My father was a musician, a violist. He graduated from Julliard. He taught there a bit, but after World War II, he headed to Hollywood to work in the studios.
It was lucrative work, when he stayed in their good graces, with lots of gigs. Enough money for fun evenings with my mother at the Coconut Grove.
It was a unique childhood, growing up on the periphery of the industry. Tuesday nights at the Hollywood Bowl, courtesy of the musicians union. Piano lessons with elderly ladies who smelled of dusting powder. Chamber music in the living room. Composers, poets, writers visiting. Eccentric refugees, mostly Hungarians, always banging on our pianos. Interesting houseguests — mostly spiritualists and vegetarians. Visits from Johnny teGroen, the head of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 47.
The beat generation was in full swing.
Today, I live in the suburbs of the greatest metropolis in the world. My parents died long ago. And now we have trunks full of their memories. My father’s programs. My mother’s photos. There are news clippings, telegrams and the occasional cocktail napkin. advertisement
What does it mean to be a family’s memory keeper?
I dust off the lid of a steamer trunk. I turn the latch and pull it open. Without looking, I pick up a program at random.
Suddenly it is 1958. I am backstage at the Redlands Bowl. My father will conduct tonight. I hear the mixed up sound of an orchestra tuning up. The smell of rosin is everywhere.
The curtain lifts and I fall alseep in my mother’s lap.
I am the memory keeper. I keep the memories. I keep them in my head, in my heart and in way too many boxes and trunks.
Memories. The crinkly sound of my mother’s black cocktail dress. Her hair was long and she was beautiful. Red lipstick, perfume and the sound of corks popping. Her joie de vivre when she was young, before the cancer took her.
Memories. The eccentric refugee cellists who ate all our plums.
A chiropractor named Dr. Rotondi who owned a monkey and parrots.
A yoga teacher named Indra Devi who pretended to be from India.
A composer named Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco.
A violinst named Tasha Seidl.
I was little back then. I didn’t take notes. And now, I have all these boxes. Their photos. Our photos. And now, our children’s photos.
I am the memory keeper.
What does it mean to be the guardian of a family’s history? To keep it in scrapbooks and photos? To keep the stories of other people’s lives?
Which memories should I share? Which ones can I forget?
What are the rules for the memory keeper?