Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fourth Birthday (sunday Scribblings prompt: date)

This is my granddaughter Myrtle on her 4th birthday in 1985
even though the story arises from my 4th birthday.
Just goes to show how important that birthday is to little girls!

Fourth Birthday

When I was a four years old, my parents decided that I must have a piano. In those days (1925), pianos were almost as ubiquitous as TVs are today, at least in middle-class households. My parents bought a little honey-colored Baldwin studio upright . As soon as it was delivered and installed in the living room of our four-room (plus sleeping porch) house, Mother sat down to play it. She could read music inexpertly, but she had one “show-off piece”: Ethelbert Nevin’s Welcome, Sweet Springtime, known at that time as an “art song.” She rolled it off with aplomb and many arpeggios, then opened a song book and hesitantly accompanied my father’s rich bass on old college songs.

“But I want to play! It’s my piano,” I reminded them. “And today is MY birthday!

Mother consulted friends as to who might be a good music teacher for such a young child. Mother and I went to my first piano lesson, and I came home with a chart of the staff to prop behind the piano keys and with two whole pages to practice, both limited to three contiguous notes of which Middle C was the central one.

It wasn’t long before I progressed to “Polly, put the kettle on”, but music wasn’t the only attraction of those lessons.

My teacher lived on a steep hillside above the Santa Cruz boardwalk with it’s fancy domed “Casino.” If my Mother and I arrived a little early for a piano lesson - and Mother’s philosophy was that it was only rudimentary politeness to arrive ahead of time - I would be sent to the back garden to play. It sloped steeply from one side of the back fence to the other and even more steeply toward the house. Its stone stairs led upward through ferny banks and mossy terraces and across dry pebbled streams with lacquer-red bridges. Dozens of brightly colored figures lurked throughout the garden: red-hatted elves and winged fairies, raccoons and rabbits and giant green frogs, even flamingos at the edge of a little pond whose goldfish were the only actually living creatures installed in the garden. Paradise for a child!

The Casino at Santa Cruz circa 1900
This building burned down and was replaced
by the domed one I describe.

Then after my lesson, if the morning was bright and the ocean sparkling, I could frequently prevail upon my mother to descend the steep street to the Casino. As far as I know, it had never had the gambling that its name implied. What it contained at that time was a Penny Arcade. The cavernous interior was usually colder than the outside sunlit air, and it had a slightly moldy smell. We were often the only customers in the echoing space, although, perhaps in the afternoon, school children came to play the arcade games, jiggling levers to animate the figures of the baseball team or the pugilists. I begged for pennies to feed into the slots of my favorite machines, each with little wrought-iron steps attached to its iron pedestal to enable people my size to reach the eyepieces or working parts. In the ones my mother most approved, my penny turned on a light that illuminated a stereoptical slide show, with a lever to advance the slides. My mother preferred the educational ones such as those of national parks. The ones I liked best, though, were the “moving pictures.” Mother had to turn the crank for me, and I would glue my eye to the eyepiece to see the silent flickering figures jerk rapidly into motion, distressed maidens with hands clasped to their bosoms remonstrating with mustachioed villains. The whole drama would be over in two to three minutes.

I loved to practice my piano lessons, and, after my required fifteen minutes, to explore the possibilities of the smooth ivory keys. I soon figured out that moving my hands to the right produced higher tones, to the left lower tones. It was only a few weeks before I could use one finger to play the melody of America. “My country, 'this of thee...” My parents were thrilled when I demonstrated it to them. I think they foresaw a future for me as a concert pianist.

22 comments:

Lucy said...

this was such a lovely glimpse into your childhood.
Your b.d. gift provided beautiful music as well as long lasting wonderful memorie. thanks so much for sharing such a sweet story.(your granddaughter looks so sweet too)

angie said...

Thanks for posting this wonderful look into your past.

Chris said...

Wonderful story. I was just telling my son today to practice, practice, practice so when he gets older he doesn't look back and wish he would have. Your story is rich and warm, and makes me wish I would have...

Shari said...

You remember great details for having been only 4. It must have been a special time for you.

nonizamboni said...

Reading this I was propelled back to a gentler time as your descriptive writing always does. Did you continue with the piano and play concerts?
Thanks for sharing another bit of who you are. . .lovely indeed.

keith hillman said...

I'm so glad I dropped in. What lovely memories. Thank you.

Marianne said...

Being transported to your childhood via your writing is always a journey I love to take.
Actually, all the journeys via your writing are lovely :^)

We had an old upright that I sat at from the time I could walk and climb up onto the chair, I'd very methodically 'pick' out tunes, became acquainted with each key as individuals, they were my friends.

Robin said...

What a lovely glimpse into your childhood, filled with beauty and magic. I would love to have seen it myself, but seeing it through your eyes almost makes me feel as if I have.

Just Jen said...

what a great story! I can just picture this sweet little girl strolling the gardens.
66 years of marriage is absolutely awesome! I sure hope we can do it!
I hope my boys find that commitment too!
I think people give up too easily.
I'm going to add you to my blog roll. I had you at one point then I redid my blog and lost everyone. I'm sure glad you did sunday scribblings so I can add you again!

tumblewords said...

Delightful memories - my piano lessons didn't go nearly as well!

Odie said...

What wonderful memories of childhood and learning to play the piano. I loved playing the piano, but my piano teacher needed to have a 'nip' or two right before my lesson, and suffered from 'headaches'. Not so fun. Glad that yours was.

Granny Smith said...

No, I didn't go on to be a concert pianist, but playing piano has been a lifelong pleasure, and my children enjoyed everything from their own voices to the multiple instruments that they played (including piano).

Liza's Eyeview said...

Thanks for sharing :)

gautami tripathy said...

This is a beautiful piece. Beautiful memories..

sister AE said...

I like your story. And it brings me fond memories of my piano teacher who had small games and comic books on her couch for those of us who arrived early. And a candy dish to eat from - but only AFTER the lesson!

Linda said...

What a nice style of writing you have! It brought me right back to my childhood and my grandmother, Nonie, who always played the piano for us. Thanks for the memory!

susan said...

GC,
I, too, enjoy your writing style and I look forward to reading about your family. Birthdays are big deal to me, too. Thanks for the read.

GreenishLady said...

This was a wonderful glimpse into your childhood and Santa Cruz in former days. I have a soft spot for Santa Cruz - It's where I spent my first days in the US. The garden sounds purely magical. I'm delighted to have encountered your blog.

forgetfulone said...

I truly enjoy your vivid descriptions. You have a gift for writing. Do you still play piano? I wish I'd learned. My daughter plays, though.

Jennifer Hicks said...

You brought the "penny arcade" to life for me (I never knew what that referred to!!), and made the thrill of new discovery and learning come alive!

Bethany said...

My mother was my piano teacher, which... well, didn't do wonderful things for our relationship, though I still enjoy playing. Your writing is incredibly beautiful and brimming with memories brought to life. Thank you for sharing!

LittleWing said...

i like your style...telling your parents hey, that's mine...what a great line...sounds like you had a wonderful time in the garden as well..thank you for sharing