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For a boy with little, learning to love a castoff trombone



Time now for StoryCorps. Gilbert Zermeno grew up on the plains of West Texas. He came from a big family that didn't have much. They got by on the hundred dollars a week Gilbert's father made picking cotton. So when Gilbert wanted to join the school band, his parents had to get creative. He sat down at StoryCorps with his wife, Pat Powers-Zermeno.


GILBERT ZERMENO: I was imagining myself playing a saxophone. And I brought home a note. I showed my mom. The school is bringing in an instrument salesman, and all the kids are going to be there that want to be in band. And there was this huge dust storm. She goes, there's no way that we can drive in this dust storm, mijo (ph). It's just too dangerous. So what I did was I took this little statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and I put her on the window. And I said, I really want to be in the band. Please make this storm go away. Ten minutes later, it just stopped. And I went over to mom, and I went, no wind. So now she's in a really tough spot.


ZERMENO: So we get in the car, and we drive to the school, and there's all these new, shiny instruments. And the parents are just writing checks out. And my mom looks at one of the checks. It's, like, 650 bucks. That's six weeks' worth of work for my dad.

So she says, where's the band director? (Speaking Spanish)? So we went in, and the man said, you know, well, a senior left behind this trombone. It's not a saxophone. It's not shiny. It has a little bit of green rust around it. And he opens it up, and the crushed velvet is no longer crushed. It's, like, annihilated inside. And I'm just looking at it going, that is so pathetic. And my mom says, (speaking Spanish)? How much? The director says $50. And Mom worked out a payment plan. She sent $20 initially, and then she sent him $5 every week.

But I was horrible. So I sat on the toilet in the bathroom 'cause it was the only room that had a door. And my poor mother had to listen to me play the same thing over and over again, and she would be turning up the radio - you know? - as loud as she could. But I also noticed that, the more I practiced and the better I got, the radio was turned down a little further. And I still have that trombone to this day.

PAT POWERS-ZERMENO: And that's why our child plays...

ZERMENO: The trombone. She could have played any instrument she wanted, and I encouraged that. I said, no, mija (ph), really, you can play any instrument you want. I could be one of those parents who could write a check out for a saxophone - anything you want. She goes, no, I want to play the trombone.


MARTÍNEZ: That's Gilbert Zermeno and his wife, Pat Powers-Zermeno, at StoryCorps in Phoenix. His story originally ran here on MORNING EDITION back in 2013. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jasmyn Morris