By Edgar Weinstock
Neither my mother nor father had even been graduated from legitimate four year high schools. Yet they each helped me in different ways to begin my own never ending journey as an artist before I was five years old.
I will tell it now as I remember even though I did not know then that words meant anything. Nor did I understand words put properly together could form thoughts. At four years of age I had not any idea what an idea was. Time was lurching on and I was becoming more lost to civilization.
One winter afternoon, my mother was hurrying all over our apartment in Glen Rock, New Jersey. Her English had gotten much better since I was born. But none of our neighbors my age talked to me except once with the stones they threw as they explained to me it was my people who killed their Christ. I didn’t even have crayons let alone “people.”
Neither of my parents seemed to have much time for me. They worked hard and were often tired. I was often puzzled and could not figure out just what I was always doing wrong. My mother later said, “We are all just lucky we only got mad at you one at a time; never both at once.” By the time I was four, I knew at least enough to stay out of their way when either one was rushing around which was happening early one winter evening in 1945.
My mom had been cleaning everything. I saw plates and napkins and silver I didn’t remember seeing before. I didn’t understand why or how, but it seemed our whole apartment was newer, shinier, with more light even though the sun was all but set by now. And what singing smells of food seemed to fill every corner of our second floor home. Mom was really cooking! I stayed at my hiding place, sure to be out of the way in a corner formed by the wall and my tall friend, the standing Stromberg Carlson radio/record player with 12 inch wide speakers.
I remember her quietly repeating things like, “He won’t remember.” “Oh what’s the matter with me? He’ll remember.” “Where is he?” I must have looked scared. She took a deep breath, wiped her hands on her apron, and walked me to the window … We both looked for him.
Earlier it had begun to snow. What little light there had been at all on this gray day was leaving now. “Where is your father?” I felt scared as she kept going to the windows asking me … And I still couldn’t even put word language together. When they looked angry I ran away and when they sort of smiled I breathed easier. If I close my eyes, I only notice out the two tall windows with big flakes how it is so quietly: snowing. And finally, her shoulders drop as she breathes out and she lights the candles and begins putting food into her and my plates.
Finally, we heard the outside door open a floor below, and stomping that I knew was the sound of snowy shoes noisily getting rid of snow. We listened. It was Pop’s footsteps! Did she touch my shoulder? She whispered, “He’s here.” And she moves to the middle of the room facing the door. On the other side of the door, shoes are being wiped on the floor thing made of straw needles I was to wipe my shoes upon whenever I came in from outside. Then the door opens and Pop stands smiling, melting, and well, just looking at her.
He ‘sneaks’ in and slowly leans against the closing door with his hands holding something behind him. He looks at her. Holding behind him … what? He just keeps …beaming… at her. “Sam, I’m so glad you’re home. I was worried. You’re very late.” Then she suddenly became angry: “Where were you? Why are you so late? We were …” From behind him, he has just held out a square paper envelope with a black platter inside. Mom breathes all the way in and almost shouts, “He remembered! He remembered!” She jumps into the air over and over again, then runs and takes the black platter and flies to put it on the phonograph player right next to where I am trying to hide.
The music begins and suddenly I almost see colors which make me feel allowed to fill up my space. For the first time in my little life I feel happy and sad at the same time! The different sounds ran over me like warm water. Pop just kept leaning against the door looking at Mom as if he were enjoying her slowly swaying back and forth with her eyes closed. As if she feels me watching, Mom turns toward me as she opens her eyes and slowly bends down, looks into me, and asks if I like the music. I nodded. With one finger that she softly touches upon my chest, she informs me, “Chopin wrote that.”
We all sat down and dined accompanied by the music that … ‘Chopin’ wrote. I didn’t know then why I felt so happy. As I write this, though, I remember that neither of them were arguing. They weren’t even talking much just sometimes stopped eating and looked at each other. Finally they tried to explain to me what marriage meant, what anniversary meant, what love – and a whole bunch of other words I don’t remember what any of it meant. But I saw how they were looking at each other, how warm they were to even me … while the snow flakes got bigger and kept falling past our windows.
I have sometimes been slow to learn what people mean in this great world. 200 different theatre productions! Working with thousands of other people to express or glorify or dramatize complicated humanity, l have often struggled to understand explanations from colleagues. But no one … not ever … since that night… when the snow fell so silently and blanketed my world with such large quiet flakes as if not to upstage the music … since that night no one has ever had to explain to me what ‘Chopin’ means.