There were many people who had an influence on the taming, civilizing, training and development of The Little Orphan Granny as he transmuted from the unkempt rural Mississippi Egg and The Shoeless Mississippi Farm Boy to the sophisticated, talented, educated and kempt
Tennessee City Boy with Shoes – but never many shoes while still a scholar.
The greatest influence was from The Gail (Elizabeth Gail Cox) and her mother, Mrs. Constance Cox.
From The Gail, The Orphan had been learning the delights of holding hands, dancing close, kissing and “…going to parties…” assured that “…Saturday night would never be the loneliest night of the week…” The Orphan also was to learn that there were uncounted sources for holding hands, dancing close, kissing and “…going to parties…”
But more important, The Orphan learned of a whole new world -- the arts -- from The Gail, and learned that there were few places to learn the arts. Because of The Gail, The Orphan was to learn table manners, playing the piano and painting with oils.
From Mrs. Cox The Orphan learned to eat with a knife and a fork with a napkin in his lap and his elbows off the table (only in the presence of Mrs. Cox, though) rather than with fingers and a knife as did Willy-Cee Brock (William C. Brock – a Mississippi acquaintance of The Orphan’s), who could eat sweet peas with only a knife and
never spill a pea. Mrs. Cox did not extol such talents, though.
Mrs. Cox was gracious and never embarrassed The Orphan because of the nonexistence of any form of social skills – but she was firmly constant (which may be where she got her first name).
The Gail “took” piano lessons. The Orphan was fascinated that such a lovely plethora of goodies could look at a sheet of paper and have her fingers create beautiful music. The Orphan lusted to know this skill intimately. (Generally, The Orphan just plain lusted.)
The Orphan, not being particularly sneaky, “walked” The Gail to her piano lessons taught in a private home by a piano teacher – holding hands, of course. The Orphan never read when walking with The Gail.
While The Orphan waited during the piano lessons so he could “walk” The Gail back to her home, The Orphan watched and listened to the things that were taught to The Gail.
Always being one to take action, The Orphan took some of his pittance of “savings” (always a temporary situation), went to the home of one of his “yard-cutting” customers (a “widder” woman, of course) and, already knowing that she had a piano for which she had no use, created a deal where $5.00 changed hands and The Orphan was to do
yard work for the “widder” woman forever for free.
The Orphan and a friend of The Orphan, who was as muscular as The Orphan and who had the use of a flat-bed truck, moved the piano to 2106 Trimble Place and into The Orphan’s bedroom (also The Orphan’s sitting room, study room, reading room, music room and everything else room).
The Orphan’s room, now with a piano, was as far as possible from the room where The Forbidding Giant slept during the day, when he was not fishing for Crappie and Brim, so he could work “…The Graveyard Shift…” at DuPont Powder Plant to make powder for “The Big Guns” and later at Firestone to make tires.
After The War, there was no need for powder for “The Big Guns” any more but there was a huge need for tires of all kinds and sizes so The Forbidding Giant became a tire builder. Later The Orphan was to figure out that The Forbidding Giant worked “…The Graveyard Shift…” because the pay rate for “…The Graveyard Shift…” was higher than
the pay rate for either “The First” or “The Second” shift – but mostly so he could fish for Crappie and Brim several days a week. There was always fish to eat on the Frazier table as well as on the tables of all of the neighbors and relatives who lived close by. The flowerbeds were fertilized with fish that had outlasted their usefulness.
But back to the Orphan’s piano studies. The Orphan found some sheet music that had the notes for “Falling in Love with Love” from an operetta named The Boys from Syracuse:
I weave with brightly colored strings
to keep my mind off other things;
So, ladies, let your fingers dance
and keep your hands out of romance.
let the stitches
keep your fingers under control.
Cut the thread but leave
the whole heart whole.
Merry maids can sew and sleep;
wives can only sew and weep!
Falling in love with love is falling for make believe.
Falling in love with love is playing the fool;
Caring too much is such a juvenile fancy.
Learning to trust is just for children in school.
I fell in love with love one night when the moon was full
I was unwise with eyes unable to see.
I fell in love with love, with love everlasting,
But love fell out with me.
The Orphan knew where middle C was on the piano keyboard and he knew that FACE and EGBDF (Every Good Boy Deserves Fun) were the names of the piano keys. The Orphan knew that the black skinny keys were the sharps when they were to the right of a white key and flats when they were to the left of the white key except when they weren’t.
The Orphan preferred music written in the key of C.
The Orphan sat on his piano stool and figured out that the notes on the top of the double bars (later The Orphan was to learn that this was a ”treble clef”) were for the right hand and then The Orphan figured out where to put the fingers of his right hand on the piano keys from looking at the sheet music. The Orphan then repeated the
notes until they were memorized.
