Last Saturday Warren and I joined our friends David and Vince down at the Ohio Theatre to watch "The Music Man." I love "The Music Man." It is unabashedly sentimental, unrelentingly brassy, and as all-American as a 4th of July parade.
But as we drove home, I found myself thinking about Marian Paroo and Professor Harold Hill. The movie ends with the two of them (indeed, the whole town) marching down the street to "76 Trombones." The sun is shining, the instruments are glittering, and the air is bright with the promise of living happily ever after.
But what came next? Assuming that Harold Hill stayed in River City after telling Marian that "for the first time in my life, I got my foot caught in the door," what happened after the credits stopped rolling?
They married, of course. Unconventional as she could be, Marian wouldn't have it any other way. Little Winthrop was the ring bearer; Amaryllis was the flower girl. Mrs. Paroo - indeed, all the good ladies of River City - wept copious tears. The bride looked serene and confident as she recited her vows. Harold looked a little pale. Despite his avowal of love for the demure librarian, he couldn't quite believe he was publicly pledging to remain faithful and settle down in one place.
Afterwards, the school board entertained the guests with their quartet rendition of "Lida Rose."
Their first year was marked with the usual discoveries of married life. Harold learned that supper could be postponed for hours because Marian was deep in a book and lost track of time. For her part, she couldn't understand how Harold managed to be so entirely absent when it came time to pull the dandelions, patch the screen door, or pound beefsteak, let alone pump any water to fill the cistern.
More than once, her Saturday night bath was delayed because the cistern came up dry.
As a result of their haphazard housekeeping, they got in the habit of taking supper with her mother, to the delight of Winthrop and Mrs. Paroo. When Mrs. Paroo proposed the Hills move back into her home and the two families share in the expenses and keeping of the household, both Marian and Harold accepted with grateful alacrity. Mrs. Paroo never stopped adoring her devilish son-in-law. To his credit, Harold always treated her with great tenderness and affection, dropping from time to time into an Irish brogue just to make her smile. Winthrop, as he grew older, came to realize that his brother-in-law was not only pretty much just an ordinary mortal but even something of a failure at anything other than scamming people, but he never held that against Harold.
For the truth was that Harold, entertaining and charming as he could be, was not cut out for the daily grind of making a living in River City. He didn't possess many employable skills, unless you counted card playing and leaping on and off of moving trains among them. It turned out he didn't have much of an education either, having lived on his wits and on what he picked up here and there in the newspapers or in the smoker car for so many year.
He certainly had no musical training. Despite the emotional debut of the River City band, Harold couldn't read a note of music or tell a cornet from a euphonium. The band would have languished and died that first summer but for the efforts of Tommy Djilas, formerly labeled as "incorrigible," but increasingly spoke of with admiration and even a hint of respect. It turned out that Tommy had both a knack and an ear for music. Tommy stayed with the group, cajoling and pestering the boys to work at their instruments. When school started in the fall, he took every music class he could, learning the rudiments of playing and reading music. Eventually, Tommy went on to normal school, completed the instruction course, and returned to River City as the town's first full-fledged band director.
As the years went on, Marian often thought back to the qualities she had hoped for in a husband. All she had wanted was a plain man, a modest man, a quiet man, a gentle man. She had wanted a straightforward and honest man. And in Harold she got few of these qualities. Oh, he was honest enough with her, but "plain," "modest," and "quiet" were not in his makeup. After all, this was a man who used to wear a hat that could be punched into a red-plumed band cap in a matter of seconds. He still had a reversible jacket with gold trim on the inside. There were times, walking down the street arm in arm with him, when she was quite sure that he was imagining himself decked out in his glittery garb.
In later years, when River City got up an amateur theatrical group, Harold was an eager participant and went on to several minor local triumphs.
Marian had dreamed of spending her life with someone who might ponder what made Shakespeare and Beethoven great. In Hill, she got someone who knew dime novels and detective stories, but not much Shakespeare. She sighed and went right on with her library work.
Oh yes, she kept the library position, the one that Uncle Maddy had arranged for her so that the Paroo family would not do without. It was scandalous, a married woman working, and Marian was the talk (again) of the Ladies Auxiliary, but she had been the butt of their gossip before and shrugged it off. It was Marian's hard work that kept Winthrop in knickers and paid for her husband's spending the day at Mayor Shinn's billiard hall. (It is not known whether he ever shot a game of pool, having railed so famously against it his first night in River City.)
To his credit, Harold tried hard to make a go of it in River City. He continued to woo the good ladies of the town, although eventually they took no more notice of him than of Mayor Shinn. He tried his hand more than once at working an ordinary job, although he never lasted long at any of them. He even joined Marcellus in the livery stable for a time, until mucking stalls and measuring out oats proved to be too onerous for a man of his sensibilities.
The truth was, Harold missed the open road. He missed the closeness of the smoker car, missed listening to the other salesmen complain about their routes or tell about their triumphs. He missed the smutty jokes, the smell of cigars, the reveling in the maleness of it all. Whenever the train whistle sounded through River City, he would stop whatever he was doing and listen until it faded into the distance.
So, were they happy? It turns out they were. Despite neither of them being quite what the other imagined, they never got over their amazement at being together. Neither Marian nor Harold ever forgot that there was indeed love all around, but they had never heard it singing until the other came along. Neither ever forgot the magical moment on the footbridge.
When the footbridge burned down in 1922, the Hills were among the first subscribers to the fund to rebuild it.
Harold died first, after attending a band concert at which the group played a special arrangement of "Minuet in G" in his honor. Marian ordered a trombone to be engraved on the stone, making her the talk of the town yet one more time. Winthrop, grown to adulthood and with a family of his own, placed his battered cornet on the mounded dirt, right in the middle of the flower arrangements.
Marian lived on for two more decades, amidst her books and her memories. When asked about Harold, her eyes would grow misty, but she would recite the stories in a strong, clear voice. She was a bit of a recluse. Winthrop, who had moved to Des Moines, made a point of visiting his sister at least once a month.
When folks walked past her house late at night, they would sometimes hear faint whistling.
It was always "76 Trombones."