Wednesday, February 27, 2013
van cliburn, 1934 - 2013
a repost from a couple years back; tonight, it seems appropriate. rest in peace, mr. cliburn, and thanks for the memory.
so i'm thirteen and on a trampoline in some strange kid's backyard in a strange city, having been dragged there by the kid of the friend my mother had dragged me along with her to visit [that's clear, right?].
it's hot and we're jumping and hollering and generally having a good time, when suddenly there's the sound of a car out front and then the gate opens, three grownups appear and the action grinds to a halt. one of 'em (the woman, i think) steps forward and calls out, "c'mere, kids, there's someone we want you to meet!"
"my parents," one of the kids who lives there mutters. "c'mon, we have to." obviously, he's done this drill before.
we dutifully dismount and cross the lawn to the grownups. i'm embarrassed as i always am when meeting new grownups, but even more so than usual because they're all impeccably turned out in their church clothes, and we're a fuckin' mess.
the parents proudly introduce their guest and the kids are all like, yeah, whatever, give him a half-hearted wave and head back to the trampoline.
the parents are obviously mortified by their kids' reaction. i'm mortified, too, and more than a little stunned--because, unlike them, i know exactly who this guy is.
see, my grandmother had told me all about him as we watched him perform on television one night. about how he'd gone to the soviet union at the height of the cold war as a callow young kid from the nearby town of kilgore, competed in their fancy piano contest, beaten the russkies at their own game and come home with the prize.
about how america had celebrated his victory with magazine covers and ticker-tape parades.
but more importantly--at least for my grandmother--about how he had vindicated east texas. because suddenly we weren't backwoods hicks anymore--we had produced a prodigy.
so without overthinking it too much, i walk my sweaty and grass-stained ass up to this elegant, imperially-slim gentleman, stick out my hand and say, "nice to meet you, mr. cliburn. my grandmother loved you."
and then feel myself flush as it flashes through my mind--"holy shit, is 'van cliburn' like 'van dyke'? does he have a first name i don't know about and i just made an even bigger a fool of myself?"
no worries--he smiles and takes my grubby little mitt in his without hesitation. his hand is cool and supple, and i marvel at the fact that he'd let anyone touch it, much less me.
we talk for a minute. turns out the kid's parents are real estate agents and are helping him find a house for his mother. he asks me about school and about my grandmother, and seems genuinely interested.
and then he heads into the house to talk business with the parents and i head back to the trampoline to join the others, but i can't get back into it. the afternoon has changed, and i can't put my young finger on why.
alas, the word "surreal" hasn't yet entered my vocabulary.