Fountain: A song on the sax for passing times

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John Fountain’s son Malik plays his saxophone with his friends Savion, on trombone, and Joseph, on drums, at the South Suburban Rehabilitative Center in Homewood.

Follow @csteditorialsIn the fourth grade, my son picked up the saxophone and blew into it. He managed to make a sound. This was a simple test for the school band instructor to assign instruments. Malik was assigned to sax.

Now a freshman in high school, he has been playing ever since, the notes that pour from his saxophone sometimes blue, sometimes happy, or melancholy. His fingers flutter over his brass sax. And the tall slender frame of the little boy I once knew reminds me of how quickly time passes.

In the beginning, our dog Golden — a loveable mutt mixed with shepherd and pit-bull — used to howl while my Malik played, making his practice sessions an affair to be endured. The family endured, even if we ultimately years later parted ways with Golden (too much shedding, too much responsibility).


The day I took Golden back to the shelter, I quickly dropped him off at the desk and was grateful for the shades that hid my eyes wet with tears for our dog we just couldn’t keep anymore.

I sat in the van and heaved for a few moments. I remember feeling almost stupid for feeling such loss over a dog. But his bark and howl mixed with Malik’s sax became intertwined in the fabric, in the song, of our lives — at least for a season.

I have come to see all good things — tangible and visible — as gifts that linger with us only for a season— that eventually disappear like a fleeting note upon the winds of yesterday. I’ll always remember Malik and Golden’s blues.

Over the seasons of time and countless concerts, our son got better — perhaps also the result of mandatory practice, as my rule is, “If I pay, you play.” I cannot say whether he loves his saxophone. At 14, he is still in an age of discovery.

But I feel confident in saying that he has come to see value in instruments of all kinds, even his saxophone.

A few years ago, when my mother had to be placed in a nursing home because of her worsening Alzheimer’s, my son got the idea of playing during the holiday season for his grandmother and other residents. Even in the fog of her sickness, my mother smiled widely and bobbed or clapped as Malik serenaded her and the other residents at the nursing homes or hospitals where she spent her last months — as best he could — with his sax.

Their notes still linger on the winds of yesterday. I’ll always remember Malik and Mama’s blues.

Back when we were muddling through the pain of loss after my mother passed away one late summer’s day with Malik at her bedside, I talked with my son about a way of giving back and carrying on his grandmother’s memory.

His idea was that some day, he might get some of his friends together who also have been playing since the 4th grade and return to comfort other nursing home residents, so many of whom rarely ever have visitors.

But it takes time to heal. Time to recalibrate, even after the storms have passed. Time to be able once again to walk through doors, where you can still see visions of a loved one lost in the storm — still feel pain.

This past Christmas season, two years after we buried Mama, we returned to the nursing home where she died. Malik carried the black case with his saxophone, accompanied by two good friends Joseph and Savion.

A budding three-piece band: a trombone player, drummer and a sax man I am so proud to call my son.


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