We were huddled next to a locked car in the parking lot of the Chicago Art Museum (or maybe it was the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry) in the frigid afternoon while the wind howled around us and the icy snow stung our faces. My Dad made me, the oldest, promise to keep us all there until he was able to get to a phone booth to call a garage and arrange for help starting our frozen car. I may have some details mixed up, but what is so clear to me about this childhood scene was that my Dad had taken my brother, sister and I, (all under the age of nine) to see art. We were little, but he wanted to expose his three kids to see art – even on a bitterly cold Chicago day.
My Dad was delivered by his grandmother, in her home in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and was the eldest of two children. His Dad, an immigrant from Popoli, Italy, finished high school and worked in the steel industry all his life. His mother, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants, never finished high school and worked as a domestic beginning at age 12.
A burning desire to move away from his hometown landed my Dad in Columbus, Ohio after high school, living with an aunt and uncle and looking for a job. Sitting at a lunch counter and reading over his neighbor’s shoulder, he noticed an article about the nearby Ohio State University in the newspaper. Utterly awestruck by his first visit to campus, he enrolled shortly thereafter. He completed his Bachelor’s, Master’s and ultimately his Ph.D in behavioral psychology. During those years, he also played the french horn in the famous Ohio State Marching Band, including one year at the Rose Bowl. He was even given the “Most Inspirational Player” award after he demonstrated his devotion to the band by stealing aboard a bus in the luggage compartment so he could play at an “away” game.
I played the viola in 5th grade followed by the flute from 7th – 10th grade. I had on and off piano lessons for many years, and played around on a guitar that my Dad gave me as a birthday present. I never got good on any of the instruments I tried, reading music and learning the basics has completely enriched my life.
While my Dad was a scientist by training, spiritually and emotionally he is an artist. One of the greatest gifts he ever gave me has been exposure to and love of art.
Shortly after it came out in 1965, my father took me to see the wonderful movie, The Sound of Music. I was seven and it was the first time I ever remember seeing my Dad cry. A long tracking shot over the Alps zoomed in to find Julie Andrews swirling and singing “The Hills Are Alive” with her crystalline voice. I was shocked and asked if he was alright, and he told me yes, but he just loved the music so much it made him cry.
Shortly thereafter, my parents divorced. A total Daddy’s girl, I was utterly devastated when he moved thousands of miles away from Madison, Wisconsin to find new work and a new life at the University of California, Davis.
We started spending our summers in Davis and we lived with him for an entire year when I was in fifth grade. My Dad loved the Beatles – their music, their minds, their personalities, spirits, interests, creative powers, and I did too. The Sgt. Pepper album was huge, and the White Album came out 11 days after I turned ten that November of ’68. Every time I think of that year spent in Davis, I think of the songs on those two albums.
I can still sing all the words to pretty much every single Beatles song and their music is embedded in my DNA.
Years later, my Dad was famous for cranking up George Harrison’s “Wah-Wah” as loud as the stereo would go and wailing out the lyrics. I still do.
On that horrible night John Lennon (my Dad’s favorite Beatle) died, I spoke to him on the phone for hours.
During one of his visits to Madison, Dad bought me the core albums necessary for a collection of the classics. Beethoven, Brahams, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Mozart, Bach and Schubert. Beyond just purchasing the albums, he spent time explaining the unique contribution of each composer.
I studied at the University of Bologna, Italy for my senior year of college. This was in the days when Europe was a long way away. Calling America as a student renting a room with no phone required taking a bus to a SIP (Società Idroelettrica Piemontese) phone station downtown, where you waited, sometimes for hours, to be assigned a phone booth to place a call that was so expensive, you usually only spoke for minutes. To stay in touch, my Dad mailed me a cassette tape.
The tape opened with Frank Sinatra singing “You Make Me Feel So Young” from his “Songs For Swinging Lovers” album. Bit by bit, I started hearing my Dad’s voice calling my name in the distance. I pulled my Walkman headphones away from my ears and looked around my bedroom to see where he was. My Dad’s voice got closer and closer, and I realized he’d recorded it over the music to sound as if he was calling me from far away and he came so close it sounded like he was sitting next to me. He chatted a bit and went on to explain why he loved the album so much, which was in large part due to Nelson Riddle’s arrangements. It was an experience I will never forget, and I am still a huge Sinatra fan.
As early as I can remember, my Dad read to me, which I believe helped me grow up loving books. An avid reader all his life, my Dad was always surrounded by books, most of them non-fiction that related to his interests in health, self-care, mind-body connections, alternative therapies, nutrition, history and mythology (to name only a few areas). I adored looking through his books and often spent entire afternoons reading in his library.
Dad took me to concerts – Tower of Power, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, an old jazz musician whose name escapes me, and the Newport Jazz Festival. He took me to the Getty Villa in Malibu, the Heart Castle, and delighted in my stories and postcards from my year in Italy.
A movie lover, my Dad brought me to countless movies. We often went to see old movies on the UC Davis campus, including what could be my all-time favorite, Singing in the Rain. He and I share a love of old movies. The romance, the pacing, the double entendre, the dancing, the music, the lighting, the restrained passion, the silences that speak so loudly. One summer, my Dad and I drove across the country from California to my home in Madison, WI. It was about 150 degrees in Las Vegas, so we stopped and took in a matinee double feature.
I could go on for days and days. But mostly, I just want to acknowledge and thank my Dad for bringing music, art, movies, books and dance into my life.
What gifts have your parents given you?
A few links I hope you enjoy:
There are few moments in film, or dance or music more thrilling to me than the moment at the 1:43 minute marker where Gene Kelly pulls Cyd Charisse into his arms in Singing in the Rain. Smoking hot. Watch it at your own risk.
My husband doesn’t get it, but like I said, I spend hours watching old movies. And, it blows me away how relevant they are today. Watch Joan Blondell and Etta Moten sing “Remember My Forgotten Man,” in Busby Berkeley’s (who was a former WWI artillery lieutenant) 1933 pre-code movie, Gold Diggers. The movie is about the depression, and was made during the depression. Timeless.
Given this post’s focus on art, I shouldn’t include this link to one of my guilty pleasures – Project Runway – but I love watching creative people design gorgeous fashion out of thin air. I could certainly do with out all the fighting and bickering and would love the show to focus more on the creativity and artistry, but the DVR helps me fast forward over all the dumb parts.