Arriving on Thanksgiving break, I pulled into the drive of my parents’ house. Removing the key from the ignition, readying to go inside, I had a sudden change of heart, and I returned the key to its previous location. My Chevrolet purred as I pulled from the drive, the tires spinning down the trail of a none-too-distant past. The country roads breathed with familiarity, but the cold November wind whispered an eerie melody as I sped through the darkness.
With one hand on the steering wheel, I reached to turn on the stereo. Louis Armstrong greeted me with the sweet sounds of his trumpet. Forgetting my troubles, my mind quickly turned to my one sure and steadfast love, jazz. I had encountered jazz before my time at Ashland, but I never loved it because I didn’t know how. Growing up with music, I devoured genre after genre, enjoying much of what I heard and played, but never finding a sound that spoke to me. Sure, rock is full of great musicians who continually strive to play faster and flashier licks. Their technique is great, but I could never help sensing that something was missing in the music. And who can forget the greats of classical music? Beethoven, Mozart, and the gang created music that will last forever. But it wasn’t my music.
As I approached a steep hill, I coaxed my Chevy into lower gear. The wind still blew its unfamiliar tune as Louis drifted off into silence. Count Basie ended the quiet moment, plunking away on the piano in his distinctive, almost lazy, brand of swing. I couldn’t help but bounce in my seat as the horns entered to enhance Basie’s brilliance with their bright tones. His music reminded me of what had always struck me about jazz. Jazz is a music of emotion. At its heart it seeks to penetrate the range of emotions in the human experience. Love, grief, and joy, and everything in between, jazz has it all. In time I learned to appreciate—and eventually love—the poetry of the music itself. You can hear the anguish in Louis’ trumpet playing, just like you can hear a joker sitting behind Basie’s piano. But Basie’s tune entered its closing stages, and I realized that my time playing jazz could be coming to an end.
I reached the top of the hill, finding an open field I had encountered many times before. But for the first time in my life, I stopped for a moment to take a look around. I wanted to take in my thoughts and look to the stars on that clear, cold November night. The field extended before me, sometimes sloping, other times falling. The once-green grass had turned to brown, and rocks lined the landscape. A small stream trickled towards the river, and a tiny, well-worn path wound its way from the stream to trees in the distance. The stars in the sky above twinkled behind a waning moon. And I began to think. In four short years, I’ve had the privilege of playing with a number of great musicians in locations far and near. I’ve made lasting friendships with my fellow musicians, and it’s all because I found music that I love. It is only because I love the music that I continue to play.
Getting back in the car, Ella Fitzgerald’s lilting rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime” made me think of my future. The narrow path in the open field showed that though the future abounds with possibilities, one path awaits. Sometimes it winds around to new and exciting areas, but still it leaves much of the land around it untraveled. In a few short months I will be preparing to leave Ashland one last time. With my time at school dwindling, I face the fact that my days of playing jazz may also be growing short. Though the livin’ in the summertime might be easy for Ella, for me there are tough decisions to be made.
I drove on, and at last I returned to my home for the past two decades. Over the past four years, a house that had for years been the only home I knew slowly transformed into just a house. It’s no longer mine. Four walls and a roof are now nothing more than that. Inside contains glimpses of a life I once lived. But it all seems different now. The house hasn’t changed. I have. The country roads that were once the gateway to a 16-year-old’s speeding frenzy are now just roads. I know the roads just like I know the house, but I am no longer at home with them. They are foreign even in their familiarity. I often find myself wondering where it is I belong. A drive down those old country roads will take me back to a past life, a past home. But right now, that house is the only place I’ve got. The mere idea of home is a mystery. In the blink of an eye I’ll leave Ashland to return for a brief while to a home that is no longer mine, and I’ll think of jazz. How can I go home?
Jeremy Eikenberry is a senior from Mount Pleasant, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and History.