I always wanted to play trumpet, ever since I heard Moonlight Serenade on my father's Blaupunkt radio while he drove home ward on that long snowy highway north. A few days later I stood mesmerized at a little music shop window, staring down at the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The shop was a few steps south of Dad's TV repair business on Main Street. He had bought the old building some years earlier; had a tenant and her family, Mrs. Waugh, on the second floor. So, with hard earned honest dollars from fixing folks' electronic stuff, Dad scratched out a living to support our family of seven kids, Momma and Great Aunt Nell, a real life nanny.
I could see myself play that thing. I could feel the brass in my hands and fingers and the music well up through my bones.
Well, that trumpet was $20 and it might as well have been 20 million. A beautiful dream, but I had no money, few possibilities in our tiny village to go out and earn it, and Dad struggled with his reality daily.
Still, I steeled my nerves and approached Mom and Dad about the trumpet. It took everything in me to do it. Mom was sympathetic, encouraging Dad to spring the big bucks for it, but Pop was of the opinion I would lose interest in a day or two; it was only a passing fad. I accepted that with resignation; after all, maybe he was right.
I don't fault Pappa. He was born to hard times, and a life made harder by his father who seemed to have urged competition between his boys with a, let's say, unhealthy disciplinary attitude. Old German hard head; a Weisenheimer. Kind of inspiration-damping for a young boy. Oh well, at 70 now, the years do bring a rare tear but with it, love and understanding. I still want that trumpet and resolve get a new one in a few days back in Vancouver. Too much to blame on the lovely old instrument I got years ago in a treasure trove of life's losings, some Las Vegas pawn shop. Valves stick. Then, new trumpet in hand, I'll go alone to the barn and blow that thing till I'm blue.
I tried to make up for the arrested music career in another way. Our business, Tentnology, became a 45 year 'overnight' success making tents. I really don't know where the great ones came from; somewhere close to music, I think. Mathematics, definitely. Maybe a little dash and daring helps in the imagineering process in the same way an engineering degree and experience keeps it real.
In New Orleans, crammed into a sound box to hear Herbie Hancock, some cool cat in front of me turned to enthuse Herbie's sound was where mathematics meets emotion. That certainly put the point with Herbie. And it crystallized Tentnology's magic in the tent industry. People marvel at the creativity, but I respond honestly that anyone can do it if they don't try too hard. The cash rewards are still good, but they're not what gets me up in the morning. We speak to the world in tents. It's what we do and I think if one does something long enough, diligently, with passion and gusto, he will succeed; sometimes against all odds. And so it was with .... tents.
Now, my wife and I are on our way home from Qatar. Another crazy big tent RFQ wild flier. Once in awhile they come along. Most of the time, they don't. Either way, it's okay. Those tents we designed through the years make for happy events the world over and our little plant keeps popping them off the production line. The bad guys copy but we move on making newer, better, faster, more beautiful tents. Win, lose, or draw, we're okay.
When brother and I started this in 1971, I felt we were founding an industry. Some years into the process, that concept morphed down into a business and sometimes disappointment reared its little head. So, I scrawled a manifesto, a big audacious hairy goal to bring us back on point: "To be the greatest tent company in the world." Brother dissed that as unrealistic. No question; it was, but I tried to point out that I did not say biggest; just greatest. Besides, realistic is what you expect to find in the mall. Imagination is somewhere out there. I'm not interested in realistic....it's been done.
But imagine a tent blowing Moonlight Serenade, clear, pure sound, into the night.