Sunday, November 22, 2015

"What Would You Like To Be When You Grow Up?"

September 1958 ".... I Pledge Allegiance.... "

I remember feeling very small and insignificant as I entered my new classroom on that chilly fall morning. Second grade would be much harder than first, at least that's what my older brother assured me.
As I sat at my new desk at the very front of the classroom, I was immediately aware that it was too small for me -- or was my chair too tall? All I knew for sure was that my feet did not touch the floor, and I wasn't about to tell anyone.

I looked above the blackboard to the familiar printed alphabet, A through Z. Beneath it was the script we would be expected to learn this year. My eyes followed the letters that extended the full length of the room, so perfectly formed.... how would I ever learn to write like that? My brother was right, second grade would be very hard.

My teacher took a Bible from off her desk and stood before us.
"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all ye lands..." Psalm 100 --
I remember it as if it was yesterday. We would fold our hands, bow our heads and pray for our class and for the day ahead.
"Please stand and push your chairs under your desks."
That was the only part I didn't look forward to. The boy seated behind me seemed to have such difficulty pushing his chair in without making the most ear-piercing, screeching sound, sending a chill from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. The teacher would give him one of "those looks" and continue.
"Place your right hand over your heart, and now in unison.... 'I pledge allegiance to the flag.... of the United States of America...'"

As I looked around at my classmates reciting in unison, and up at that familiar red, white and blue flag, my little heart would feel a flutter of exhilaration. Was it pride, or an overflow of thankfulness? Now we not only had the blessing of God, maker of heaven and earth on our day, but were reminded once again that we were a part of a very great nation, a nation under God.
Somehow I began to feel less insignificant. It was a very secure feeling, a feeling that gave me confidence, to do my very best -- to learn that script and whatever else was in store for a big second grader.

The second grade classroom was surrounded by pictures of some very important people. Not ordinary people -- presidents of the United States. There was our very first president, George Washington, he was also a very brave military leader, and Abraham Lincoln.... I knew he was the sixteenth -- he was assassinated by a man named John Wilkes Booth. Then there was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was in office that year, 1958. His wife's name was Mamie. She had bangs and so did I, so my Dad nick-named me 'Mamie'. Little did I know that the name would follow me for the rest of my life.

"... And what would you like to be when you grow up?" was the question often asked during those first years of school. Hands would dart up quickly, desperate to be the first to be called on. "Fireman! Policeman!" most of the boys would blurt out. On occasion one who had not been called on would be asked, "And how about you? What would you like to be when you grow up?"
".... President of the United States."
There would be a hush. Everyone would look over at this classmate and finally let out an "...OOOH!"
Because we all knew that presidents were very special people, and very few people would ever become president.

November 22, 1963... Sixth grade.

The announcement came over the public address system in my sixth grade classroom that our president, John F. Kennedy had been shot. There was a hush -- some tears and commotion in the hallways. My two best friends and I walked quickly home from school shaken by the news.
I ran in to break the news to my parents, but they already knew. Their eyes stared in disbelief at the black and white images on the television set; a motorcade through downtown Dallas, a slow moving Lincoln convertible transporting a smiling waving JFK, suddenly hunched over in the first lady's lap, stricken by a gunman's bullet.
Then came word from newsman Walter Cronkite — “The president has died,” he said, before slowly removing his black framed glasses and becoming visibly choked up. Our nation mourned, the entire world mourned with us. The president of the United Stated, the most prestigious office one could aspire to, the office that sets the tone of our land and the course of our nations future -- open for all the world to observe. Someone killed our president.

Something died in the soul of our nation that day. Whether a Republican or a Democrat, it didn't matter -- our president was dead.
In office
January 20, 1961-November 22, 1963

Today is the 52nd anniversary of JFK's assassination.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

....Iron along with Liberace!

(Original artwork—if you can call it that!)

September 1958

....Now for some cookies and milk and some after school TV; maybe some cartoons and if I can get control of the TV knob—Liberace!

That’s right, Liberace!

My brothers laughed at me and ran outside to play, but I sat, eyes glued to the set, fascinated by this piano player; dressed in his brocade jacket, rings glittering on his hands as they danced up and down the keys of his grand piano complete with a candelabra. His smile was so broad and white it looked like another set of keys.

