff — and his players — seemed like they were actually having a good time.

Anyway, there was something else going on at the time. The Minnesota North Stars were deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs and fighting Edmonton for their first ever appearance in the finals. The state was in the grips of a hockey fever (one that would extend into the baseball season when the Twins would go worst to first and beat my beloved Braves in the Greatest World Series Ever). That night, they were playing Edmonton and the series was tied at 1-1. After performing Haydn, Wolff went off, then came back. He picked up his baton, held it poised, then turned to the audience:

“First period, Stars 2, Oilers 0”

There were laughs and cheers. And then he brought the baton down and the orchestra launched into their next gorgeous performance. The Stars would beat Edmonton, but then fall to the Penguins in the finals. Two years later, they would move to Dallas. But it’s a fond memory of my time in college and a good reminder that a taste for classical music can come with a sense of fun and humor.