By: Ruth Deming
I had fallen asleep again in the living room on the small blue and white loveseat, my body contorted like a serpent. The television was blaring. Mr. Rogers was on. Yes! THE Mr. Fred Rogers. He was just changing his shoes. From sneakers into regular men’s shoes, perhaps Florsheim, which they had back in the day, or Chuck Taylor Converse Sneakers, or even snappy Alligator Shoes.
Mr. Rogers was holding a record album. An album, not a CD, of which I have hundreds, lined up in the closet of my Reading Room. The album read “Introducing Andre Watts.” Holy moly! I hadn’t thought of Andre Watts in decades. He was now 74 years of age. One year younger than me. A handsome biracial man, with black curly hair – and of course I wondered if he wanted to meet an attractive divorcee.
I walked into our parlor, where our Knabe & Sons piano resided under a bedroom sheet. I had hoped I would forget about it forever, I was so ashamed that in my early 20s I was a star pianist and had played Brahms’ Rhapsody in G Minor at Higbee’s Department Store, back in our hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.
Mother was a personal friend of Eunice Podis Weiskopf, a renowned pianist who died of Alzheimer’s disease.
During the pandemic I was suffering. All I seemed to do was watch television, anything would do, including reruns of The Fugitive, Mannix, and Cannon, with William Conrad and his ever-expanding stomach.
Occasionally someone would rap on my front door, with a mask on.
Black masks with red polka dots. Masks with the U.S.A boldly showing. Enormous white masks made of a strong material that made the owner look like a duck about to quack. And powder-blue masks, like the one I had.
“Bernie,” they would ask me. “Still alive in there?”
I would laugh but never dare to invite them inside.
Bernie, in case you’re wondering, is short for Bernadette, a very strange name for a Jewish girl. My parents were “odd balls.” They moved to Hawaii since they couldn’t stand the freezing cold winters of Ohio, with piles of snow six feet high. Mom and Dad used to have a team of shovelers who came around. They plied them with whiskey so they would stay warm and paid them with a twenty-dollar bill.
Both dead now, they left me a trust fund. The only thing I used it for was to order supplies from those ubiquitous blue Amazon trucks as if I were stranded out on the plains of Iowa making my way to Californey.
And, no, I never watched “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Could not stand their jabber.
My piano teacher was a woman named Mrs. Lois Weinberg. Mrs. Weinberg made me practice to get ready for recitals. I could play the fast movement of “The Appassionata” by Beethoven, “Berceuse” by Benjamin Godard, and a dozen other dreamy songs.
Recitals were held at Howard Johnson’s near the Cleveland Museum of Art.
“If you don’t like it, Bernie,” Mrs. Weinberg would say, “choose something you do like. That you love!”
One spring day when the lilac tree was blooming on the front lawn, Mrs. Weinberg knocked on the front door, and walked in, like she always did. I had forgotten to put away my chocolate milk, which I kept next to the music stand.
She put her hands on her face and screamed!
Yes, she screamed bloody murder.
“You’ll ruin your Knabe!” she shrieked.
A red-head, who I had passed at Sylvia’s Hair Salon along Lee Road, I had pressed my nose to the window when I saw her sitting and chatting with her hair stylist.
She insisted I learn something from The Holocaust. Leonard Bernstein had written the Chichester Psalms, terribly difficult, but I did stumble through them. But now, I was “pumped” by Mr. Rogers and Andre Watts.
First, something to eat. From the freezer I grabbed Raspberry Sorbet, sat down on the red couch in the living room, and with a tiny spoon – it was actually a serrated grapefruit spoon – I ate directly from the round box. Marvelous!
Yes, glory to God, I was going to learn to play the piano again.
Pulling off the green and white sheet from the piano, I took a good look at it.
It was a baby grand piano. Such a perfect word. Grand! Ebony-colored like a blackbird winging its way home from Canada. I simply stared.
In the piano bench was sheet music. Pulling them out, I saw old favorites.
“How I’ve missed you,” I whispered, as if to a long-lost lover. Most of the covers were a bright green, like the Mediterranean Sea.
I went right for the Chopin, which Andre Watts had played for Mr. Rogers. Sitting down, I began to play as if I had never stopped. I could not believe it.
“Oh, Lord, why didn’t you tell me? Where have you been hiding?”
Fred Rogers, smiling broadly, and wearing a blue sweater, hovered over me and gave me strength.