When music replaced sports for Vincent and he joined band in high school, he began to save for a silver trumpet. We all saw catalogue versions of the instrument: sterling, sleek, with a promise of silvery notes. It was also extravagantly expensive. So Vincent began to save up birthday money, chore money, gardening dollars, gifts from grandparents and aunts and uncles. The silver trumpet, everyone knew, was one of those goals Vincent was legendary for setting his heart on and quietly achieving in unusual and persistent ways. The most famous example was the golden birdcage he brought home one afternoon when he was seven. We had nixed a parakeet for some good reason or other, so the domed cage hung vacant for weeks. Then one afternoon, there it was, a nervous blue bird under the dome, perched on the tiny trapeze. (Vincent’s accomplice was his Tata, my father.)
As for the silver trumpet, there was no doubt it would materialize. It was just a matter of when, though it would likely take a good long while. But one day after school, his sister Celine devised a shortcut: Santa Claus.
“Impossible,” said my husband Walt. He was right. Considering our challenged finances that season, a silver trumpet was out of the question.
One cold winter night warmed by a tray of sugar cookies baked with Vincent, Celine quietly handed me a sheet of binder paper filled with careful cursive letters. It said:
Dear Santa Claus,
I am writing for Isabel and me. We want a lot of things this year but you probably won’t be able to get all of it. But this is the thing I want most: a Silver Trumpet wrapped up in wrapping paper for Vincent. Thank you, Santa Claus.
I mailed the original off to the North Pole.
“Do you think Santa will bring Vincent the silver trumpet?” Celine would ask me every now and then, her palms pressed together, her blue green eyes, colored like the sea, so hopeful. She was ten, and it would be her last season of wanting to believe.
“I don’t know,” I would say lightly — a little less lightly each day she asked.
On December 23, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Santa would need help. As I drove along a freeway underpass on my way to Vincent’s high school I thought and thought of some way Santa Claus might make ends meet with the funds Vincent was saving. That’s when a name came to me: Stevan Fabela, Vincent’s high school band director, the man who lived for his musicians. I called Mr. Fabela on my cell. He answered right off. I explained. I told him about Celine’s Santa letter.
“I’ll do my best,” said Mr. Fabela.
Silver trumpets are rare, and we had two days to go until Christmas. I knew our chances were slim. The news Vincent’s band director got was not good. He had tried every local place he knew. No silver trumpet. No silver trumpet. The last store he called: no silver trumpet.
It was not the best time to be asking Mr. Fabela to go on a musician’s scavenger hunt. He was busy preparing for a band trip to London to play for the prime minister. But this man was a teacher who taught music for free, made tamales for fund-raisers, earned a license to drive the school bus, hooked up wiring for Drama, never went home, and rigged a device so a student without full use of her arms could shine turning letters at halftime. So the night before Christmas Eve, Mr. Fabela was there, in his band room, shuffling sheet music, packing instruments, confirming flights — and tracking down a silver trumpet.
Mr. Fabela made a last call to one of the music stores he had tried without luck. “The owner told me no, again,” he relayed. “But then he said, ‘Hold on, there’s one more place in the back–‘”
Late on December 23, Mr. Fabela found the last silver trumpet in the Valley. And he convinced the music-store owner to slash its price. That night I went to pick it up in the high school band room — the only classroom on campus with all its lights burning. Mr. Fabela handed me my treasure, gleaming sterling on blue velvet, in a case made of fabric, light as air (so light, Vincent later revealed he first thought his Christmas present was a trumpet case).
It took me a moment to find my voice, which could only come out as a movie line: “How can we ever repay you?”
“All I want is a picture of Vincent opening it on Christmas morning,” said Mr. Fabela.
Vincent discovered his silver trumpet wrapped in silver paper with the girls at some time between 3:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M. on December 25. I wasn’t awake to get a picture of the actual opening, but the look in his eyes, the glow of his little sisters’ faces in the morning was Christmas itself.