Memories of Old and Familiar (Ghosts)
Relatives, most people grow up with. Those events of childhood, and adulthood are often given an extra illumination by the presence of parents, relatives, aunt, uncles, those given to us in an extended family.
When I was a child in San Francisco I remember the gatherings of relatives in many active settings. At my grandmothers house near South San Francisco there was always that semi-weekly drive over to see them. This was like a second home for me as a child. The gatherings for happenings, cheer and family warmth during these events were notable parts of my childhood, as was the big black wood-coal-gas stove of my Grand Mother, which always had something cooking, the smells of her fine fare permeating my young nostrils.
The were my parents: A Grandmother: Gertrude/ Grandfather Herbert--My Great Grand Mother Emmy--My Aunts Mitzi/Husband Gene (Erickson)- Aunt Connie/Husband, Peter (Erickson)- and once in a while her only child (my first and only cousin Kris) -- (My uncle Gene and Peter were brothers) sometime there would be an appearance of second or third cousins, rather rare..as well as Great Aunts--(I can only recollect very few times...except with one great aunt)...
The settings were always a feeling of great motion, a sense of formality on holidays, with meals and gatherings at my Grandparents home having many memories: The great dining room table...that would be stretched out. It was quite old, and I suppose like many things, quite valuable...its thick legs giving an added elegance. (after my grandmother passed--it ended up in my Aunt Mitzi's House at their small but cozy house in Tiburon Belvedere.)
Growing up it was a corridor of passageways and memories.
One of my gifts was a photographic memory, not like most children. I could go back in a split second to every event and special articles of my childhood memories at my grandparents house with ease and grace.
Once in a while I would visit my aunt Connie with her husband Peter at their house up on Wolfback Ridge, and a beautiful small long narrow house that overlooked the Golden Gate on one side and spectacular views on the other. Other times memories would take me to my aunt Mitzi's.
Childhood was a kaleidoscope of different times, of birthdays and Christmas, New Years and other events.
It seemed to always center around the dining room table at my Grandmothers house. Early on the sentry of the kaleidoscope of memories past would lead to ghosts of how we were all together in those days.
There were the memories of listening to the radio, my fathers performances (on the air) several times, or some afternoons in my grandmother's living room, listening to my grandfather practice his flute or to my parents play on the old piano, a Kimball, which my mother won in the late 1920’s as part of a piano competition, which I later had in my living room. (I had it restored...but something was wrong with the tuning bed, and costly repairs had to be done with it)
These are all ghosts today however in the fabric of time.
A good story could have been around the old piano, another at the table in the dining room, grand and fair, the smell of my uncles pipe smoke, talk of politics and economics.
The childhood seemed fair...as though no one was ever left out. Surely there were few preferences between my Grandparents of the children, both my cousin and myself, the only two blood cousins.
We had joyful times…
As the past quickened to the present and the ghosts of time crumbled, I always wondered about a number of things about the these ghosts.
At a later date...far from the time of childhood memories would anything exist except memories?
My grandfather passed in 1964 (my grandmother remarried in consent to care in the nurturing family, my grandfathers brother...Siegfried Benkman) My Great Grandmother died in 1970. Soon after this in 72, my grandmother passed as the family began to dwindle...my mother in 1975.
The requiem of passings continued with looking back at places that were no more and infrequent visits, the old house now empty where we used to gather.
I frequently visited my Aunt Mitzi and her husband Gene during Christmas and New Years with my father for the next years. Memories of the old days would continue, in legacies of memories and return visits. The dining room table was still at my aunts however...a memory of the times past.
I saw my cousin Kris infrequently. She had her own life now, married and moved away. I would visit my lovely aunt Connie when I could during visits to San Francisco. She passed shortly after my father in 1992, leaving the family smaller yet. I visited my aunt and uncle when I could, each time on what money I could raise for this special trip...for I was the last remaining member of my family, as well as my aunt and uncle--one cousin---my uncles niece (Kris) who I hardly ever got to see, as my own life began to get really busy and time fleeted to travels and residencies overseas, my own marriage to a Czech lady, which was a brief episode, and a regathering, slowly gathered and swept away in memory.
I had to continue my own life outside the ghosts of the past, unfortunately...only relics were there.
Perhaps only the articles of assembly...of the past.
Bothe my Aunt and Uncle Passed in the years 2010-2013...sad times, yes sad…
The only notice I received was via the internet and then finally notice of my uncles passing last year. I had sent some letters in...It was difficult not being able to see them, not having any returns on letters...the last when I was in Italy, by my aunt...a loving letter...wishing many successes.
Italy was a time of great success for me in more terms than economics however. (I had won the Michelangelo Buonarroti Award in Turin, one of the highest art awards in Europe) I think I shared that in ways however, posting thanks and prayers at some church for my remaining family out in California…
The ghosts never stayed still with my best wishes, and love for them however, despite my travels abroad.
I had seen many trials, successes and hardships which I wished to share only my most successful, for I knew my uncle and aunt were gaining in their elder years...and trying not to put them into a level of concern for what I had seen.
Those old ghosts never went away...I didn't receive any answers to my letters.
Now I write this passage only to recap the ghosts of the dining room table...perhaps in the last meal, why I chose my career over others...and was not a stock broker or real-estate tycoon, money operator or advance man. Perhaps we had these debates at one time. Or as an artist, if I had sponsors, or even funds to complete my mission. I think I had precisely five-dollars to my name set aside in gas on my last visit...I never really let it be known, however… On that last trip I played out some Chopin and Rachmaninoff that I was practicing, told them of some exciting news! What passed was music, and some possibility of art making..that was all..
