Miss Otis Regrets

When a friend and I were having brunch a couple months ago, she asked me if I had any regrets. I thought for a moment and said, “Well, sort of.” And then I proceeded to tell the story of why I still question my choice of grad schools. But that’s not what this is about.

What I’m really writing about is a bag of Trader Joe’s almonds. You see, my last year in Baltimore I accompanied pretty steadily in the studio of one of the voice faculty at my undergrad. It was a great gig, and I can’t even begin to detail just how much I learned during that year alone. One of my very dear friends was a student of this voice teacher, so she and I spent a lot of time together in Dave’s studio over the years. For some reason, one day we were looking around his office (innocently, mind you) and happened across an unopened bag of Trader Joe’s dry roasted, unsalted almonds. We chuckled, having a hard time imagining Dave eating those of his own volition, and decided that his wife probably bought them and told him to take them into work for a healthy snack.

Fast forward a month or two. The almonds are still there, more or less untouched. We’re in the office alone again, and are both hungry after a long day of classes and/or rehearsals. So, we look in the big glass bowl in the cubby on the desk, and lo and behold, a bag of glorious sustenance. Of course, we’d never outright been given permission to eat the almonds…but given how close we both were to Dave at the time, we assumed it was no big deal. We didn’t demolish the whole bag, just ate a couple modest handfuls apiece and went back to rehearsing whatever it was we’d been working on before hunger struck so viciously. This felt hugely deviant to little goody-two-shoes me. But once again, I think we figured that he’d barely touched the things – we could probably eat the whole bag and he’d never know. Or care, honestly.

A year or two after we snitched the almonds, Dave was diagnosed with leukemia. Totally unexpected (when is that sort of diagnosis ever truly anticipated, though?), and I think most of us just assumed it’d be a relatively quick thing and he’d be back to his rising career as a Wagnerian tenor in no time at all. Well, today marks two years since he passed away. And even as I write this, I’m tearing up thinking about what a tremendous loss that was for so many people, and how profoundly he influenced my life as a person and a musician. The last time I was in touch with him, Dave assured me that, in spite of all my doubts, there was a place in the musical world for me. Those are the still the words I tell myself after an especially rough day.

No, I’m not going to turn this into a sappy “tell your friends that you love them because you never know what might happen” moment, however valid of a suggestion that may be. But might I instead recommend that if you steal almonds from someone, you at least tell them thank you. Because I never did. So, Dave, I don’t know if you ever wondered about this, but we’re the ones who opened that bag of almonds and ate them. And, hey – thanks.

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3 Responses to Miss Otis Regrets

  1. Robyn Smith says:


    I am Dave’s sister-in-law, married to his brother. Cherie (Dave’s wife) forwarded this to me and I just had to write and tell you how great it was to read yet another story of Dave’s life. I forwarded it to my husband and my children who loved Dave so much. My youngest daughter who is 21 (and very attached to Dave) wrote back saying that while she was crying a little she was giggling also about someone eating the almonds and Dave probably not knowing and definitely would not have cared. We periodically get blessed with little snippets like this about Dave that just reminds again of how many lives he touched. My husband, who is an electrician, just discovered that one of his co-worker’s daughter was also a student of Dave and how much she loved him. So much that even the dad knew of him because she talked about how great Dave’s class was. It brings him back to us in a way! Thank you.
    Robyn Smith

    • SW says:

      Robyn – Thanks so much for your response. I’m glad that my little memory of Dave was able to bring some joy to people who knew him far better than I did! The friend and I who snitched the almonds still talk about Dave frequently – he will certainly be remembered through all the lives he touched in one way or another.
      All the best to you and your family!

  2. Lisette says:


    How did I not read this two years ago? Oh, I know. I was nose-deep in certification coursework in the teaching program Dave suggested I apply for. I am not surprised you found those almonds in there. I once had to clean out Dave’s office (he was there…and helped!) because I just couldn’t take the clutter anymore. Lots of loose papers, pens and pencils were the most of it. I don’t think I came across a bag of almonds though! This made me smile!

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