Thursday, October 7, 2010

Unforgettable Journey (Ch. 11 Pt.1)

Fran Kransberg with my music
It was scary to look at my father before we left for Boston's Greyhound station. The routine of driving us to the city after the clock struck midnight—for Saturday classes at Juilliard—threw him into a rage. "I hope this is all worth it, Furrances, these goddamn music lessons in New York. They're taking years off my life. But you already know that, don't you?" He stared us both down, as if mother and daughter were cohorts in crime, and pointed his finger at me. "You wanna grow up to be a concert violinist, little girl? It's your mother's crazy fantasy. When are you going to wake up and realize that she's robbing you of a normal childhood?" I stood without protest; my sleep deprived father was out of control. The best way to cope, I figured, was to pretend his words had no effect. My mother did her best to cajole. "Do you have your cigarettes, Johnnie?" she asked sweetly. "We don't mind if you smoke in the car, do we Margie?" 
"Enough," he fumed. "Let's get this show on the road."

♪ ♩ ♪

A line of zombie passengers awaited the 2 A.M. Greyhound bound for Manhattan from Boston.  "New York!" shouted the driver, a big-shouldered black man, swinging open the doors. A blast of cold air swept against my face. My mother barged through to the front of the line, and handed the driver our tickets. It would be a five hour trek to Port Authority. I yearned to rest on my mother's shoulder, as I had done through the night every Friday into Saturday, for the past four years of violin lessons.

"Please, Mr. Driver," my mother whispered as she pressed the tickets into his hand. "Do you suppose you could drop us off in front of Lincoln Center? That's where my daughter studies the violin—at Juilliard. It's a big day for her."
The driver shook his head, no.
"But you pass right by the school, on the way to midtown. There's a traffic light; the bus stops anyway. We won't keep you waiting. You say the word go, and we'll scramble off the bus."
He reached past my mother to load suitcases.
Light snowflakes danced in the sky and fell softly, like powdered sugar, onto our coats.
"It would make such a difference. My daughter has an important recital to play. Oh please—"
"Step on up, lady," the driver said with exasperation. "No letting off passengers before 42nd Street terminal. I gotta follow regulations. Besides, we're due for one helluva blizzard. Lucky if we make it."
She gasped. "But the recital!"

My mother linked her arm in mine, and hoisted me up the steps. The combined odors of perspiration and cleaning fluid—Lysol?—overwhelmed me.
"C'mon, my dolly. We'll sit near the front. You never know. Maybe that grouch will change his mind."
She stashed her Mary Poppins carpet bag underneath the seat, and stowed my violin case in the bin above.

"Oy! I'll sleep, that's for sure."
She unzipped her knee-length, brown-leather boots, and kicked them off.
"To think the other mothers will finally hear my dolly perform at Paul Hall. You'll put their children to shame with that unaccompanied Bach Sonata and the Mendelssohn Concerto—a complete program memorized. I can't wait to see Edith Blum's face when you play. She always brags about her two boys, the pianists, what are their names?"
"Michael and Freddie."
"Michael and Freddie. Such nice boys. And your teacher, Dorothy DeLay. Won't she be proud?"
My mother smoothed her shoulder for me to rest. "Come here. I'll tell you a secret."
"What?" I found myself asking. It was during Greyhound commutes that she imparted her keenest observations.
"It used to be a Jewish thing."
"What—what used to be a Jewish thing?"
"Music, especially the violin. No more."
"What do you mean, no more?"
"I mean, the Orientals."
"What about them?"
"They've taken over. Generations ago, the violin was an instrument that Jewish parents would give their little boys—their Jaschas, Mischas, Toschas; you know, as a means to lift the family from poverty. Our people couldn't have survived without music in the Old Country. Life was too difficult; music offered strength. And I always wondered—you know your mother—why just the boys? Why not give the girls an opportunity too? I'd have given my right arm for lessons but my parents were deaf to my desires. Only my brother Morris, because he was the firstborn son, got to have anything he wanted."
My mother spread her fur-lined coat like a blanket and tucked it up to our chins.
"Nowadays, when I wait for you at Juilliard, I see mostly Orientals."
"Asians," I corrected, half-asleep.
"What, I have to be careful how I talk to my daughter? We're so proper, all of a sudden?"
The low hum of the motor and motion began to work its magic. "Oysgemutshet," I thought I heard my mother say, before we both drifted off.

