Carson was his first name. I feel disrespectful saying it. He didn't demand respect or honor. We gave it to him gladly. Using his given name seems too familiar for someone with such dignity.
We lived in Southern Idaho. Jerome was a small, mostly Mormon town. At the time, there were only a few Hispanic families representing our total ethnic diversity. Soon after graduation there was an influx of Persian, Filipino, South American and Mexican. No black or Asian people, other than Mr. Wong.
I love to travel and taste what I missed in my bland vanilla school diet. The Basque girl in my class was the most interesting thing we had. I peppered her to tell stories of her pure heritage, and begged her to bring her family's food to try.
Mr. Wong looked very different, but we never thought of him as Chinese. We thought of him as a musician. Mr. Wong was music, had music, taught music, dreamed music for us, wanted us to understand music, loved music, pulled miracles of music from our rough voices, and gave us musical memories to last a lifetime.
Music defined him. Watching him conduct from the audience was delightful. He was too little to be so full of energy and passion, and ended up being the focal point, no matter how hard you tried to focus on your sibling or friend. When in the chorus, it was impossible to look anywhere else.
His toothbrush hair flew madly about, swirling his cowlick around like a palm tree in a hurricane. Hair product would have complicated things, and distracted him, and us.
When he came out on stage in his elegant tuxedo, step bouncing, tails flying, we clapped our hands numb - until he bowed. I have never seen the equal of Mr. Wong's bow. Royal. Distinguished. Eloquent. After he bowed, thunder cracked, shaking the floor, walls and ceiling.
His timing was perfect. Not only was the chorus well trained, but when he stepped up on his wooden platform the audience stopped the applause on cue. Courtesy, no more, no less. We were enamoured of him and would not have known when to stop. He knew. When the silence was complete, he would bring his white ivory wand down to click twice on the music stand, before bringing his child sized hands up to charm the proper notes out of his pupils.
His hair was comical without being ridiculous, his tuxedo elegant, his body busting with vibrant energy and passion, but it was his hands that touched our hearts. His eyes were too black to read, but his hands expressed his vision and love for us completely. Don't confuse it with smarmy, sentimental love. We didn't feel loved or experience it as love during the grueling sessions of practice.
During a concert his hands caressed, pulled, held us back, brought us together, tickled, stroked, aroused, assured, comforted, healed, forgave, infused, exuded pride, cajoled, pleaded, and affirmed us. His miniature, magnetic hands shaped us easily, like metal shavings.
We performed complex, intricate music far above our abilities. He introduced us to a new world, beyond our culture. He delighted in surprising us with a new genre. We were never stuck in a rut, or bored. If we snickered looking at a new piece, it was under our breath. We always ended up thinking it was our favorite. Till the next one.
Dear Mr. Wong influenced my life deeply; I never actually touched them, but the poetry in his hands reached in to throw open the window of my soul. Many more windows have been opened since then, but he was the first. You never forget the first time.