Friday, March 7, 2014

Katja's Tale: Opera Memories

Katja, age 6, with her sister 

Dear George,
Opera is important to me.  It’s a link between my childhood and the present.  Opera and the music of opera evoke the feeling parts of my life.  I go to all of the operas during Cincinnati’s summer season, subscribe to CCM opera, and never miss going to the Metropolitan Opera when I am in New York.  The introduction of the Met in High Def at local cinemas has made weekends something to look forward to.  Most of all I love listening to the Met broadcasts on our NPR station, WGUC, on Saturday afternoons.  I get in bed, close my eyes, and am transported into a quiet, dark, and lovely place.

When I was 7 or 8 years old I lived with my parents and younger siblings in center city Philadelphia.  Once or twice a month my dad would drive me out to Germantown after school on Friday to spend the weekend with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather, Samuel B., owned and operated a small dry cleaning establishment, and he and my grandmother, Dora, lived in back and on top of the shop.  My grandparents were immigrants from Russia, and, though my grandfather was an agnostic, they kept faithfully to the rules of Orthodox Judaism in their household.  This meant that they could do no work of any sort after sundown on Friday evening, even as small a thing as turning on a light switch or an appliance.  On Friday afternoon my grandmother would prepare sandwiches or boiled chicken for Saturday’s lunch.  My grandfather would turn on the radio before sundown, tuning it to the classical music station so that it would be available on the Sabbath.

On Saturday morning my grandfather and I would take a walk in the neighborhood. When we returned, lunch was waiting.  The Metropolitan Opera broadcast would start at 1 p.m.  It was my grandfather who was the opera lover, and often my grandmother would take an afternoon nap.  I can remember hearing Carmen, La Traviata, Pagliacci, and La Boheme.  It was the first time in my life that I spent time concentrating on listening to something.  I didn’t quite know what I was listening to, and sometimes I would get bored.  But there was such a feeling of quietness and peace, sitting with my grandfather in big, overstuffed, velvet chairs in the dark.  We enjoyed hearing the opera quiz and the questions people wrote in, even though neither of us could ever answer a question.  The Sabbath ended at sundown or when the opera went off the air, usually around 5 p.m.  My dad came back on Saturday evening or Sunday morning to bring me home.

My parents were opera lovers too.  They had a huge collection of 78 r.p.m. records.  My parents listened to opera regularly at home, but I didn’t pay nearly as much attention there.  Being at home had so many distractions. My mother continually sent in questions to the Metropolitan Opera Quiz, though she never had a question chosen.  She was quite upset about that.

I really loved my grandfather.  He was a kind and generous man with a good sense of humor and an innate sense of what would endear him to his grandchildren.  He was the one who took me to my first movie, “The Dolly Sisters,” and he distributed Hershey Bars to us whenever he came to visit.  Most of all, I remember the quiet afternoons with my grandfather where I learned to listen carefully to the wonders of classical opera.

G-mail Comments
-Gayle C-L (3-7):  Katja,  Hope all is well with you and the family...Sorry to not have been in touch lately...  I've been very busy with work.  I ead Dave's and your emails in between...:)   Your stories make me take a deep breath and smile..  BUT ...  What a lovely story... and great memories too!!
I look forward to many more stories ...  Lots of love,,, G :)

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