Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tonight I'm in . . .

. . . the city where I saw the only president I've ever met and shaken hands with: Lyndon Johnson, when he was running for re-election back in 1964, when I was not quite six years old.*

. . . the hometown of Scott Joplin, the great ragtime composer. We stopped by the local museum, which boasted online and in see-Arkansas-sites literature that they had Scott Joplin's piano. Well, sort of. That is, they had a piano known to have been in town when Scott Joplin was growing up here. And it's known that some of the families for whom Joplin's mother worked as a maid allowed little Scott, who was something of a prodigy, to play their pianos. So it's possible that Joplin once played this particular piano, out of all the hundreds of pianos he must have played in his life. But there's no proof of any sort to say he did.
--I did get to see the Scott Joplin mural a few blocks away, when I was roaming around the deserted and slightly dilapidated streets downtown, looking for the (well-hidden) museum. I'm not usually much for murals, which I take to be a sign of faux-nostalia festooning decaying courthouse squares, but this one was oddly touching. In any case, it's put me in a mood to listen to some of his music, esp. SCOTT JOPLIN PIANO RAGS, performed by Joshua Rifkin (which I discovered back in the Lake Geneva library and eventually found my own copy of).** I may even dig out TREEMONISHA (or, then again, I may not).

. . . the city I was born in*** -- though given that I was almost stillborn, was repeatedly attacked by the family cat, and had double pneumonia before I was two, I'm probably lucky we moved away when I was two.

. . . the town my grandmother and oldest uncle on the Rateliff side (Uncle Aubrey) lived in the last years of their lives; I have many memories of going over to visit them, and also Aunt Polly, my father's only sister, during my high school years.

. . . and the city made famous in the old song "Cotton Fields":

When those cotton bolls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton
In those old cotton fields back home
Well it was down in Louisiana
Just about a mile from xxxxxxxxx.****
In those old cotton fields back home.

*I'm told I was taken to see Senator Kennedy four years before, but of course I have no memory of that. And while I've met Clinton twice, it was before he was president (the first time when as Attorney General he came and addressed Boys State, the second time during a quick layover he made at the Magnolia airport while running for re-election as governor). I've also encountered President Carter twice at book-signings but only spoken to him once, and both those were after his term in office, after he'd transitioned from being a disappointing president into our greatest ex-president. So Johnson is the only president I've seen while he was president.

**ragtime eventually morphed into jazz, but we can't blame Joplin for that; in any case, he was dead by the time that happened.

***I was lucky that in those days the delivery rooms in St. Michael's hospital were on the Arkansas side of the border; I'm told they were later moved to the Texas side, which wd have had me born in Texas.
****in fact, it's more like fifteen/twenty miles, but like Keats' 'stout Cortez' the songwriter preferred a good rhythm over geographical accuracy.

P.S.: It took me longer than I expected to get this post written up properly.
I'm actually back home again now, but I went ahead and kept the format of this "Tonight I'm in" post as if I'd been able to finish it and post it while I was still in Arkansas.

No comments: