When I was six or seven years old, I was on any given day; Robin Hood. Or Evel Knievel jumping over Miller’s ditch on my Ross stingray bike or a platoon leader slogging through villages chasing Nazis and arguing nose to nose with my buddies…screaming spittle flecked declarations of “you’re dead…I shot you” to which was usually replied something like “no you didn’t…I was behind Miss Duffeld’s azalea bushes when you shot at me.” And the arguments were pure in that the taint of foul language wouldn’t come for another few years. Mine was a neighborhood overrun with kids and dogs and imagination. We didn’t need game consoles or the internet.
And our parents didn’t need baby sitters. They either left you with the neighbors for a few hours or called you inside, cleaned you up and took you in tow with them wherever they needed to go. And with my mom, it was usually the latter. I could feel the energy of the mood busting request as my mother’s high pitched Southern voice called for me out the back door. “Dusty…come home…” She never called me anything but my nickname unless I was in huge-ass trouble. Then it became Dustin. The same holds true today. There she is. My Scrabble playing 1970's mom. With a look that's somewhere, I'd say, mid-way on the Dusty-Dustin scale.
It was one thing to hear my mom call me in at seven-thirty on a summer evening when the sun was going down. Chances were that I was dirty, hungry and not too resistant to calling my Yankee shooting, Nazi chasing, Maid Marianne impressing, Friar Tuck bossing, Evel Knievel Caesar’s Palace-Miller’s ditch jumping day done. But when I got the shout-out at eleven in the morning, sometimes before we even decided what the game of the day was, my heart would plummet. For I knew that I was being summoned to come home, get cleaned up and go with my mom and four years older sister either to town, the grocery store or god forbid, to accompany them to Mrs. Wood’s house for almost two hours of their piano lessons. Shoot me now, shoot me now, shoot me now.
Mrs. Wood’s little house was befitting. It seemed to complement the one hundred year old, in my mind, crotchety widow piano teacher that she was. It was one big mothball smelling, anything but imaginative boy friendly, lace doily, knick-knack-a-thon holding-cell for tag-along chattel like me. She was so freaking pedagogical that even my steel magnolia-ed mama wouldn’t gently intervene and negotiate any extra wiggle room within Mrs. Wood’s admonishment for me to “sit right here ‘till your mother and sister finish their lessons.” It was torture of the highest order.
So there I’d sit…usually with a couple of Matchbox cars or my GI Joe. But such props were of no use. My imagination and well-honed ability to contrive self-entertaining fun was thwarted…by pedagogy, mothballs and doilies. I don’t think I ever, ever asked to pee at Mrs. Wood’s house.
And my sister kept f_c&ing up Beethoven’s Für Elise. I’m only six or seven years old so who am I to weigh-in on whether or not a piece of music is too advanced for a ten or eleven year old little girl? But I do know that my sister was and is clumsy and the tricky little motor sensory skills necessary to nail that little opening ditty of Für Elise was way beyond her ass. Trust me. Trust me also that GI Joe and I had to hear her ham-fisted efforts over and over again. She played it at her recital that year and I reckon she played it ok. I was there for sure but I don’t remember. I figure the photo above was taken at about the time all of this piano lesson stuff was taking place.
My mother admitted years later that the only reason she wanted to learn to play the piano was because of Moon River. She loved the Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini song so much and she wanted to play it and sing it herself. And her Moon River efforts clobbered my sister’s Für Elise mess but then again I was probably biased back then. I loved my mama better than Peter loved the Lord and during that particular childhood epoch, I hated my sister. And so after my sister’s wrongly syncopated, shoulda been playing Rootie Tootie Taxi instead; piano lesson, Mrs. Wood would call my mom to the piano. Maternal tries at Moon River seemed soothing compared to my sister’s Beethoven boondoggle.
My mom learned one more song. I mean I’m sure she learned others but I only remember one more that she wanted to learn because she loved it so much. Floyd Cramer’s Last Date. The song remains today one of my mother’s be still my heart songs. And if you take time to listen to it, I bet you’ll agree that it’s a clean little ditty. Soon after mastering to a reasonable degree both Moon River and Last Date, my mom quit taking piano lessons from Mrs. Wood. Something about not wanting to comply with Mrs. Wood’s request that she wear shorter nails so that they wouldn’t click on the keys. Whatever. I was by then maybe nine. I had other things to keep track of and all I know is that for whatever reason, I didn’t have to go to Mrs. Wood’s house anymore.
So here’s to the sweetness of good songs. And to the character building yet torturous moments of sitting amidst moth ball vapored Hummels and doilies and other anti-seven year old little boy energies while Für Elise gets hacksawed and Moon River gets mildly better treatment.
Thank you, Susan, for sending me this lovely version of Moon River. It inspired my recollection.
And Floyd Cramer's grandson does a stellar job of honoring his grandfather's legacy.