Saturday Afternoon at the Opera

August 23, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Saturday Afternooat the Opera

Charles Fisch©Jan.10, 2011~July 2015

We rarely heard music at home on a weekday.
After dressing and feeding her small children, my mother dutifully disappeared
into her household chores. The usual sounds we were immersed in were water running, scrubbing, clanging of pots, food simmering and hours of tap-tap-tapping
of the antique foot-pedal sewing machine. 

Mom was generally attentive and tender, but lately she had been shrieking at my younger sister and me when she wanted something…Then there was “that silence” again. Sis and I tiptoed around, shushing eachother to avert “the wrath of Mom.” Apparently Dad was having another affair and Mom was consumed by the private thunderstorm brewing in her head. She was plotting something…We knew better than to interrupt.

          As children we were not taught to ride a bike or swim; but we entertained ourselves, as kids usually do. My sister played with her dolls on the front steps, the dog loyally lying beside her. Sometimes I helped to make dresses for the dolls, having learned to sew from watching Mom make our clothes.

          Curious by nature, I preferred to forage in the sunlit garden for interesting worms and bugs: iridescent green beetles, red spotted ladybugs, crickets, butterflies, fireflies, spiders...I had a whole collection in bottles with holes in the caps for them to breathe. With practice I figured out how to pick them up so they wouldn’t bite me ~again. Of course, my favourites were the horned stag beetles. Dad took us to the zoo once where the deer with great antlers reminded me of my beetles. Everyone seemed to tolerate my wide-eyed ravings about the similarity.

          My best friend and neighbour was born on the same day as me. But he was not as obsessively enamoured by bugs as I was. He liked cars better. Sometimes we would jump up and down in delight at the edge of the sidewalk watching the different vehicles that rolled down our street. We chased after our most prized ones and could often be heard screaming with joy when sports cars went by…or screaming with panic as the bigger boys chased us down the street. Our days were full of adventures and games with lots of giggling from dawn to dusk.

          When father came home from working in a factory all day ~exhausted~ we knew not to bother him. Supper was always waiting. In focused silence he swallowed his food whole, like some reptile. Although, he did have a soup-impediment…Giggling at his raspy slurping never got old. But this was the crucial moment of the day that Sis and I feared the most. If Mom attacked him with things that needed to be done, he often agreed impatiently, his facial expression implying that it could have waited until he had finished eating. If they were both silent, there was the tense energy-potential of an explosion ~of screaming and yelling. 

          Having finished eating, Dad lay down to listen to his treasured 33-rpm classical music and opera recordings. My frisky young-boy energy came alive to the music ~skipping, kicking, bending, twisting, leaping, twirling and frolicking around the house…sometimes breaking furniture. For my birthday, Dad had taken the whole family to a special performance of Swan Lake with the “Prima Ballerina Assoluta” of the Bolshoi Ballet. After that, my feet didn’t touch the ground for months ~more accurately a life-time… Dad sent me to ballet school when I was seven years old, hoping to tire me out. Secretly he envied my lithe elastic body type. He was born a bear.

          Every Saturday afternoon, Dad lay on his back on the couch escaping into Dostoyevsky’s dog-eared thick novels, which he held in his right hand close to his face, while his left hand waved in the air, conducting Maria Callas on the record player. His every waking and sleeping moment was spent fantasizing about the life that had been denied him. He should have been playing chess with the élite, arguing literature or politics with intelligentsia and applauded on stage along with Maria Callas. He had a voice. Everyone told him that he should have been an opera singer when he yelled at them. But I never actually heard him sing…

          A high-bred family had employed Dad’s 16-year-old mother ~our grandma~ as a live-in maid. But the head of the household got her pregnant, then discarded her along with her baby. Years of struggles awaited them as they both grew up on the streets. No welfare in those days…Unwed mothers with their “bastard” children were not called “single-moms.” Other degrading names were reserved for them…As soon as she could, she sent him to an orphanage out of shame. For an orphaned child it was eat-or-be eaten. Young Dad grew up to be a street-bully to get by.

