The Innocent Years

Once in awhile, she’d take me with her when she went shopping in downtown Portland. Woolworth’s, Kress’ and Newberry’s were the big-three five-and-ten-cent-stores in town. These were bigstores. Woolworth and Newberry’s featured a lavish music section in their basements with live piano players rendering each week’s sheet music hits, on and off all day long. Very impressive. As I remember it, Woolworth’s had a pretty woman at the piano. Newberry’s featured a young man. My mother thought the guy at Newberry’s had the best voice. We’d usually go there shopping for more sheet music. On the wall back of the music section, they posted blowups of each week’s colorful sheet music covers. It was a highly popular and highly competitive scene.
I found a million dollar baby
At the five-and-ten-cent store

Somewhere along the line, my mother talked me into taking piano lessons. It made her feel good, I think. Anyway, I did it for almost two years. Every Saturday morning, a fat, ugly woman with bad breath would come teach me a lesson. In between, I would have to practice almost every afternoon. It all ended shortly after I played in a recital whichstarred the woman’s “best” students. I don’t think I was very good.

The first full-length movie I can remember seeing scared the daylights out of me. It was a silent horror picture—built on the Dracula story. It might have been Nosferatu. (This was before talkies.) My folks probably should not have taken me along that night. But they did. And the ugly, terrifying vampire and eerie shadows and menacing action all had me thoroughly frightened—and totally fascinated.

The evil atmosphere of the night was thickened by our problems getting home. A threatening, ground-level fog had come in, taking over in every direction. It was impenetrable—so bad that my dad stood outside the car on the running board and peered at the road ahead, guiding my mother, while she drove us home, inch by inch. We made it home.. And lying safely in bed later, I considered it a terrific night of terror and adventure.

The atmosphere was much more festive a few months later when Hollywood premiered the first full-length talking picture ever made: Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, The folks took me with them to see that one, too. And I was overwhelmed. The idea of people actually talking and singing up there on the screen just blew me away. I thought it was fantastic.

My dad and mother also viewed the movie with keen interest. However, in discussing it afterwards among themselves, my folks predicted that talking pictures would be only a novelty. You see, Jolson more or less remained in one position, facing the mike, during every scene in that initial film. “Talkies just aren’t gonna work for any kind of action movie. Believe me, the good silent films are here to stay.”

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