Here are 10 things you should know about Cole Porter, born 127 years ago today. Porter is among the greatest American composers and songwriters and a favorite here at Cladrite Radio.
Our mom used to mention an Aunt Ruth, her mother’s sister, who lived in Taos, New Mexico, and was an artist. We’d met Ruth on a couple of occasions, she assured us, but we had been so young at the time, we had (and still have) no recollection of those encounters.
But as we grew into adulthood and came to more greatly appreciate creative types—bohemians, as they are sometimes called—we began to wonder about Aunt Ruth and to fervently wish we could at the very least see some of her artwork, which Mom had led us to understand would be paintings.
We did an internet search every few years but never turned anything up, in large part because didn’t know her last name (we assumed she’d been married at some point).
We even included a heavily fictionalized version of Aunt Ruth in one entry in Men My Mother Dated and Other Mostly True Tales, the collection of humorous essays and stories we published some years back. In this particular tale, Ruth and her husband lived not in Taos, but in Amarillo, Texas, where they operated a roadside eatery. The story had it that Mom, feeling restless as her senior year in high school approached, was given permission to spend the summer with Aunt Ruth and work as a waitress in the diner.
As the story progresses, Mom meets Jack Kerouac, who is traveling south from Denver with Neal Cassady to visit William S. Burroughs in Mexico City. A mildly fictionalized account of that trip is found in Kerouac’s novel On the Road, but Mom’s encounter with Kerouac isn’t, of course, mentioned there, since it never happened (except in the pages of our book).
In recent years, we’ve become an avid (if entirely amateur) genealogist, digging gleefully into the various branches of our family tree via ancestry.com and other, similar sites. But only very recently did we make any serious progress in learning more about Aunt Ruth, who was, it turns out, a citizen of some prominence in Taos, so much so that one Mary Alden penned a 1,000-word profile of her for The Taos News that was published on March 4, 1999, nearly a month after Ruth passed away.
From that profile, we learned much more than we’d ever known about Ruth (which was admittedly next to nothing).
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Acknowledged the world’s best piano (Wm. Knabe & Co.)
Beautiful piano with a magnificent tone, A (Betsy Ross Spinet).
Beautiful piano with a magnificent name, A (Lester).
Canada’s biggest piano value (Sherlock-Manning). London, Ont.
Choice of the masters (organ), George Kilgen & Son.
Choose your piano as the artists do (Baldwin Piano).
Craftsmen built the Kurtsmann (piano).
Cultivate your musical bump (instruments), C. G. Conn, Inc.
Drum makers to the profession (Ludwig & Ludwig).
Drum standard of the world, The (Ludwig & Ludwig).
For everything musical (Street Music Co.), Kansas City, Mo.
For those friendly notes (White & Wyckoff Mfg. Co.), Holyoke, Mass.
Hammond is the largest-selling organ in the world, The.
If it’s a Steger, it’s the most valuable piano in the world.
Instrument of the immortals, The (piano), Steinway & Sons.
Instruments of quality by one family for 100 years (spinet), Story & Clark.
In tune with a tune (Ladd Ocarina), Hill, N. H.
Keyboard of the nation (Kimball piano).
Little piano with the big tune (Miessner Piano Co.), Milwaukee.
Made by masters, played by artists (Buescher Band Instrument Co.).
Made by the makers of the Hammon organ (Solovax), Piano attachment.
Master’s fingers on your piano, The (Auto-Pneumatic Action Co.).
Most valuable piano in the world, The (Steger & Sons).
Musical fun for everyone (Wurlitzer phonograph).
Name to remember in flutes, The (Armstrong).
No other instrument so richly rewards the efforts of the beginner (Hammond).
Piano of international fame, The (Steinway & Sons).
Popular as music itself (Pianos and player pianos), Winter & Co.
School of achievement, The (Pizzitola Music Studios), Holyoke, Mass.
Serves you right (music distributors), Ashley.
Voice of the cathedrals, The (bells), Liberty Carillon.
We challenge comparison (Vose & Sons Piano Co.), Boston.
We teach, we don’t confuse (Pizzitola Music Studios).
Wholesale music center, The (Targ & Dinner).
With all the grace and beauty of its name (Minute Model Gulbransen Piano).
World’s most respected accordian (Nunziola).
You can bank on a Frank (trumpet), Wm. Frank Co., Chicago.
You can’t fool the microphone (string instruments), Lyon & Healey.
You can’t go wrong with a Feist song (Leo Feist, Inc.).
Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:
It’s Christmas, 1955 (don’t let the date on the border of the photograph fool you). We think the setting is the home of our grandparents—Karen’s folks—in Okemah, Oklahoma.
That’s our grandfather standing in the archway, holding my older brother, who was nearly six months old at the time.
We like the candid nature of this photo—that Karen appears caught unaware, that Cecil and Tony seem not to know a shot’s being snapped.
And we especially like that Karen is playing the piano.
Karen’s mom, Frances, made a little money on the side giving piano lessons to the no-doubt reluctant children of Okemah. And, given that Cecil was the superintendent of schools, it must have been a bit daunting for those kids to step through the front door of the Oakes residence.
We can recall a time when our first-grade teacher, Ms. Crowell, paid a visit to our home (actually, in those days, it would have been Miss or Mrs. Crowell, and we don’t know just which). When the doorbell rang, we ran to answer it. Flinging the door open, we were stunned to see her standing there. What was Ms. Crowell doing at our house? Surely we weren’t in trouble for anything. First grade was over, for Pete’s sake. We had pried ourselves loose from her grip and were enjoying our barefoot summer months before moving on to second grade, savoring some well-earned down time before moving on to a new, as-yet-unnamed taskmaster.
Ms. Crowell was, as it turned out, paying a visit to Karen, but what they talked about and what inspired Ms. Crowell to come calling, we’ll never know.
But we can remember quite well how unsettling it felt to have our two worlds—school and home—collide unexpectedly, and on a warm summer morning, at that. We imagine it was equally unsettling for those Okemah youngsters, all those years ago, to cross the threshold of Superintendent Oakes’ house for piano lessons.
It’s said that Karen played the piano very well when she was young. It was a pursuit she held quite dear. As she moved into young adulthood, though, she and the piano parted ways. She and Dad simply didn’t have the money to buy a piano, and when they finally did manage to purchase one, it seems to have been too late. Mom almost never sat down to play it.
Why? We don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that she was distressed at having lost her touch, that, after so many years, she was disappointed to realize she no longer had the facility she’d once had. Surely she could have regained her skills with time and effort, but perhaps that task seemed too daunting, what with her busy schedule and four teenagers to herd.
We like to think Karen’s disappointments in life were relatively few, but we have to count among them the fact that she never again played the piano with any regularity. She’d probably long dreamed of the day she and Lloyd could acquire a piano, and when they did, to have her reunion with those eighty-eight keys prove a clumsy one must have been difficult.
So it’s with a bittersweet feeling that we share this photo with you, dear readers. It makes us smile to see Karen at the keys (and we’d love to know what she was playing—a Christmas carol, perhaps?), but it reminds us that she gave up a very special part of her life when she began to devote herself ever more fervently to her family.