Friday, December 1, 2023

....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!

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