By the time my parents had me, they had already been friends with their crowd for more than twenty years. In those days, children were seen and not heard so my parents were spared my observations of their nearest and dearest friends.
One of their friends had two children, a girl and a boy and, all during the years I knew them, I never knew their names. Their mother called them Brother and Sister. She would sit there and say, “Brother, please tell Sister we have to get home.” I used to think to myself that she probably forgot their names so it’s a good thing she only had one of each.
My mother had another friend who was a know-it-all. She was a schoolteacher and, in those days, women did not go to work if they had a husband and children. And, because she was a teacher, she was very condescending.
One day, they were sitting in our breakfast room and the radio was playing softly in the background. All of a sudden, the aria, Un Bel Di from Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly, came over the airwaves. My mother’s friend turned to my mother and, in a smug voice said, “That’s Verdi’s opera, La Bohème.
My mother said, “No, that’s Puccini’s aria, Un Bel Di from his opera, Madame Butterfly. Her friend, in her most condescending tone told her that she was wrong.
At the end of the aria, the announcer said, “That was Un Bel Di from Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly and my mother’s friend was both annoyed and shocked. She said, “How did you know that?” My mother just smiled.
The reason my mother knew the aria so well was because in those days, I couldn’t express my emotions verbally, and that aria was filled with so much emotion that I played it on the piano night and day. It was filled with soft pianissimos that led into very loud, fortissimo passages to be played with great passion, and I played it very passionately, if not well.
It became my emotional outlet. I played it when I was bursting with happiness; I played it when I was upset; I played it when I was angry and when I was excited, and no one ever knew what I was feeling because I played it just as passionately from one emotion to the other.
My mother smiled when she recognized my signature piece being played on the radio and she knew that Verdi didn’t compose La Bohème, nor did he compose Madame Butterfly.
Score one for my mother.