I spent a lot of time talking with Grandma over the telephone and the person I spoke to always seemed so happy and sappy and not quite real. Only in the year or so before her death I heard a little more from her that made more sense. Otherwise almost everything I know about her is from what she told my mother, her daughter-in-law.
I think Grandma should win the Olympic Medal for persevering through an absolutely awful life. She was as bipolar as the rest of us and how on earth she stayed alive is a testament to the triumph of human spirit and perhaps to her very rigid husband ( 1932 LA Olympic Trials in the quarter-mile) who I think is the source of the Austistic glory that is me and much of my family.) Grandma lost her mother, her favorite brother, her most loving son all to traumatic suicide, then had a very wicked stepmother, a father I am still angry at, and as we read here, also had a sadistic piano teacher, as described in this story.
The good news is that she ended up years later with a wonderful piano teacher who also taught my Dad and was like a member of the family. Her name was something like Frances Robein a Juliard graduate with famous students who used to play music in the silent movies. When my sister and I met her she gave us each a heart locket and told us, “this occasion called for something special.” God bless the good teachers of this world!
I hope to share some more of Grandma’s writings and life story at a later point.
Florence Werne Yakobovitch
English 27 #3220
Nov. 10, 1980
Liszt Behind the Pickle Barrels
Mrs Kanterowitz, a short, plump middle-aged woman stood behind the counter on which were displayed such delicacies as herring, kosher frankfurters, corned beef, etc. She was waiting on a customer who had the appearance of a sad-eyed cocker spaniel and whose suit looked like it had not been pressed for some time.
“A half a pound of pastrami and the same of sauerkraut,” he requested in a dull tone of voice. “And how is Mrs. Leibowitz today?” inquired the proprietress, “You know how it is!” he replied with a shrug of the shoulders, “Thanks God – it could be worse.” “Health is everything,” said Mrs. Kanterowitz as she weighed the sliced meat. “Ah yes!” sighed the customer as he watched the sauerkraut being scooped into a carton.
While this transaction was taking place, the sounds of someone playing the piano from behind a partition floated about the store. It was Liszt’s popular “Hungarian Rhapsody.” Into the deli meandered another customer. She was an amiable elderly woman. She wore a scarf on her head. The wrinkles on her face were obliterated by her broad smile. She was known for her homemade remedies, certain to cure colds, bronchitis, etc., which remedies she would prescribe to neighbors, and even mix these magic potions herself.
“Good afternoon Mrs. Raab,” came the greeting from across the counter. “Oh, how beautiful your Goldie plays that piano! Beautiful” exclaimed Mrs. Raab, waving her arms to accentuate her enthusiasm.
“Yes,” said Mrs. K. “She is practicing for her piano recital for next week.” “Such a good girl your Goldie.” Goldie was a young girl of 18 years, somewhat plain with light brown hair and blue eyes, but a real credit to her parents. “Such “nachos” (pleasure) you have from your children,” searching for words to describe her maternal pide. She and her husband were hard- working. They had rooms above the store, hence the partitioned area behind the pickle bar- rels became a make-shift music room for Goldie’s piano-practicing.
The large pickle barrels line the partition so that one’s nostrils inhaled the pungent odor of the brine at the same time that the ears were charmed by the dulcet notes of “The Hungarian Rhapsody.”
“Do they give prizes at the recital? If so Goldie should win first prize,” Mrs. Raab de- clared with no uncertain authority. “Everyday she practices and for hours,” echoed the proud mamma.
Just then came in Mr. K. carrying two large cartons. He had overheard the last remark about his prized daughter. He was silent and appeared to be busily engaged in opening the boxes. He left the talking to his wife. However, he nodded in the direction of Mr. Leibowitz who lingered momentarily in the doorway listening to the strains of the Rhapsody as if hesitant to return to the depressing atmosphere of his dwelling.
A little girl of ten entered the store. She was on her way home from school and thought to buy a small slice of “halavah” (her favorite delicious Mid-East confection). Awaiting her turn, she too was confronted with the magical notes of the “Rhapsody” issuing from the partition behind the pickle barrels. The little girl stood [illegible] the passionate passages (even though the composition was very well-known to her.) Papa had a record of it together with Caruso and other gems.
“”Oh, how Goldie practices! How she works at her piano! If ever I would practise like that!” she thought. “I’ll bet she has a good teacher, not like Miss Jay, who slaps my wrist sharply whenever it drops below the keyboard. And frightening me with a tale about a piano that had a long sharp blade bordering the keyboard.” The purpose of which was to train pupils to keep their wrists in the proper position or run the risk of cutting them on the sharp blade. And pfui what an odor would emanate from Miss Jay, as if she seldom bathed. Her father was the Jewish chaplain at the Ohio State Penitentiary,” No wonder. And I don’t think she had a mother to bring her up properly.
Fanny, for that was the little girl’s name, was aroused from her musing. It was her turn to be waited on at the counter. She requested one small slice of halavah. Mrs. Raab patted her on the head as she was about to leave the store, clutching the cherished parcel containing her favorite sweet. She cast a glance through the opining between the partition to look at Goldie practicing so diligently, repeating the same passages again and again. Ach such patience. It was if that last glance would remind Fanny to strengthen her resolution to practise more diligently herself, a kind of inspiration.
She then left the deli. The sounds of the piano follower her then they faded in the distance. What a miracle! Franz Liszt emerged from behind the pickle barrels in Mrs. Kanterowitz’s delicatessen. In addition that delicious halavah was to be obtained there too. What more could one want when one is 11 years of age?
A long day behind the school desk. What could be more enchanting than those dulcet sounds emanating from a deli in Columbus, Ohio in the year 1921?
Mr and Mrs K. nodded to each other as Fanny departed.