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We were, according to my father, Lace Curtain Irish, not cabbage-eating shanty Irish like my mother's family, although every time he said this at dinner Grandma got indignant. Just because her husband had died young and she'd worked at Sears in Chicago all her life, didn't make her shanty Irish. 'He's kidding, Mother,' Mom would say. That was before my parents started taking their meals alone in the kitchen.
'What do your parents think about you eating Gulabkis?', Sonia asked. 'They don't mind', I said, but I hadn't actually told them. My parents weren't interested in what I ate.
The Wotylas ate early, at five, six or so. After dinner, Mr Wotyla would play the piano in the living room that was dark with drawn curtains. ('Drapes, not curtains' I can hear Sonia correcting Carole.) Mr Wotyla wore a white shirt with no tie or maybe he just took the tie off when he got home from work. Over the white shirt he always wore a black cardigan when playing the piano, even in the hottest weather. In the dim light you could imagine it was a tuxedo like the one Van Cliburn wore although Mr Wotyla didn't resemble Van Cliburn. He had black hair that was always sticking up although it was slick with Vitalis. He had a curved belly. The piano was a grand so long the narrow end protruded into the dining room which didn't matter because the Wotylas had no dining room set. The only other furniture in the dining room was the television cabinet pushed up against the window. Occasionally, when Mr Wotyla wasn't playing, the children were allowed to sit on the floor under the piano and watch TV. 'It's a concert grand', Carole said. Nobody complained it took up half the tiny house. When he played Chopin's heroic Polonaise and the Revolutionary Etude, the walls and floors vibrated. 'Tell him you want to be a concert pianist, why don't you?' Carole said. 'I changed my mind,' I said.
But Carole must have told her dad because the next time I came over -- I was there four nights a week -- Mr Wotyla invited me into the living room.
'Are they teaching you any Chopin?'
I played the A-flat minor Waltz, which I had memorized from last year's recital. 'Good,' he said, knitting his thin lips together in a quizzical smile. 'You have a nice touch. You don't need to go in such a headlong rush. What are you working on now?'
'My recital piece.'
He had my recital piece, the Waltz in B minor, in fact he had the complete waltzes of Chopin edited by Joseffy, new, not dog-eared like the copy I bought from Mr A.
I played the first section, then stopped at the middle section. Mr Wotyla said, 'Well done. You are perfecting the runs before building up speed. Go on.'
'Mr A said not to learn the middle part.'
'What does George know? Not to play the whole piece is a waste. You think Chopin just put that in there for his health?'
Copyright © 9 April 2008
K C Devereaux, Michigan USA