Making friends, using a little pot . . .
There is no question that in Boston of the 1970's there was plenty of "pot" around. It was impossible to get on a subway or a bus without being offered a toke. But that is not the pot I'm going to tell you about.
As Bandmaster of The famous Salvation Army Cambridge Citadel Silver Band, I was influenced by one of my bandsmen, Mark R. Keeler, to set up a Christmas Kettle stand at the North Station where tens of thousands of commuters passed each morning and each evening. Being a stern taskmaster, I mandated that each man had to find a way to support this effort for the corps. This simply meant that every weekday from Thanksgiving to Christmas - five days a week - an ensemble from the band would play at the kettle from 7:00 am. to 9:00 a.m. and again from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. This, no paltry task!
It must be mentioned that the Cambridge Band in those days was made up largely of young men who were, shall we say, on the edge of Army discipline or (as we say today) outside the box - I included. I was by no means the most radical looking of the bunch, and I wore shoulder-length hair and a full beard. Unlike some in the band, I cleaned and pressed my uniform regularly!?
Now, we called the kettles "pots", and we always brought an extra with us because we frequently filled one to the brim. There were no breaks in that two hour stint and if we could see people, we were playing. It was cold and taxing work. In my six years as Bandmaster I can say that I alone was there every single morning and every single evening, of which I'm proud. There were others like Eric Stubbings that had almost perfect attendance. All attended at the sacrifice of work-time and wages. It was an effort of love and devotion to The Army, its mission and our valiant Officers.
For six years, every morning and every evening there was an eccentric looking gentleman that always approached the kettle and paused for a moment to enjoy the music with a grin and characteristic nervous chortle. He always put a dollar in the pot. On the occasions that he requested a specific carol, always the more pious ones, he slipped in a fiver! Keep in mind that this was over thirty years ago when a buck was still a buck! I called him eccentric looking, let me explain. He always wore a very long black wool overcoat, had an expensive looking black fur hat, and carried an old fashioned accordion brief-case, also black. I never got the man's name in spite of the literally hundreds of thank you, Merry Christmas and God bless you greetings that were exchanged.
Now the story takes an interesting twist. I left Boston to move to Detroit to become the Director of Development for the Eastern Michigan Division of the Army. In this capacity I felt that a conservative haircut and clean-shaven appearance went better with the Brooks Brothers attire suited to mixing with wealthy donors.
After several years in this different world, I went to Washington D.C. for a professional conference. As I boarded the elevator for one of the events (in my Brooks suit and clean-shaven), I noticed a man in the opposite corner of the elevator that was staring at me and he looked vaguely familiar, but I could not place him. Finally, I said uncomfortably: "Sir, do I know you?"
Just then the doors opened and we all scrambled to get out. Then he spun around and blurted: "You're that Salvation Army guy from the North Station!!" We extricated ourselves from the rush and shook hands for the first time. He did not have his hat, overcoat or even the briefcase, but it all rushed back to me - all those dollars and smiles and appreciation for what we were trying to do.
As it turned out, he was attending the same conference I was! His name was Herbert Howard. Herb and I became fast friends and remained so for the rest of his life. As it turns out that was cut short by perhaps the most hideous of all diseases, commonly called Mad Cow disease (look it up). Even in death Herb continued giving, in this case, leaving his body to science to help others.
After Herb died his wife sent me a letter from the head of a Salvation Army capital campaign in 1940 (a year before my birth!) It seems that Herb, at tender age of 10, had saved all of his allowance and other spending money and presented it to The Salvation Army for its capital campaign. Not a part, but the whole of it! Herb's generosity then brought tears to the eyes of Boston's captains of industry, as it does me today.
Herb was a noble friend in life and remains a valued part of my life today even in his absence. I thank God for Herb Howard!
God bless you! EXCELSIOR!
Herbert Graham Howard
Now, as always, enjoying the fellowship of His Lord
November 30, 1930 - October 13, 2000
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