I awakened to frantic rustling underneath my seat, and glanced down. My mother was on all fours.
"Mom, what are you doing?" I could taste Greyhound deodorizer on my tongue, an indication that I had slept with my mouth open.
"Margie, it's the darnedest thing. My boots are missing!" She raised herself from the floor in a panic. "Look outside. The streets are covered with snow, and we're in midtown already."
She snapped open her bag from under the seat and took inventory. "Everything is in its place, the wallet and essentials. I checked your violin up here." She pointed to the bin. "But my boots. Pardon me," she spun around to the passenger across the aisle. "Did you happen to take my boots—they're brown leather—by accident?"
The passenger, a pony-tailed young man in a stupor of contentment shook his head, no.
"Hello?" she asked another passenger, a few rows behind. "Could you check under the seat? My boots may have rolled backwards?"
The woman stared blankly. "I don't see no boots under no seat."

With stockinged feet, she went from passenger to passenger, then visited the WC, in case someone had played a practical joke. No boots. Finally, my mother inched forward to the driver, and brushed her hand against his broad back. At close range, I saw her blondish wig lower to his eye level.
"Lady? What's the problem?" He growled.
"Can you make an announcement over the loudspeaker? I can't seem to find my brown leather boots. They've got to be somewhere in this bus, for boots don't just fly away and disappear!"
He lifted the handset slowly and brought it to his face. "Attention, Greyhound passengers. See this nice lady here?"
Then he whispered. "Lady, what did you say your name is?"
He bellowed over the speaker. "Fran here lost her boots. What color did you say they are?"
"Brown leather with zippers."
"You heard the lady. Take a look under your seats, and search your belongings. Help Fran solve the case of the missing boots."
Passengers chortled.
"And welcome, Greyhound passengers, to the Big Apple."
A final lurch, and we were parked in Bus Zone.

The boots were nowhere to be found. My mother sifted through her bag, only to find a mismatched pair of extra mittens.
"What are you doing?"
"I have no choice," she said, tugging the mittens, one blue, the other brown, over each foot.
"You're going to walk around like that?"
"This is New Yock! Nobody cares. Woolworth's inside the terminal sells shoes—don't they?"

We tumbled out of the bus. I followed my mother as she glided through the corridor. Throngs of harried passengers with briefcases, newspapers, and bags dodged past us.
"Marjorie Jill—" She turned and paused.
I took a deep breath to keep from laughing.
"Stay close to me. Eccentrics, those New Yorkers."

At Woolworth's, there was only one pair of plain pumps in my mother's size.
"No boots?" she asked the stout sales lady.
"Sorry honey. We're sold out. You want those pumps or not?"
My mother unclasped her purse, and begrudgingly paid for the shoes. "They'll have to do for now."
She glanced at her wristwatch. "Oh my goodness, dolly, we're running late. Your lesson starts in less than thirty minutes."
I shrugged. "Miss DeLay's never on time, Mom."
"We'll hail a taxi."
Was I hallucinating? We had never taken a cab in all my years of music lessons. "You have enough money?"
"When it comes to being at Juilliard on time, in the snow yet, I have money. Besides, these shoes will never do in this weather. They're horrible."

Yellow Cabs lined the curb at Port Authority. My mother waved and caught a driver's attention. He sprang to his feet, to help carry my violin case.
"Don't touch that!" my mother snapped.
"No problem." He threw up his hands. "Where are you ladies heading on this  snowy morning?"
"Lincoln Center. Juilliard."
He glanced at the oblong violin case.
"What's that, a trumpet, horn or somethin'?"
"Violin," I replied.
He squinted.
"Mr. Driver, we're in a rush. My daughter has a violin lesson at eight o'clock sharp."
"OK." He nodded for us to get into the car. The meter clicked a presto.
"Oy, so expensive." My mother shook her head.
The taxi belched as we gathered speed. Snow had piled up the streets and sidewalks, causing mild pandemonium. Horns blared, and red-cheeked passengers leaped off curbs. A woman slipped and landed on top of her shopping cart. Bagels rolled to the middle of the street.
"Ha! I almost got her," boasted the cabbie. He careened around a corner.
"You're a wonderful driver," said my mother, gripping the hand rest.

The taxi spun in circles through a traffic light. I felt dizzy. My lips pursed the letter M for Mommy. The next thing I remember is being in front of Lincoln Center. My mother paid the exact amount, down to the penny. The driver grunted something, and raised his hands, palm side up. Reluctantly, she unzipped her coin purse. "Here," my mother said, counting change. She dropped three nickels and two pennies into his hand for a tip.
The cabbie shifted a toxic gaze from my mother to me.
"Come on, Marjorie," she urged, opening the door.
I bolted from the taxi with my violin.
"We made it," she sang, our arms interlaced. Soon I'd have my lesson and perform my first complete program at Paul Recital Hall.
A car screeched to a halt and blared the horn. "Hey Blondie!"
We turned around.
Our cab driver thrust his head out from the window, unlocked his fist, and hurled my mother's tip onto the middle of the street. "Keep the change!" he yelled, and floored the gas pedal.