February 22nd…….“WHAT WAS THE FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT YOU LEARNED TO PLAY AS A YOUNG FARM BOY IN MINNESOTA DAYS?”
With intensely pursed lips, the clarion cavalry call of the bugler on horseback brought good old John Wayne, followed by massive columns of blue-uniformed cavalry, galloping over the dust-covered ridges of Monument Valley. Racing their steeds down sloped ravines, with guns blazing, one could hear their whooping battle cries. The brave soldiers charged into the glories of rescue as their beleaguered comrades below, bloodied and almost beaten by the enemy, cheered the horse soldiers on while still being urged to duty by that bugled blast of brass wonderment. Enraptured I was!! The small black & white television, in our farm house Living Room, transported me back in time that day to the Wild West. Being the impressionable little farm boy that I was, I brought a closed fist to my mouth to become my impromptu bugle mouthpiece as I pantomimed my own muted version of a bugle so that I, too, at least in my vivid imagination, momentarily became the valiant bugler of that heroic cavalry troop.
Little did I realize, that day, that about 20 years earlier, it was at least partially possible that my very handsome and favorite uncle, Gaylord Lloyd Noorlun, would make a musical dream of mine come true. Born in northern Minnesota in 1931, Uncle Gaylord was one of the five sons of Edwin and Marie Noorlun. Sitting behind a birthday cake of about 11 candles, Gaylord was at the prime age for Scouting around 1942. Strikingly handsome, even from an early age, Gaylord grew up in the heyday of the Scouting era. Scouting’s founder, Sir Robert Baden-Powell enjoyed the fervid following of over 3.3 million boys in the ranks of the organization during the years that our own Uncle Gaylord may have been one of them. Since Gaylord, and most of his generation, are now gone, it is merely an assumption, on my part, that he actually was in Boy Scouts during the early 1940’s. What I DO recall, though, is being told that the old Boy Scout bugle that we possessed on our farm, near Kiester, Minnesota, was a gift from that handsome and much loved uncle.
Our gifted bugle was “well loved” over its years of service before it came to our farm. Uncle Gaylord and/or others had obviously taken it with them on camping trips and Scouting Jamborees. “Well loved”, it was, in the sense that I mused on how many times that poor thing had been dropped from a back pack, banged against a sharp rock, fell off the top tier of a scout’s bunkbed or maybe even was sat upon (while tied to a backpack) a time or two; all inadvertently, of course. 😉 The horn no longer glowed with the high-lustered sparkle it once had from the factory. The dull, tarnished brass was the result of a myriad of little boy fingers, over the years, that were laden with dirt, oils and skin salt from sweating for miles as they hiked along. Some of these bugles sold for as “little” as $5.00 when new in the 1930’s. Of course, $5.00 was a whole lot of money in the late 1930’s, compared to $5.00 now. One thing that was still very distinctive, though, and that was the engraved markings I viewed on the “bell tube” that said, “Official Bugle Of The Boy Scouts Of America”. Even the elegant Boy Scout emblem was etched to the surface in its own form of glory.
Nighttime feeding chores, for this little Norwegian Farmer’s Son, were completed for the evening and Dad gave me his blessings to “go play” while he finished milking our Holstein cows. Grabbing our Boy Scout bugle, I stepped out of the corner Dutch-door of our barn. Cocooned within multiple layers of winter clothing, I confidently stepped out into a perfect Minnesota night. In that frigid clime, a black, onyx sky above me was bedazzling me with its studded diamond stars. They were winking down at my every move towards our “flat rack” wagon with about a dozen straw bales onboard. Maybe I had a little “king of the hill” complex within me that night, but I hopped onto the “flat rack” and then climbed to the top of that stack of straw bales.
With just an audience of the stars above, I raised the bugle to my lips. I first had to breathe some hot air onto the bugle’s mouthpiece to keep my lips from sticking to the brass in the below freezing temperatures. Pursing my lips, I began to “let loose” with some loud “wild moose calls”, at first, just to see what sounds I could emit. It was so fun to get the feel of this legendary instrument that had communicated so many commands, through the years in Scouting as well as military life. Eventually, though, night, after night, I began to feel a bit more confident that I could make a bit of music with this fun brass wonder.
Day by day, and evening by evening, I eventually became fairly adept at making some music come out of that old brass friend of mine. Then, after weeks of practice, another placidly perfect Minnesota night graced our farm yard once more. That particular evening, at the top of my “music mountain” of straw bales, there was still some warming colors of sunset to the west of our farm. I felt a glow inside as I rendered a boyhood version, as best as I could, of the well-known bugle hymn called, “Taps”. As I lowered the bugle from my lips that evening, I felt grateful that Uncle Gaylord Lloyd Noorlun had brought the gift of music, via his old bugle, to this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.