The Orphan then figured out that the notes on the bottom of the double bars (later The Orphan was to learn that this was a ”bass clef”) were for the left hand and then The Orphan figured where to put to put the fingers of his left hand on the piano keys from looking at the sheet music. The right hand was easier since The Orphan could
hear the melody. The left hand was harder since it mostly made a thump sound.
The Orphan labored mightily to do both hands at the same time. The Orphan prevailed. The Gail did not know of the self-training efforts of The Orphan to learn to play the piano, nor even that The Orphan had purchased a piano. The Gail was never in the home of The Orphan since the home of The Orphan was humble while the
home of The Gail was sumptuous. Later The Orphan would feel shame for hiding his humble home since, as Popeye said “…I yam what I yam…” and that was enough.
The next time The Orphan “walked” The Gail to her piano lessons that were taught in a private home by a piano teacher – still holding hands, of course -- he waited until The Gail’s piano lesson was done, then shyly asked the piano teacher if she would show him if what he was
doing with the piano was right. The teacher was puzzled but she agreed to see what The Orphan was talking about. The Orphan sat down and played “Falling in Love with Love” tremulously but determinedly and with great feeling.
Both the Gail and the teacher stared with amazement and said,
“…I didn’t know you played the piano…”
Shamefacedly, The Orphan confessed the whole story. The teacher looked at The Orphan as if he were from another planet and said,
“…You did what...?” The Orphan retold the story. The piano teacher said,
“…you have achieved…and I will teach you better ways…”
The Orphan explained his work and school schedule and that he was bereft of funds. The teacher said,
“…You play with such feeling and focus. Come when you can and pay if you can and I will teach you.” The Orphan went to this wonderful teacher when he could and paid when he had funds until he was deported later to college.
The Orphan never achieved the piano skills of The Gail but he was happy with his small learning.
Another adventure -- a wonderful thing -- happened when The Orphan proudly invited his archery friend, George Hearn – today a singer and actor of renown -- to see The Orphan’s prized possession, The Gail. George, as he sat in the “sun room” (also the piano room) of the Gail, noted the stacks of sheet music in the rack and asked,
“…Do you have the music for “Vesti la giubba” from the opera Pagliacci by Leoncavallo…?”
The Orphan was stunned by a language that he had never encountered before – and also irrationally felt a pang of jealousy. The Gail said,
“…Yes, shall I play it…?”
As The Gail played, the mighty chest of George Hearn swelled and out of him came a wondrous song. The Orphan was transfixed and when George came to the “…ridere il Pagliacci…” part, tears came to the eyes of The Orphan and his body was covered with goose bumps.
When The Real Granville received the thought from The Orphan “…this would be a great skill…,” The Real Granville immediately blurted,
“…Orphan, you are such an orphan. When you were manufactured there was a shortage of materials and your ears were made of tin – and when you sing – even in a group – there is never a relationship between the notes of the music and the discordant noise you are making…”
Stubbornly, The Orphan obtained a tape recorder and sang into it. After listening to the playback, The Orphan sadly realized that The Real Granville had spoken the truth and henceforth – but not always -- pursued only those things that were accomplishable. The Orphan could hear The Real Granville muttering
“…well, maybe I will no longer need to wear earplugs…”
In the life of both The Orphan and The Real Granville, as has been previously discussed, some things are not doable by either The Orphan or The Real Granville and those truths must be accepted.
The Orphan quickly found his role in music. Every performer needs an audience and, for singing, The Orphan would become an accomplished audience.
The Orphan’s sister Romagene did have a wondrous voice and – when The Orphan was absent from his domicile – would play The Orphan’s piano and sing beautifully.
When The Orphan later worked at Ferguson’s Record Shop all of the wondrous songs were available to hear as Mr. Ferguson was always playing music and let The Orphan pick the music.
Comments like “…wasn’t Richard Tucker great in ‘La donna e mobile…’?” and heresy like “…Mario Lanza is as good as Caruso, don’t you think – but -- we will never know for sure since records were so scratchy in Caruso’s time…” became standard talk for The Orphan – although not at home.
Once, after playing an aria at home, The Forbidding Giant stuck his head in the room of The Orphan and asked,
“…who is being killed slowly…?”
The Real Granville snarled to The Orphan,
“…Orphan, see why you are an orphan. There are silk purses and there are pigs’ ears and you must learn the difference. You must also learn to never try to teach a pig to sing as it wastes your time and annoys the pig. In addition you must not throw pearls at pigs because they may think they are food…” The
Real Granville was on a real tear.
The Orphan and The Real Granville were to learn the wonderful philosophy:
“…Give me the strength to change the things I can change, the patience to accept the things I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference…”
Changing the ear or the taste of The Forbidding Giant – or of any of the Mississippi relatives -- was a patience situation, not to mention a wisdom situation as well.
So The Orphan decided to abandon any attempt to convert the Mississippi relatives to opera as well as to continue not to discuss religion, politics, philosophy, algebra, calculus, art, ballet -- and certainly -- never adagio.