Playing with the Toledo symphony

The wind blew a percussive bass into the microphones, soft cymbals in the breeze blew under my shirt and riffled my sheet music. Children called to each other, birds sang a descant, and dogs barked tenor harmonies. Behind and below me, the train shuffled like blocks rubbed against each other. As I reached the finale of my song, the whistles blew and the whole orchestra came together. Shortly after that, the umbrella fell to the side, the tip hat blew across the stage and my music stand wobbled like a late-night drunk. The clouds turned dark, threatening rain. But I sang on as nearby listeners applauded and vendors selling their photographs, quilts, bird houses, plants, baked goods, and jewelry, held onto their wares lest they blow away. As I walked the street after my performance, many said they had loved my music. I never get enough of that.

This was the Toledo Wednesday Street Market, which happens all summer in Toledo, Oregon, a lumber mill town built on hills so steep that when I dropped my red steel water bottle getting out of the car, it rolled almost all the way down to Main Street, acquiring a new scratched and dented look. There was no way I could catch it; I could only watch and hope it ran into something before it fell into a storm drain or got squashed by a car. From now on, I’ll look at its scars and remember Toledo.

Once upon a time, Toledo was a happening place, the county seat and the main port of call for boats traveling up Yaquina Bay. Today, things are a lot quieter. It’s not unusual to be the only person walking down Main Street, but the city fathers and mothers have done their best to dress up the town. In summer, huge baskets of pansies and other plants hang from poles and fences. New restaurants and shops have opened, along with the many antiques shops. Artists welcome visitors for gallery tours, and Sam BriseƱo, who makes magical metal sculptures, has scattered colorful benches on the downtown sidewalks. Click the City of Toledo link for a list of events planned throughout the year.

I have been singing in Toledo one Wednesday every summer for years, thanks to host Frank Jones. It could be raining and cold, dry and hot, windy or not, but it’s always fun playing with the Toledo orchestra of natural sounds.

The street market continues every Wednesday during the summer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with different musicians every week.

Serendipity

Saturday was one of those days when my husband wanted to be anywhere but the adult foster care home where he lives now, so I pointed the car east, not sure where I was going, only knowing that the weather was warmer in that direction. I remembered an antiques store in Toledo, OR was selling off its inventory with 50 percent discounts. Why not? So we had wandered down Main Street and were on our way back up to the car with a pretty blue candle holder when I saw my friend Loie approaching with a glass in her hand. I had seen Loie twice that week already, at the Central Coast Chorale concert Sunday (fabulous!) and our Willamette Writers meeting on Tuesday.

“Sue Lick!” she shouted.

“You’re everywhere!” I hollered back. Not another soul was on that street to hear us. In fact, most of the businesses were closed. Toledo can be eerily quiet sometimes. As Loie got closer, I asked if that brown liquid in her glass was iced tea or something stronger. She just smiled.

Then she explained that another friend had seen us through the window of the Pig Feathers barbecue place and she’d come out to fetch us. “All your writer friends are there having a party for Trish’s birthday,” she said. “Come join us.”

I looked at my watch. Fred was due back at Graceland for dinner in 45 minutes, but I could make a phone call . . . “Okay. I’m going to go down and get the car.”

“Tell me you’re not just going to drive away,” she nudged.

“Oh no.” God no, a party where I didn’t have to dress up, entertain, or bring a potluck dish? Save me a seat.

A few minutes later, my confused husband and I walked into the restaurant to a rain of applause. Soon we were eating barbecue, drinking Hamm’s beer, laughing and making far too much noise. When I had arrived at the care home, Fred had been sitting in the dark in his room doing nothing, just looking angry. Now, for the first time in weeks, he was smiling, and so was I. It was exactly the right medicine for both of us.

Most of the folks there used to meet monthly, ostensibly to critique each other’s writing, but we spent more time eating and socializing, and nobody’s work ever got negative reviews. On Saturday, we decided to start meeting again, but this time it would be purely social. Cheers to that.

God is good.