An opera and a rugged man

Our first trip to Colorado found us, the last week of June, parking near a city playground where the boys could spend some of their pent-up energy on the swings and slides.

Through the upstairs window in a nearby building, a man was rehearsing an operatic role - which one, I did not know. I only knew that he was a skilled professional with a beautiful voice. Listening, we felt we had been granted a great favor.

After a time, a young couple passed by. She was wheeling a baby carriage and the man, burly with long hair and a beard, was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. He carried a basket of laundry and glanced up at the window, listening. I wondered what he'd make of such music, and I quickly learned, because he yelled up, "Aw, why don't you learn how to sing?"

We were incensed and considered what we might have said in answer, marveling that the singer had not missed a note during the outburst. My husband was particularly upset. I was puzzled about the placid attitude of the man's wife; in the same situation, embarrassed, I'd certainly have spoken up. They entered the corner laundry and I hoped their basket contained long-drying blue jeans - not diapers - for the latter would mean a quicker return.

But I found myself remembering something from high school long ago. I had imprudently voiced thoughts to one who had immediately passed those thoughts along. And when I had gone crying to my grandmother she said, "Well, my girl, now you know. Talk's cheap until you want to buy it back."

Anticipating the couple's return, I thought to pass this wisdom on to my husband, but instead suggested that since the first outburst hadn't upset the singer, a second might well have the same result and we'd be wise to wait and see. (I was lecturing myself also, because I'm often as impatient as my husband.)

The couple returned and I placed a restraining hand on John's arm, mindful of his safety, too, since the other man obviously had an advantage in weight.

Again, the passerby opened his mouth and we tensed, waiting. Then, however, instead of another insult, he began to sing a superb duet with the performer upstairs. We were simply astounded, and when the couple had passed up the street we looked at one another sheepishly, grateful that with our usual impetuosity we had not rushed in with sarcastic comment. John confessed, "I guess I was a little trigger happy there."

"We both were," I agreed. "Maybe words need a waiting period before they are used." And I remembered something else from high school. Wasn't it Polonius who said, "Apparel oft proclaims the man"? I decided in this case Polonius was wrong, and so was I to impute ignorance on the basis of a T-shirt and blue jeans.

The rehearsal ended and we collected the boys. Riding out Eureka Street, past the Opera House with its balconied front, I read from the guide book, "Built in 1874." We promised ourselves a return to Central City someday.

You never know, we just might hear that duet in its entirety.

*Jean Sparks Ducey is a freelance writer and retired librarian. Her most recent book, 'The Bittersweet Time,' was written for young adults about the Great Depression (Eerdemans, 1995).

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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