Vacation in Paris Blog

Confined To Memory

Places To Visit - Posted on Apr 02,2021 by JanSmi

Another lockdown! At least four more weeks, the French government has told Parisians.

Help! I want my mother! Really, I do, because she is the one who got me through the very first confinement I ever faced.

That was when I was not yet five years old, and the doctor announced I had rheumatic fever. “Six weeks in bed, maybe more,” he told me and my parents. This was not good news, but my parents were relieved: it was NOT polio, the disease that panicked everyone then before the vaccine became available.

Mom and Dad immediately swung into action, fixing a bed for me in the living room near the piano, but it was my mother who took the lead. She was a pianist; she played for church services, accompanied the choir and the soloists and provided the music for weddings, funerals and just about everything else that happened in our small South Dakota town. In between, she was taking pipe organ lessons at St. Mary’s Catholic Church down the street, campaigning for an organ for our Lutheran church and working part-time at the telephone company.

Mom collected her pile of Etude magazines and dropped them by my new bed. Some of them had been my grandmother’s and dated back to the 1910s. These wonderful old journals were quarto-size and had colorful covers, but it was inside that the treasure was found, particularly for those of us who lived in small towns away from the major cultural centers. There was always music, usually including a piece especially for church pianists and organists, but there were also tips for music teachers, news about the music world and, best of all as far as I was concerned, a children’s corner.

Mother would sit on the bed with me and help me read the stories of composers and then pick out the themes from their works on the piano. On the few minutes I was allowed out of bed each day, she showed me how to play those melodies.

The story of Tchaikovsky’s life became my favorite. Maybe his becoming sick with cholera resonated with me as I was confined to my bed, but I always wanted Mother to play his music for me and she played some of his compositions over and over again. She found 78 rpm recordings of his concertos and symphonies and wore out several needles playing them for me. She even let me cut out articles about him and his music, including stories about “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” and his other ballets. It must have been a wrench for her to let me cut up those much-loved Etudes, but she brought me a scrapbook and glue so I could save my Tchaikovsky collection.

In between, I would drift off to sleep as my mother practiced or worked with singers who would come by for her accompaniment.

My six weeks in bed came at about the same time as this confinement we’re now going through. My childhood one, however, was due to end in time for my fifth birthday which would fall in the week before Easter that year.

“We’ll plan a party for then,” my mother said, and for a while Tchaikovsky was relegated to second fiddle. She put a bag of colored cotton balls on the bed and a bunch of little cards. “Fold the cards in half,” Mom said, “and draw a little bunny on them like this.” She sketched the back of a rabbit and then glued on a cotton ball. The bunnies with their fluffy tails became place cards acquiring the names of everyone we’d invite to the party. I thought my mother had worked magic.

In fact, she had. I was not a docile child and I must have whined and complained a great deal, but I don’t remember any of that. All I know is that Mom had turned six of the worst weeks of my life into some of the nicest days I ever had.

I remember she played some Tchaikovsky for the game of musical chairs at my fifth birthday party. I was still limited in what I was allowed to do, so I sat by her on the piano bench as my friends squealed and ran around the old wooden folding chairs brought from the church basement. Mom noted in the scrapbook of the party that one little boy got so excited he wet his pants.

Then everyone scrambled to find their place marked by the bunnies with the cotton ball tails. There was, of course, cake and ice cream and presents. An absolutely glorious day, I thought.

And then a hard lesson. It was too much, too soon, the doctor said, and I was sent back to bed.

It all sounds way too familiar, doesn’t it? We were just too eager to be done with the whole thing.

Still, I don’t think I complained about my new confinement very much. After all I still love Tchaikovsky and bunnies with fluffy tails still make me smile - although sometimes they bring tears to my eyes.

My mother really had worked magic, and her recipe for living through a confinement is still a good one: plenty of music, lots of crafts or something else to do and maybe a party to celebrate the end.

Just don’t rush it.

Photo ©Myriam Zilles

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Our latest guest bloggers - Don and Petie Kladstrup

Don and Petie Kladstrup are authors of two best-selling books, the first being Wine and War: the French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, a best-seller that has been optioned for a motion picture. Their second book dealt with World War I: Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times. Both books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Coming November 1st! Champagne Charlie: the Frenchman Who Taught America to Love Champagne

Don and Petie are former journalists. Don was a award-winning foreign correspondent for CBS and ABC Television News. Petie worked for several mid-western newspapers before serving as an assistant to the American ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. They are the parents of two daughters and have lived in Paris since 1978, splitting their time between the city and their country home in the south of France.

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