• Gail Wilson Kenna

The Genius of Three B's

Herman Melville wrote three fictional works of genius that begin with B; and this has made me

remember three musical B's.

Early in 2003, while living in Lima, Peru, a telephone call from daughter Michelle told me to get to North Carolina, ASAP. She and Patrick, two army officers, were being sent to the Middle East in the Second Gulf War. And two-year old Lauryn needed a surrogate parent. By the time I reached Sanford, near Fort Bragg, Michelle had left for Jordan. Two days later, son-in-law Patrick departed for Iraq.

From four months of age, Lauryn had been kindly cared for on post at Fort Bragg. And this continuity, plus being with other children, needed to be maintained. Not to mention Nana's sanity. So, each weekday I drove to the childcare facility and left Lauryn there by 9:30. Then I hit tennis balls on a backboard and took a long walk until the post library opened at 11:00. At 3:00-3:30 I picked Lauryn up for the drive home. That winter I kept no wine in the house, read books to Lauryn until my eyes semi-glazed over, then sunk with her into videos of Paddington Bear, over which we both laughed. (P-bear having originated in darkest Peru before his transport to London.) I even insisted that Michelle order a large Paddington bear and have it sent to Sanford. Which she did.

Lauryn and I spent countless hours in Michelle's red Pathfinder, driving to and from Fort Bragg, listening to NPR. Our big night out each week was a music class for two and three-year old children. Three had been adopted from China and seemed already to possess musical ears. Parents had to participate in the class, and among young mothers I felt old but grateful to be there. Besides poems that Lauryn memorized ("buffalo bill's defunct" by ee cummings, a favorite), and books she could "read" from memory, I augmented her musical education with NPR's classical programs. This is Bach. That's Beethoven. Now Brahms. The three B's, Lauryn. Soon she could pronounce the composer's names, and to the delight of her music teacher, recite the three B's.

But one March morning on NPR, no music as we drove to post, just pleas for new subscribers. Given I had Michelle's credit card, I decided to call in a pledge. That afternoon, when I got through to the station, I was asked questions. Mine not being the usual story, I was passed to the producer. He wanted to know all about me. You live in Peru. You are in Sanford with a two-year-old. The parents are army officers, away at war. Your granddaughter knows the three B's and takes a music class at night. He asked to know when I would be listening to NPR the following day while driving to Fort Bragg.

And sure enough, an announcement was made during the pledge break that morning. The NPR station wanted listeners to know about a pledge from Sanford, and the speaker ended with a wish for the safe return of Lauryn's parents. This touched my lonely heart. But later in a phone call, Michelle wondered about the odd charge on her credit card!

Now, Miss Lauryn is twenty and a junior at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Recently for a class, she read one of Herman Melville's three brilliant B's: " Bartleby the Scrivener." I so love these mysterious conjunctions in life. And if Lauryn (and anyone reading this) is not aware of the other two B's: They are Billy Budd and Benito Cerrano.

Next week: The Timely, Lasting, and Brilliant Third B, first serialized in Putnam's Monthly Magazine in 1855.

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