Local Dispatch: Father's career gave her different sense of timing
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It is funny to me that, occasionally, a moment in sight or sound can trigger a past memory, as if it were yesterday. Then a scene that you have not thought about in years resurfaces with complete clarity.
Such was the case when visiting a friend's garden this spring. As we marveled at a spectacular weeping cherry tree, suddenly her husband, a musician and educator, stuck his head out the door and said, "I have to leave, I'm playing tonight."
All at once, I was far from that expansive garden and back in my parents' cozy home in Brentwood, where my musician father left each night after dinner, because he was "playing tonight."
My father's jobs were playing violin in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and, on off-nights, making dinner music with a trio at the old Union Grill restaurant Downtown.
This made our daily routine very different from that of my neighborhood friends, and in memory, I could see Daddy getting ready for his evening "gig" that required putting on a "penguin suit" (tuxedo with tails) for the symphony or a suit and tie for the Grill.
Actually, the timing of all this quite annoyed me back then, since we had dinner at 4:30 p.m. to give Dad time to dress and leave for work. This meant that I had to come in from play at least an hour before the other kids, who ate at the normal hour of 5:30 or 6.
Thus, when I was finished with dinner and wandering around the yards, ready for action, my friends would just be sitting down to their meal. As a lively kid, those couple hours taken from roller skating, jumping rope or just careening through the yards felt like a serious loss.
But even then, I realized that there was an upside to our "upside-down" lifestyle, too. My parents were careful to help me understand this creative way of making a living and include me in its rewarding side.
As early as kindergarten, I recall feeling quite sophisticated, as my mother took me out of school early to see my first performance of "Brigadoon" at the Civic Light Opera. I was thrilled and watched raptly, until I felt compelled to comment to hygiene-conscious Mom about the barefoot dancers: "Look, their feet are dirty!" Somehow, she survived the amused stares. (I had verified her emphasis on cleanliness, hadn't I?)
When I was about 8, she took me to a symphony concert featuring opera singer Roberta Peters. Again I sat transfixed, feeling like a member of the cultural "in" crowd. The next day, I couldn't wait to read the review in the newspaper. I was fascinated that they described Ms. Peters' beautiful evening gown as a "candlelight hue." (That lesson taught that good presentation helps even the best performance.)
About the same time, the amazing tenor Mario Lanza appeared with the symphony. I had already seen the handsome vocalist in the movie "The Great Caruso" and was duly impressed. The performances were immediately sold out, but Daddy promised to take me to a dress rehearsal if I would sit quietly.
Would I? I couldn't wait.
Unfortunately, childhood ailments paid no respect to my entertainment schedule, and I contracted tonsillitis on the much-awaited weekend. I was devastated, but at least Mom let me stay awake until Dad came home to give me a full report.
As another special treat, Mom would sometimes take me shopping in the late afternoon. Then we would stop for dinner at the Union Grill, where Dad, fellow musicians and staff gave us a special welcome.
When very young, I could be convinced to line up with the musicians and sing the Sammy Kaye hit, "Chickery Chick," without much encouragement. (I think diners mainly applauded because they were relieved when my off-key voice stopped and they could continue dinner in peace.)
Unfortunately, I inherited none of the family musical talent. (Mom was a flute major.) But thinking back, I can't deny that music has always played a significant part in my life.
And just once in a while, I find that the stirring of an old memory makes it soar like a symphony.
This Father's Day, it has emerged as a tribute to Dad.
First Published June 15, 2012 12:00 am