Appreciating our last memories of normal life

Isle Bells prepare to play. 

Poignant stories have been coming out of people’s “last” memories of their “normal” life before things changed for COVID-19.

I recently read a beautiful description of a funeral director’s last funeral before his business shut down: the moving sentiments shared and the meaningful touches the family gave the recently departed. And for a bartender, the last night at his job before he knew he wouldn’t be coming back. 

A significant “last” for me was the last bell choir performance of my handbell group Isle Bells.

We do some smaller ensemble performances throughout the year. Last year, at the Kodiak Arts Council’s Arts and Adventure Auction, a local couple won a small ensemble performance by us: 30 minutes of handbell music in their home and an Italian dinner for eight. 

At the time, we had no idea that, in the near future, just the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder would be seen as a luxury. 

Our performance was in early March. We arrived at the home and started setting up our gear.

A stack of table covers had been accidentally left behind at the church where we practice. The joke exists in our choir about how something is always left behind or missing when we arrive at a performance location. We go with the flow and know that the missing item(s) will eventually be found. 

A ringer and I left in her car to go grab the table covers. Her car, a sporty model, had an exhilarating race car feel, something I don’t get very often in my three-row family-mobile.

We zoomed back to the church to grab the covers. I savored the feeling of being a bit lower to the ground and marveled at the short bursts of acceleration.

When we arrived back at the house and finalized our set-up, we were offered some adult beverages as we waited for the guests to arrive, and some of us partook. We mused that any adult beverages enjoyed by the audience members might make any mistakes in the music less discernible.

Our music began. We played in a cozier-than-normal setup to fit into the space. Playing closely together makes it very easy to be in unison — we can practically feel one another’s music emanating from the bronze.

Stories and poetry were shared between the songs — poetry that spanned centuries and cultures, poetry that reflected age-old observations on nature, time, death and solitude.

Audience members asked questions about technical aspects of our instruments and the music; we joyfully shared our knowledge. 

Bringing music into someone’s home and space is not without some vulnerability — it is almost tangible.  The size of the performance space and amount of vulnerability have always felt inversely correlated — the audience is so up-close and personal.

How might the feeling of vulnerability change once we do get to perform again someday? Might it be hugely overshadowed by absolute joy and gratitude just to be playing again? That is my hunch, but only time will tell.

It was our last performance, but we didn’t have the faintest idea at the time. We look forward to someday standing shoulder to shoulder again, and I know we won’t be taking that for granted. 


Ella Saltonstall, born and raised in Kodiak, works as a speech language pathologist and enjoys musing about parenting, communication, music and everything in between.

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