Sunday, March 8, 2009

On The Street Where I Live

In this post, readers, I thought that I mght tell you some varied things about Oklahoma City, things you might not hear about my great city from other sources. Allow me to begin with the street on which I live.

On my street, some few houses down from mine across the thoroughfare, there lives a man who is ninety-five years of age. In his lifetime he has seen much; to put it into perspective, he has been a contemporary of almost every major historical event of the twentieth century. I began to mow his lawn about three years since, and I have since developed quite an interest and admiration for this wonderful man. His family emigrated from Czechoslovakia not very long before he was born, and they came to live in one of the rural townships of Oklahoma. When he was still quite young, he learned to speak the native language of his ancestors, Czech, before he could speak English. His family lived in Enid for a long time, but he eventually came here to Oklahoma City University to study for a degree in teaching. He told me that at that time candidates for teachers' positions only had to get their teaching certificates, but he did not know that, so he earned a bachelor's degree. He also studied piano at the university for some time and received some sort of degree in that also. Because of rising costs for his education, which he paid for himself, he moved to a university in Enid, and he received another Bachelor's degree from there. It was then that he began to study the Spanish language. He learned it form a native woman who had recently migrated to the United States form Mexico, and when had learned all he could from her, he went to a commuinity college here in Oklahoma City, and he earned a diploma for his completion of the course.

By this time, World War II had come along, and he enlisted in the Army. After being turned down a few times in Texas, he came to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where the recruiter asked him if his flat feet hurt. He said that he knew enough by this time to tell him no, and it was here that he was recruited. He was sent to Texas for a week of training, and it was here that served his only duty on KP. He was a scholarly sort of person and an excellent typist, so he served in a secretarial position. After a little while in various camps in America, he was shipped to England. The boat on which he sailed was taking double its standard capacity, so the conditions were less than enjoyable for him. It was in England that he remained for the duration of the war. They landed in Wales, he told me, and they were transported to a camp somewhere in England itself. Their camp did not have plumbing, so if one wanted water it had to be gotten from a well or from some similar outlet. For the toiletry facilities, pipes ran from each individual station to a main pipe which simply flowed out into a cistern or pit, but it was all they had. He said that England was about fifty years behind the times in many respects; their fashions were about fifty years behind ours, they were still wearing rimless spectacles over there, and their populace did not have many automobiles.

He and a friend of his, who was also filling a clerical position, were the first to receive furloughs in their camp. I think he said it had something to do with their positions, which makes me wonder if they did not fix it that way being in their posts. They were eligible for two weeks every year, and they decided to visit the ancient, famous city of London. They spent their first day visiting various tourist sights, some of which he was able to document in photographs, and they lodged in a hotel five blocks from Buckingham Palace. At this time the Germans were still bombing London at night, and they were instructed that they could either descend to the safety and confines of the cellar or to stay in their rooms when the sirens sounded they elected to stay in their rooms with the curtains drawn because one could be extaordinarily fined for showing any light for the enemy to target, and while the Germans bombed the city, they waited for the end of it in total darkness. That night, one of the bombs landed five blocks away, on the Queen's lawn at Buckinham Palace! They decided that it was not safe to remain in London, so the next day, after visiting some more attractions, on the advice of an acquaintance, they travelled to Scotland. In Scotland they were surprised that there were no cars, not even for cabs. They spent their time there with an hospitable family who offered them a place to rest, and they visited some of the castles and places thereabouts; he was rather vague in his description of Scotland.

While he was on another furlough, he went to Oxford University, where he was allowed to study anything that he could for free during his furlough. In the dormitories then there was no running water because, as he said, "all of the buildings were erected in the 1400's," but you were brought a bucket of hot water every morning so that you could shave and wash your face. Showering facilities were located somewhere on the campus, but he never could learn where these were during his stays there. He studied English literature mostly during this first time at Oxford, for he did attend again during another furlough period, and I cannot think of a more ideal place to learn and apply yourself to that subject than there. He also told me that if you left you boots by the door of your room, the watchman would shine them for you. How nice that is; I would wager that they do not perform that service anymore.

While he was in England, he took many photographs, and he said that these were very good. Another of his company, the camp's censor, I believe it was, also took pictures, and he traded some tot the censor, but he said that censor's never were as good as his. He also took the opportunity to learn French while in England (Are you counting how many languages he knows fluently? So far we are at four!), and he still corresponds with a friend from the war who lives in France in French to this day! He initially learned French so that the censor, whom I perceived did not like him very much, could not edit his letters.

At the end of the war, he had the opportunity to visit the continent of Europe, and he had many friends that did, but he knew that he had been gone for too long from home, so he returned thence, and he took up teaching again. After the war, he had wanted to attend auniversity again to further supplement his knowledge, but the costs of tuition, which he said had been non-existent at state universities before the war, had risen too much for him to go. He also gave piano lessons for fifty cents an hour to various people who wanted to learn, and he taught many people to play the piano. He still has an upright piano in his living room today, and, although it is much out of tune, he would still play sometimes if it were not. He offered me some advice about my playing, which he has heard before and highly complimented, and that was that I should try to develop both hands evenly. He said that most books and courses focus mainly on the right hand (I would agree with him there.); therefore, many students finish the courses not being able to play things because the left hand has had little practice at playing. This is indeed true, at least in my case, but I am trying to reverse it. I think I am progressing.

Let me tell of some other things. Kristen Chenoweth, who is probably best known for either her role on ABC's show Pushing Daisies or else as Glinda from Broadway's original cast of Stephen Schwartz's Wicked, studied at Oklahoma City University. Kelly O'Hara, who is currently starring in Bartlett Sher's production of South Pacific is from Oklahoma. It has been said, whether truthfully or not, that she used to sing in the choir at the church where my younger sister and I perform live community theatre. Here I should say that my local newspaper is the world's worst when it comes to claiming celebrities with ties to our state. Brad Pitt was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, so every time he is in a movie or nominated for an award, they say "Oklahoma native Brad Pitt." I think that this practice is rather out of taste.

Finally, a few things about the classical music happenings that have taken place in our state. We have an outdoor summer festival calles the Oklahoma Mozart Festival. It takes place in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, every year, and this year we have several virtuosi scheduled to attend, one of which is violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Kristin Chenoweth is also scheduled to perform. Last year, more to my operatic tastes, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade performed there, but I did not attend what must have been a marvelous performance (Frederica von Stade performing Mozart? What could be better?) because I was in Tulsa seeing the touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera at the time. Some of the artists who have graced our fair city with their music are Andre Watts, Luciano Pavarotti (who sold out both of his performances here in a record time of three hours, and donated the proceeds minus his fee from the performances to a hospital wing.), Sarah Coburn, whom I was able to meet, Jean Yves Thibaudet, whom our orchestra contracted to purchase them a piano for future artists to play, which, after playing it, Andre Watts wanted to buy, Renee Fleming, whom I actually missed a couple of years ago(!), and a host of other stars whose names escape me.

Thanks for reading once again.

-Tyler.

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