          Then the war invaded everyone’s lives. Dad was drafted into the army and eventually ended up in a prisoner of war labour camp in Siberia; released only years later. He had now lived through 2 great wars, having been born in the middle of the first one. When he returned home, his survival instinct found him work as an upholsterer. Next, he set his goals on Mom ~a successful tailor and an independent woman.





  A confident cocky young man with a steady job, he courted her for years and would not take “no” for an answer. Yes, he was good-looking, and at times charming; but her intuition must have warned her that in the very least they had nothing in common. She told us that she finally agreed to marry him because so many men had died in the war or were never heard of again. Slim pickings…What she regretted most was not wedding the handsome photographer who wanted to take her to America just before the war began.

          Mom may have understood that physical and emotional injuries caused Dad’s impatience and angry outbursts…Or maybe not…But she was now stuck in a distressing marriage, with the statistically correct 21/2 children ~due to a recent miscarriage. In a bombed-to-shreds disaster zone of a city, rebuilding from rubble, and low on food and resources, there was no way out for either of them. They just had to survive.

          Muffled fantasies about missed opportunities and mangled yearnings were their only temporary escape. If their goals or fantasies had been compatible, it may all have been more bearable. But while he was forever searching, she was busy maintaining…Dad obviously overcompensated for having been thrown out with the placenta through the castle window. Not only was he belligerent and arrogant, but also his greatest aphrodisiacs were kitsch gilded grandeur and celebrities. The ultimate romantic, he was constantly ready to give up everything for a torrid affair, desperately seeking the love he never had from birth. Mom, on the other hand, was content with mundane nesting. A bland but devoted asexual accountant would have suited her better. Sex was another duty for her. She was “a virgin martyr,” according to Dad. The death of her father at age 15 was depressing enough, but she was further traumatized by the consequent arranged marriage that she soon escaped. They were both on a leash held by their past.

          Understandably, amongst other of Dad’s less than charming qualities, such as embarrassing Mom in public with his constant arguing with everyone, and dressing like the homeless, his chainsaw snoring could not have been a turn-on…It certainly woke me. Sometimes I was eyes-wide in the middle of the night, watching everyone sleep and listening to Dad’s abrasive noises erupting from under the pillow over his head. His snoring initiated my life-long sleep disorder, amongst others...

          At times they were affectionate towards eachother for short periods; a show-hug or a kiss performed for the children here and there; but never any encouragement or consoling. To acknowledge that they were both in hell together and would support eachother would have helped…But those subtle forms of affection were not part of their consciousness. They could not emulate what they never got or learned in childhood. Instead they constantly reconstituted the pain of previous disappointments and betrayals through belittlement and blame. The past kept flooding back as if it were happening all over again in 3D on a giant screen. Nothing was ever forgotten, nor forgiven…constantly in eachother’s faces, even in withdrawn silence.

          Mother was more difficult to barricade from my father’s bubble of subjugated daydreams than were his children…She felt especially domestic when Dad listened to opera. At the precise moment that “La Divina,” Prima Donna Callas, hit high C live at La Scala, Mom arrived with the vacuum cleaner ~nyiaaaaaahhhhhhh~ drowning out Maria’s spectacular crescendo. Dad would bellow at her with imperial indignation that regularly alarmed the neighbours. She would scream back at him…The children cried…The dog howled…It was literally a “breathtaking,” three-ring, operatic circus.

          Yelling was my parents’ “conversation style.” Sometimes it was scary, but the shouting filled the house. It felt more like home than the dense pregnant silences. {} 




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"There is no such
thing as perfection. 
Each step is a step
towards the next step."


Thankyou to my lovely,
smart sister Susan Fisch
for helping to edit my writings
in both English & French.
She does a great job.

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