by cheri block sabraw
This morning I forwarded an article from The Wall Street Journal to my son about the SARS-like virus in the Middle East. You see, their nanny is traveling in Tunisia at this moment and will be home in several weeks to resume taking care of my granddaughters.
My son and his wife may have had a good laugh or may have begun to worry that a genetic predisposition called FFN (Forwarding Frightening News) has now crossed into their lives.
Case in point:
What most of you do not know about me (because of my inherent modesty) is that, at the age of ten, I was one hell of a ukulele player. My teacher, Herbert Westphal, an old German who told us he had also taught several high-ranking D.C. politicians’ kids and knew the President of the United States, ensconced himself into our family in 1960 or thereabouts. While most children I knew were taking piano, clarinet, or flute lessons, we were plucking the plastic strings of an instrument revered 2500 hundred miles to the east, oh say, around Oahu.
Let it be known that my little brother Stevie was much better than I on the ukulele, but what I lacked in raw strumming talent, I made up for with my musical swagger. While Stevie went on to play the Hawaiian steel guitar, the banjo, and all types of guitars, I blossomed into an admirable dog trainer, horseback rider, comedian, and sibling torturer.
My best songs on the ukulele, the ukulele that still sits quietly in our basement, protected in its black case with velvet and flanked by my many brindle-colored picks, was the Hawaiian War Chant and Ain’t She Sweet. I moved on to master Sentimental Journey before embarking on one of my own, one that forced me to shave my legs every day and wear large pink- foam hair rollers the size of orange juice cans every night, so that I might attract boys instead of a 65-year-old German music teacher and a pesky little talented brat of a brother.
Mr. Westphal hoped to make child stars out of Stevie and me. Around our pool on hot summer evenings, Stevie and I would entertain my parents’ friends, sipping their tall drinks.
My father would say something like ” Cheri, why don’t you and Stevie put on a little show for us? You know what I am talking about.”
I’d feign interest and answer blandly, ” What do you mean, Dad?”
Before long, say in about one minute, we’d retreat to our family room, and then begin “setting up” on the pool deck.
Two music stands, one chair (mine), and a Hawaiian steel guitar on its pedestal, plugged into an amplifier, all materialized out of thick air.
We’d regale everyone. Cindy, the third child, too young to hold a ukulele in her hands, would zoom in from the dark side of the pool deck and there in the reflection of a lighted blue pool, the water wavering from the San Francisco Bay breeze blowing in, she would dance around to Hawaiian War Chant like a frenzied troll doll.
This morning, as I sent an article via e-mail about the talented and sexy Magnus Carlsen–the world’s number one chess player–to my son-in-law in my ongoing fixation on how to get my 10-year-old grandson admitted to Stanford, a memory of another older lady impacting the life of a family came bubbling up.
That woman was my grandmother. In her old age, she had taken to cutting out articles from the L.A. Times that related in some way to our family up here in Fremont. She once sent a story of a dentist who had put razor blades in trick-or-treat candy. I remember my father, a Fremont dentist, asking my mother, ” Joan, why the hell would your mother send us an article like this? ”
Then, the article arrived in our mailbox, the one that would end Stevie’s Hawaiian steel career.
It told the very sad story of a boy being electrocuted somewhere in Bel Air or Westwood when his Hawaiian steel guitar and the amplifier fell into a pool.
Grandmother, this week you would have been 114. If you are around, say in the wind blowing down from our redwood trees this morning or perhaps in the misty fog that caresses them, please stop in and have a cup of coffee with me. You will be pleased to learn that you live on.
Let’s see now, that article this morning in the Personal Journal section about “Vegetarians Not Living Longer” or maybe that one about the blood pressure drug Benicar causing lung cancer…