Our Champion of the Arts (excerpt)

I’d be hard-pressed to recall a dull moment growing up in Mom’s world, always full of surprises. Some welcome. Some, not so much. She kept herself and us busy. In between her shopping marathons and our various odds jobs, she took us on kid-friendly cultural jaunts in New York City, thirty minutes or thirty hours away depending on traffic. We’d visit Radio City Music Hall to see the latest Disney film and behold the Rockettes’ toes, in unison, pointing to the sky. Or we’d take in a Broadway play, hop on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, or cruise around Manhattan on the Circle Line. At the 1964 World’s Fair, I saw a “Jetson’s-style” future and heard for the first time but certainly not the last, “It’s A Small World After All.” And I have yet to get that damn song out of my head.

          When I was ten years old, Mom took a gamble and hired a famous New York photographer to shoot test shots of all of us kids, hoping to ignite a modeling career or two, or three, or four, five, or six. After a full day of wardrobe and location changes, the only one the camera showed any affection for was Caryl, my blossoming teenage sister. But when only lingerie offers flooded in, she stuck with ballet. My only fond memory from that day was a photo of Louis Armstrong flashing his pearly whites while sitting on the same toilet I sat on.

Years later, after placing second in the “Man of the Eighties” contest in Columbus, Ohio—you made the finals if you owned a suit—I began my professional modeling career. My first gig, like Mom, was as a hand model. Or as my friends liked to say, “My first job was a hand job.” But that job led to more modeling jobs which led to commercials which led me to Hollywood. So, that early gamble was not a total loss for Mom. 

          She also shared her love for painting with us. Mom studied before getting married. One of her oils hung in in our living room, and I always thought it to be quite good. But having six kids, I’m sure, played a part in halting her dream. However, she never gave up supporting other artists. As a member of The Art Barn, she’d take me to view the latest works from local artists and to help choose which painting to take home. 

          We didn’t need to leave the house for our fine arts fix. On Sunday nights, we huddled in the living room to watch The Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles, the plate twirlers, and that irresistible Italian mouse, Topo Gigio, were among our favorites. And the dancers—ballet, modern, jazz, tap, flamenco—always got us up on our feet for impromptu performances, much to Dad’s chagrin. But when choreographer and local celebrity, Peter Gennaro, introduced his dancers, we sat right back down and focused. His creativity and talent always inspired us. Perhaps it was Peter who motivated Mom to sign us all up for ballet lessons. 

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Published by A Cup of Tea on the Commode, a memoir

The parent/child role reversal might not have been unique to me, but how I dealt with it was. "A Cup of Tea on the Commode" chronicles my multi-tasking adventures, filling my mother’s last years with love, laughter, and joy. Though not always successful, I came pretty damn close.

3 thoughts on “Our Champion of the Arts (excerpt)

  1. Love these stories. They are told to make one feel like I’m right there with you experiencing the Sam experience ❤ your childhood was indeed very special ❤

  2. I loved it that Mom brought us to so many things. I also still remember the World’s Fair when I was only about 2 years old. I was in a plaid dress and at night time, Mom also put a pair of pants on me to keep me warm and protect me from mosquitos. It’s a Small World was one of my favorites! I loved the variety of different cultures (Ok, it was Disney style but at least we were exposed to something more than our town.) Mom, made me take oil painting classes when I was 7 after my second grade teacher told her I was artistic. I can still smell that oil paint! Taking classes with older students were way out of my league. I could not get the handle right on the pitcher of the still life; but, Mom still made me take that oil painting class along with several weekly ballet classes, swimming lessons, tennis, and cooking and lamp making at the local electric company building. She also brought me to audition for a movie in NYC when I was four years old. They selected me to do the part! I was really excited to do it, too! It was my chance…or Mom’s chance! Until they asked me when I was alone if I would walk with a stranger. Well, Mom told us to never take candy from or hold a stranger’s hand. So, being the child who could not defy Mom, I said, “No.” Mom even asked my why I wouldn’t hold a strangers hand. It was a mystery to her and she could not understand why I that determined. It took me years to be able to articulate the why behind the “No.” I’ve always wondered what it would have been like.

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