Friday, June 14, 2013

How I Got Jack Teagarden's Autograph

My father, George Gunia, is on the left. Damned if I know the others.
       My father's 96th birthday was the other day so I guess it's fitting to post this today. He died in 1998 and about a year later my mother moved permanently into assisted living. After my sisters and I realized Mum was never going to be able to live in the house again, we made plans to sell and it fell to me to start cleaning it out. One of the many benefits of working for Uncle Sam is the Employee Assistance Program and through this, I was temporarily reassigned from New York to Pittsburgh, near my hometown.

            My parents had maintained a, shall we say, "laissez faire" method of housekeeping and the place contained 40 years worth of, shall we say, "shit" of varying degrees of usefulness. For over 2 months I spent nearly every day getting rid of, among other things, every television they had owned since 1958, enough yarn to knit a scarf to the moon, a huge roll of what I think was steel foil that must have weighed 150 pounds and 2 or 3 dozen cans of chopped clams. What plans my father had for the foil is anyone's guess and since it was late October I considered passing out the clams to trick or treaters.
            The house was two stories and I worked my way down from the top so by the time the cellar rolled around, I was thinking about a 5 gallon can of gasoline. Except that there was still so much stuff down there I was afraid it would be like one of those coal mine fires that burn for years.
            One day, as yet another black garbage bag was being filled, I opened a box that turned out to hold some souvenirs from my father's time in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Luckily for all of us, he had spent the war stateside, including some time at what was then called Homestead Field, near Miami, Florida. It was no surprise, then, to find a small paper folder from the "Frolic Danceland" in Miami and inside was a picture of my father in his uniform along with 4 "civilians" seated at a nightclub table. I wondered if my mother knew who anyone in the photo was and as I set it aside, I noticed a signature and thought it might have been from one of the people in the photo. Looking at it closely, the name read, "Jack Teagarden" and I said out loud, "Well, I'll be damned." As if to confirm the authenticity, on the back was signed "Sincerely, Sally Lang." As I later learned, she had been Jack's big band singer.
            Though I had played the trombone from the 4th grade through high school, I can't recall my father ever mentioning to me that he met one of the world's greatest trombone players. Ironically, my father loved to sing and people told him his voice sounded a lot like Jack's.  Even as an adult, after taking up the horn again and talking about my collection of Teagarden records and CD's, he never said a thing about once hearing him in person. Hard as it is to believe, he must have just forgotten and all I can do now is just say, "Wow, Jack Teagarden's autograph! Gee thanks, Dad."

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