It was a simple college assignment; observe a live performance of a full symphony. How easy is that? I’d never seen a live symphony;, I’d barely been to the movie theatre before college.

I booked it: two tickets, one for myself and one for the person I wanted to share it with, my mother. She had struggled so hard and for so long raising four children on a shoestring budget, I thought it was a nice change of pace. My mother, the ultimate church pianist, loved music, and taking her to a full orchestra seemed like a great thank you.

When we arrived in the theatre, I knew instantly we were out of place. Don’t get me wrong, we hlooked great in our new spring attire. Fortunately we had dressed for the occasion despite never having been there before, but everyone else was in black. My brightly colored dress and mom’s cheerful pink silk blouse stood out like a mule in a horse corral.

Nonetheless, we made our way through the crowd that looked more like mourners than music aficionados. We took our seats in the large auditorium, delighted by the sound of the stringed section warming up. A very large man squeezed next to me and I tried to make myself smaller to accommodate his …well, his girth. My mom looked at me and I could see that twinkle in her eyes as her face reddened from holding in the laughter as the portly man cleared his throat over and over.

Oh God, I’m in for it, I thought. 

Still very young, and barely striking out on my own, I still had the awkwardness adolescence that caused me to turn inward rather than just surrender to the moment. So I tried to get smaller in my space, clenching my program in my white knuckled fists praying my mom wouldn’t burst into the full-blown belly laughter she’s known for.

After endless minutes squeezing myself into the tiny allotted space and the big man’s arm sloppily hanging over my side of the armrest and into my space, the lights dimmed and the orchestra began to play.

Finally, I would get to take mental notes on my favorite instrument, the Timpani, and listen as the full string section performed. It was like nothing I’ve heard before as the sounds completely enveloped my senses. I relaxed against my seat, thankful my mother was as captivated as I was.

I was pleasantly surprised by the enormous choir that began to belt out powerfully in unison with the musicians. I glanced down at my program and read, Mormon Tabernacle choir.  

I looked up and wondered about the people standing on stage. One woman in particular got my attention. She was standing with the tightest bustiere I’d ever seen. I thought she would choke as her bosom perched high atop her chest. Even stranger was how the cleavage highlighted the velvet black choker necklace with the black carnation, nearly as big as a large hand, against her throat.

My eyes fixed on the giant flower and it began to move! The flower jutted up and down in quick sharp movements as the woman began to belt out the loudest opera song I’d ever heard. I tore my gaze away in shock to my mother only to be greeted with an equally shocked and red-faced grin.

Suddenly, the hundreds of operatic battles mom and I had in our tiny apartment-sized kitchen came to mind. We’d dueled a time after time in our fake opera voices, belting out in silly songs trying to outduel the other. The first to laugh was always the looser. I felt like that now as the theatre became silent except for the solo opera singer’s deep, earsplitting vibrato.

I looked away quickly and stared at the flower moving furiously as the slow methodical melody came bursting forth. It sounded like a funeral dirge, not the happy or passionate opera of Pretty Woman the ten times I’d seen it.

I bit my lower lip hard and tried to keep the corners of my mouth from turning upward. I read the cover of my crinkled program, Verdi’s Requiem . I had no idea what that meant. Darn Italian.

I shouldn’t have. I wish I hadn’t. I looked over at my mother. Her almost white-blond hair bounced up and down in unison with her shoulders and her face was red as she began snickering, wheezing, and attempting desperately to keep in the sounds of her awkward laughter.

Again we exchanged a glance and it came flooding out….hisses, snorts, shoulder’s shaking, all in a futile attempt to contain the laughter now leaking out. The big man’s arm disappeared and I suddenly had more space now.

As the slow dirge continued, the loud opera singer’s oversized Carnation moved slower and slower with each note and her cleavage heaved up and down repeatedly. It was clear now why everyone had been dressed in black; this was a funeral dirge.  Verdi’s Requiem the famous Opera that is set at a Roman Catholic funeral mass.

Needless to say, we took our brightly colored clothing and offensive laughter outside to the car at the first intermission laughing inconsolably all the way to the car.

I haven’t been to an Opera or bought Carnations since.

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