Today I would describe him as.... flamboyant; but to my seven -year old mind, he was spectacular!
And I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Housewives across the country got out their ironing boards and ironed along with Liberace's afternoon piano concertos.
When the half hour was over, it was my turn. I would sit down and play our piano—by ear—mimicking his techniques. My mother, realizing the seeds of genius here, encouraged my father to find a piano teacher for me. And he did—my first lesson would take place on a Saturday in September and would continue, every Saturday at 1:00.

I could hardly wait to meet my piano teacher. All I knew is that he was a “Mr.” “Mr.Lipman”
Hmmm…..didn’t sound much like “Liberace”— but I was still excited.

Whether I had any intentions of impressing my new piano teacher, (after all, I’m sure Liberace would have been impressed!) or it was just a coincidence, I do not recall; but early Saturday morning before my first lesson I was playing next door and my little friends and I discovered a bottle of blue nail polish in their big sisters room. Her room was almost as fascinating as Liberace. She was boy crazy—Elvis crazy—and finally talked her parents into allowing her to have her very own telephone in her bedroom. It was a white Princess phone, a brand new model that was streamlined with a light up dial. The first thing she did when it was installed was to paint it with pink nail polish and while it was still wet, sprinkled it with silver glitter. I guess blue nail polish was her latest fad. The three of us painted our finger nails while big sister was in the shower, and I headed home to wait for my piano teacher to make his appearance.

I stood at the window watching the end of the driveway.
Would I see a great big flashy convertible with fins turn in? I had no idea. All I knew is that I had butterflies in my stomach for the first time in my life.
At exactly 1:00 on the dot, a little, tiny grey Volkswagen put-put-putted up the driveway. My piano teacher very slowly got out, ducking his head to avoid hitting it on the roof of the car.
“He’s very tall and very bald” was my first impression.
Dressed in his gray herringbone jacket, tie, and navy blue pants-- glasses thick with black rims. He was scary.
“Mary, Mr.Lipman is here. Go to the door and greet him,” my mother said.

I slowly, very slowly, opened the door and let him in. My mother introduced us and walked us to the living room where our piano sat by the window.
“I’m going to put the baby down for a nap. Have a nice lesson.”

Now we were alone. Me and Mr.Lipman, my piano --and one chair.

“Oh, I forgot, our piano bench is broken! I’ll be right back.”
I walked to the dining room and retrieved a chair for him. I returned and placed the chair next to mine and sat down beside him—nervous, but ready for my first lesson. Mr.Lipman, obviously perturbed that there was no piano bench, sat down abruptly in the chair. One of the four legs immediately collapsed beneath him and Mr.Lipman fell backwards, legs extended heavenward and let out a disgruntled “…OUGH!”

This lesson was not off to a very good start.

Finally, the chair replaced, Mr.Lipman’s striped tie straightened, glasses back on his nose—we were ready to begin. He asked me to place my right hand on the keys and…oh dear. How does a seven year old little girl explain to a bald man in a herringbone jacket that it was Liberace who made her think that blue nail polish would be acceptable to wear for her first piano lesson?
It was not.

Mamie…..” he said and then paused for what seemed like a very long time.
“ Please go into the bathroom and wash that nail polish off. I will wait.”
I guess neither of us knew that soap and water would not remove the blue nail polish. I sure tried but I returned ten minutes later, fingernails just as blue. He tolerated the disturbance—but only this time.

From that lesson on, I looked forward to Saturday afternoon with a great big knot in my stomach. I watched for that little gray Volkswagen, and secretly hoped I wouldn’t see it. I did learn my lessons, however, when we finally got around to them.

Oh, and he really disliked bubbles blown during my lesson---two pieces of Bazooka Joe and the bubbles were amazing; but NEVER during my piano lesson.
Never again.

One Saturday after my lesson I overheard my mother telling my father that Mr. Lipman called me a “child prodigy.” I wondered if that was something like juvenile delinquent and if my father would punish me.
Must have been the broken chair, and the blue nail polish. Whatever it was, I was in for it.

You can see pictures of Liberace and his amazing grand piano here at the Liberace Museum.

...and you can listen to Liberace's fantastic piano playing here!

No wonder I wanted to play the piano!