“Dont worry...Richard..” my aunts last words, “Everything is taken care of...remember that!” as I left their house looking back, I hugged, gave them my love, and set off to Arizona barely making the state line, tank running on empty...but that was another setting of ghosts..and ghost stories, of times gone by..”
And then it was ghosts, of how I was really supposed to be….and never was.
I guess the biggest ghost, was after I emailed my cousin, partially to catch up, ask about some memories and had a very very short answer...to call a lawyer. The conversation was not what I really had in mind, however…rather to catch up on things...not about lawyers or estates.
Of course...Ghosts...and Ghosts.
There. Too many things that could have flied out after me! And did.
Someone else I figured, got the big ticket fashion ring of that love...and all of those years.
Savory and reflective Ghosts...not. Ill ghosts don't become one.
Wasted time jargon ghosts. Permitted they might wander...
Just a figment...of the imagination, no pride in the honor of valor, remembering my uncle and his office, and suits of the army…
A moment on Veterans Day!
I leave honor to those good times and a good era , given with the time...not as ghosts, of my relatives, I had remembered, being in good times past, not in dim garments, withered hands reaching forth out from time...laying hopes, dreams, memories and promises. to vacant gray spaces…No, vital, living memories.
The last will should have been from the heart. (Not)
“Im sorry please...what is your name…’
Ghosts interruption to the darkest of all thoughts...in one small moment, one of those: Oh My Dear God Moments.
Knowing, now and smiling in his prayer...that some right be done! Of course that was the small prayer..
The larger prayers furiously pounding!
Knowing God is in charge…
...I walk on...
One side of the family was quite affluent...meaning generally had no problem with anything. I respect both sides...but would honor the subject of not the object of materials behind ones note. .
I had to live frugally as an artist, on what I could...taking it generally as an honor. Both my parents existed here in their lives.
But then again...Ghosts, of memories past…Perhaps it was a genuine “Letter to Father…” as Kafka, in my own behalf...who knows?
What remained as a ghost? The grand dining room table...and the piano at my aunts house, both listening into conversations as metaphor of ages gone by, tell-tale words from another realm completely into an area of what justice and goodness was, without ghosts…
Knowing my honor of these memories were well preserved...I walk on, knowing..
Right is preserved at one point...and wrongs, well?…
San Francisco 1960-63
Theworld of the early 1960’s I scarcely remember, although little hints come from time to time, as well as echos of the past through memorabilia, pictures, photographs and home films. My parents had their careers engaged in music as well as teaching. We moved about.In late 196o we moved from St. Charles Missouri to San Francisco and took residence over a very large old Victorian house in the vicinity of what was Haight Ashbury.
I was a child of two, perhaps three. The echos of this time in memory have me in the large front room or playing on the back porch,listening to the piano being played. The Large Victorian had many floors and had a gigantic stairway with ornate glass and embellishment. I remember this place only as a shadow in time. This building had been residence to the French Embassy at one time and filled my memories for many years. (Similar building in illustration..though not the actual Embassy. The building later had been torn down in the late 1960's to make room for a modern apartment building..but this photo serves the purpose...just about like this)
The building was divided...the back portion and down a flight of stairs were reserved for the students of my parents. In the parlor was a wonderful rosewood concert grand where my parents gave lessons to their students. Recollections of the residence after this in a turn of the century building on Clay Street (San Francisco) are equally vague, although shadows do play. Moreover the memories are triggered in a sense by the music I still heard in the fathoms of my mind as a shadow, my parents, the intensity and of course the piano.
Atour large residence in San Francisco I still have memories o fvisitors.
Some of my memories were when the great Dutch virtuoso Egon Petri came over for dinner many times. I remember when he came over and asked me to come to the piano and sat me down and spanned my fingers over the keyboard and gave me a mini piano lesson of a chord or two in progression. I remember at least two times he came over and played amini recital of his upcoming concert.
Hewas a stern man who seemed quite playful to me at points, seeming tolike children and somehow understand their ways.
Hewas very impressed at the lavishly decorated house that was lent andrented to my parents for a time after our arrival in San Francisco.My father was always away on concert tours it seemed. Still at this young age I remember the traveling and lines in the airport to distant destinations. We went to Europe one fall. I remember the long flight on a TWAConstellation (an antique aircraft today) and a gigantic KLM logo, with a Dutch airline stewardess watching over me as a child from New York to Amsterdam. It was my fathers tour to record the Rachmaninof fPiano Concerto #1 (Ozan Marsh Live) in Europe, with VLR, that made this destination a reality.
We moved again after six months to another apartment in San Francisco for a few more months before my parents went in for the great of a wonderful house.
The 1960's were far different than today. It seemed that there was an energy in the air,and opportunity seemed to amplify this energy.
My father had 100'sof concerts with the Boston Pops on tour as well as 100's more with Columbia's Community Concert series.
I do remember flying manytimes to see my father on occasion on a mid-tour to find aenthusiastic man who loved his family and could see no real problems.As a child I had everything I could ever dream, a wonderful familywho supported me and cared as well as a life that was almostdreamlike.
Looking back my parents were doing very well inSan Francisco. My mothers position as piano professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as well as my fathers teaching and concert tours were enough to live an enjoyable life.
The world that I am speaking of is vastly different than today however (2012) This was 1960-63 and an era of growth in the United States. Things were reasonable by today’s standards, and the lifes of many were sought by a single income. My parents however both worked hard at their careers maintaining 10’s of thousands of hours in practice as well as teaching piano. (Of course this is literally impossible today 2010 where people sometimes have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, and most positions today don’t pay very well.....my parents did this all during their lives and they were classical musicians, teachers and artists!...How times have changed!)