Today at Boppy’s funeral, we met many people, some Donna, Sonata and the rest of the family knew, others were from life before our crew. We heard many stories. From Mindi Mercer via email to Donna, This story was never verbalized since his death, but quite special and easy to share with you.
Pappy, You Will Be Missed
It was a little band room on the outer edge of a small middle school in rural Jackson County Tennessee, furnished with old metal folding chairs and even older music stands, and filled with students from fifth grade through high school, all of whom it took to make a roster for the band an entire county shared. There weren’t enough kids for the schools to each have their own. Still, when the new band director walked in, a little short and with full eyebrows, he seemed bigger than life in his tiny surroundings. His name? Fowler Stanton, but we all called him “Pappy”.
We knew he’d been in the service, but it was his demeanor and passion for music that made it evident right away that his actual age belied the strength of heart and mind under that mop of silver hair. He didn’t seem to notice or care that we were just a rag tag bunch of kids from the middle of nowhere that knew nothing about what an actual band should look or sound like. He never seemed to consider that our options or potential were as limited as our experiences or funding. He just assumed we could do what we set out to, and then so did we.
None of us knew what we were doing. We were mostly just looking for something else to do in a town with very few options, but he didn’t care. He hauled us to band camp at nearby Tennessee Tech, his alma mater, anyway, and hauled our behinds out of bed at the most ungodly hours to march around the field and practice in various rooms around campus all week. There were more than a few grumbles on our parts and a little astonishment that the schedule that was wearing our young selves out didn’t even seem to phase this man that was decades older than even our oldest members.
He wasn’t one to take any nonsense, but he hardly ruled his band like his military background might imply. He was tough, but always fair, and he was interested in more than what we could do or be for the band itself. He wanted us carry the new found confidence and can do attitude he instilled into everything we did. Thankfully many of us did. He also didn’t put much stock in traditions, at least ones that no longer needed to apply, and made his decisions based only on a persons ability alone instead of their circumstances.
A few months after he came, he decided we would reorganize the positions within the band. There I was, as a 5th grader one of the youngest in the band, and so pretty low on the totem pole. As I held my own trumpet I looked up the row to the boy who was first trumpet and a high school senior. Even knowing how Pappy was, I thought surely even he wouldn’t elevate a lowly 5th grader to a position of authority, no matter how minor, over a senior in high school. He did though. Not only did he make me first trumpet, he made me leader of the brass section as well. He then proceeded to teach me the trombone, baritone, and french horn as well, and had me assist with beginning band even though my age would’ve placed me in that same category, regardless of ability, in most programs.
It may seem like a small thing, in a small place no one has heard of and most will likely never see, but it meant the world to me. From then on, I looked at every situation with a “Why not?” attitude that has opened so many doors in life. Every single day I use that “Who says I can’t?” lesson I learned so many years ago to chase my dreams, dreams I may not have had without him giving me faith that I could do anything I set my mind to, regardless of my situation or the status quo.
Obviously, I adored Pappy. He was like a surrogate grandfather, and so his good opinion held great weight with me. I will never forget the day I thought I had lost it. A few of us had been at school after hours doing something for the band, and we got bored and did something silly. It wasn’t horrendous, but it was irresponsible and immature, which is often the case with kids. As is also often the case with kids, we were clueless and were found out. He knew what we had done, but not who had done it. That afternoon, as he stood there in front of the entire group, letting us know that he knew and he was disappointed, I felt my stomach drop and then churn with that unbearable queasiness of guilt. I went home and cried myself to sleep that night, feeling just horrible. I had let him down after all he’d done and had violated the trust he had placed in me when no one else would’ve given me the chance to do half the things he knew I could do. I had to make things right.
The next day, I felt the dread of what I had to do all day long. The clock would alternate from flying and drawing me closer to the moment of truth, to moving like molasses and dragging out that awful feeling of not knowing. Likewise, my mind flipped from wanting to hurry up and get it over with to mentally trying to will time to slow down and put it off just a little longer. When the time finally came, band was over and everyone was gone from the band room. I walked up to Pappy, teary eyed and with a trembling lip, and muttered “It was me. I’m sorry.” while half holding my breath for his response. Then he did something I found remarkable at the time.
He didn’t yell, or grill me for the names of my cohorts, or even lecture me for letting him down. He said “It’s okay. Thank you for telling me the truth.” and patted my shoulder. He even smiled to let me know it would be alright. Looking back, I think he must’ve seen it on my face from the first that I was guilty. I think instead of forcing me to fess up then and there, he gave me a chance to do the right thing on my own. By doing that, he taught me a life lesson about stepping up and taking responsibility, and with his response, he taught me how to be gracious when someone else lets you down.
As you can see, while he might have been there to teach us to read music and to play the instrument of our choice, he taught us so much more. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t stick with playing, and that after he moved on to another school that I only wrote him one letter of thanks while in high school. I wish there had been many more. I will always be thankful, however, that the life lessons stuck, as did the love of music in all forms that he helped nurture.
In short, I will always be grateful that he walked into that little room and into all of our lives. Now that he has moved on to a better place, I can only marvel at the man and the vast number of people who were better for knowing him in his eighty-eight years on this earth. I think it is safe to say that while we have lost an angel, heaven has most assuredly gained one.