My father, a husky man with balding gray hair owned a furniture store, Kransberg's on Cabot Street in Beverly, with his elder brothers Sam and Harry, and nephew Eddy.
"Frances," he said, eying the dining table after work. "When's supper? It's been a long day."
"After practicing," she said. Half a year had passed since the Suzuki Masterclass, and my mother was determined to leap ahead with my studies. My father grew agitated at the sound of the violin first thing after setting foot inside the house. Music seemed to take priority over all else. He darted me a look. I stood with violin and bow tucked under my arm, waiting for my mother's directive. The aroma of pot roast smothered in onions and garlic wafted from the oven.
"Do a good job with the music," he growled. "Make your mother happy or our lives are gonna be hell."
"We're working on Bartok Duets. They're fun. Do you want to listen, Johnnie? You might get a kick out of us playing together; the Bartok Duets are like a musical jigsaw puzzle."
"Naw," he said, hugging the TV Guide and making a mad dash to the bedroom. "Call me when supper's on the table and the scratch box is put away. There's a new episode of "Gunsmoke" that I don't wanna miss."
My mother and I played "Counting Song" several times. Like a scientist, my mother dissected the piece for hidden clues, relentlessly unearthing details.
"Do I have to play it again, Mummy?"
"One more time," she said.
"But you always say one more time," I said, lifting the violin to my chin.
"Counting Song" derailed. The syncopated off beats confounded me. My mother lowered her violin and rested it on her lap.
"That's a dotted quarter note," she said, pointing at the note with her violin bow. "You turned it into a half note."
"Eeew," I said. "We cawnt have that."
Every now and then I mimicked my mother's New England accent, just to spite her. When I felt frustrated, she looked to me like a creature from "Lost in Space" with a long thin neck and spindly fingers.
"Marjorie Jill. Don't have an attitude—"
"Don't you have an attitude."
"Ok, smarty pants. I'm calling your father!"
"No! Don't," I begged, my legs turning to rubber. "I'll try again."
My father, when hungry, resembled a wild beast. When he stomped through the house the walls shook.
We played "Counting Song" from beginning to end, flawlessly.
"Good," said my mother, closing the book of duets and raising herself from the piano bench. She placed our violins in their cases. "Tomorrow we'll prepare for an audition. It's time for you to have a teacher more equipped than your mother, and I have just the person in mind."
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"Marjorie's ready for a professional teacher," my mother intoned at breakfast. "I'll drive her to Boston for weekly lessons with Linwood Scriven. He's the best. Remember, Johnnie. I studied with Mr. Scriven several years ago. I asked him to teach me the Brahms Concerto but he told me that I didn't have the technical facility, and that I'd never be capable of playing such a demanding work because I started the violin too late. That won't happen to this one here." She winked in my direction.
My father was rushed for work. A shipment of La-Z-Boys were due, and an order of recliners needed to be returned to the factory. The topic of violin lessons irked him. Our suburban home on Lord's Hill in Wenham was thirty miles north of the city. My mother wasn't known for reliable driving skills. She drove below the speed limit until the police pulled her off to the side."I can't let you drive into Boston every week, Furrances," said my father, stressing the first syllable of her name. He polished off an onion bagel in three mouthfuls. "Find someone local. She's just a kid. Lessons in Boston are expensive. What—Frances—you think I'm made out of money?"
"John. There's nobody adequate for our little Marjorie in the North Shore," she said, stirring a cup of Sanka and nibbling on a Saltine.
"You're nuts," my father said, throwing up his hands and leaving the table.
Their voices escalated. I sat in the kitchen listening to my parents argue. "Margie," hollered my father, as he stood up to gather his hat and coat. "Tell your mother you don't need to be schlepped back and forth to the city for music lessons—"
"Margie," my mother lamented. "Explain to your father the difference a good teacher makes. Tell him you want to get better, not stay on the same level. Boston has the finest teachers and schools."
I was in the middle of a battle zone, and for what? I always sided with my mother. Hadn't my father insisted I mind her, and do as I was told?
"I want the violin lessons, Daddy," I said finally.
"More expenses," my father fumed. "That's just what we need. Your three sisters had to have music lessons, too, but they quit. This teacher, that teacher. She fired them all. That's her style."
The door slammed behind him.
My mother gasped, and threw her arms around me. "He'll come round, you'll see."
My parents, John and Frances Kransberg, in Wenham