TLC #48: Nov. 21, 2002
Dear Hearts and Gentle People:
It's really fall. Today it's chilly
and windy, leaves are swirling, and occasionally there has been frost on the
pumpkin. We had a beautiful display of color this year, but it's now swirling on
the ground. Also we've had lovely Indian Summer days.
The old hometown marches on. There is
beautiful new copper on the Catholic Church steeple, more renovating and general
sprucing up going on downtown and in the residential districts. The movie
theater may be open during the Christmas holidays, along with new eating
We have an exciting project underway
in conjunction with Community Concerts, Inc. Beginning in the fall of 2003 (not
as far away as it sounds!) we will have a series of concerts in Lexington. More
information will be forthcoming as the schedule firms up, but right now it looks
as if we will have four professional, internationally known, acts perform in the
Wentworth Chapel between November 2003 and April 2004. Watch for more on
Lexington Live! Performing Arts Series.
I believe I wrote in a previous issue
about the collapse of the MFA grain bin. Now I have photos, courtesy of Mary Kay
Wilcoxon Gooseman, which I will send separately.
Next item of
business: You know the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Kansas
City Star, all the big newspapers, carry a "corrections"
column. Well, so does TLC. Correction: your editor misspelled
Conrad Pitz's name. Sorry, Conrad. Sometimes computer gremlins strike, and
sometimes brain gremlins strike. It was the latter.
On a personal
note, your scribe has been busy cleaning out the attic in the old homestead.
This is only of general interest because of the treasures unearthed. I found my
LHS annuals, all six of them, which I had not seen since 1957, AND my Tonette
music book. But so far I have not found the Tonette. The most recent treasure to
appear is a photo, taken in the auditorium, circa 1948. I believe it is the
piano students of Miss Bess Graves and Mrs. Virginia Waddell, pre-recital. Maybe
not - most of us are smiling.
And now here's a slick segue.
Barbara Lee '57 Fay writes:
too, took piano lessons from Miss Bess Graves from the time I was in 5th grade
until 8th or 9th grade. Her studio was in her apartment above Reed's
clothing store. My lessons were on Saturday mornings. After the
lessons, I used to treat myself to a stroll through Reed's, looking at all the
fine clothing and shoes before going across the street to the water company to
get a ride home at noon with my Dad. Everyone in Reed's was very nice to
me on these occasions, smiling and nodding even though they knew I wasn't going
to buy anything. One day it dawned on me (duh!) that they had heard every
note I had (mis)played during my lesson upstairs!
The one thing
that has not been mentioned directly about Miss Bess is that she was physically
deformed and deaf. Today we are politically correct and would call her
physically challenged and hearing impaired. To take piano lessons from
someone who could barely hear is somewhat of an oxymoron, but that is why she
sat on the piano bench right next to her pupils so she could hear the
vibrations. And she could hear them, all right, because I'd get the same
swipe on the hands as others when mistakes were made. I was
"abused," but was more worried about getting the wet finger
nail polish on me than anything else! And, yes, she did have to constantly
wipe away the drool from her misshapen mouth, often smearing away the heavy
coats of lipstick and rouge. And I always knew who was on the phone when
I'd pick up the receiver and hear nothing but breathing (remember, I was young!)
- it was Miss Bess, so I would start shouting until she could hear my
She did try to make piano playing fun for her
students. The fun part for me was playing duets with Susan Shea and Dana
Lee Gray. Susan and I usually laughed and giggled a lot while trying to
count the time aloud while her mother would occasionally walk through the room
and politely say that it "sounded nice." I believe I played the
bass part with Susan, and the treble part with Dana. I do recall that Dana
pounded out the bass part drowning out the melody.
Looking back today, I
compare Miss Bess to characters like Phantom of the Opera or the Hunchback of
Notre Dame. Within that misshapen body lived a highly spirited and
passionate woman who cared deeply about her students. She pushed me to excel
with more and more difficult pieces, but Chopin finally did me in! She
took me to regional contests, but I was too shy and intimidated to
perform. She even honored me by giving me her original work,
"Humdinger's Slow Drag," a frenzied tromp all over the keyboard with
contrapuntal chords and 3 key changes that I still have today (and still can't
play!). It was published by Elizabeth Graves Music Co., Lexington, MO, and
dedicated to Kenneth Keith of KC (?) Her composition truly reflected, I
think, the intense passion she had for life and an appreciation for how much
enjoyment music could bring to a person, regardless of his/her condition. What a
gift for 50 cents an hour.
I recently chatted with "Mr.
Lewis" when he played the piano for residents at Bishop Spencer Place in KC
where my parents live. He pieced together some familiar show tunes taken
from classics, some patriotic songs, etc., interspersed with comments and
interaction with the audience. He mostly plays now for private parties and
events (played at the opening of the new Jones Store at Oak Park Mall), and said
he wasn't used to playing when people were quiet and actually
He related to my parents and me that the reason he came to
Lexington as a new music director was to learn to conduct an orchestra.
After the first class at LHS when "the orchestra" he had been promised
turned out to be 4 violins and 6 saxophones, he marched into Leslie Bell's
office, fuming. "Leslie said, 'What's wrong, Lewis?' " As
a result, Mr. Bell was convinced that money be allocated to start elementary
students with string lessons, and by the time Mr. Lewis left Lexington 5 years
later, there were 250 orchestra students. He said he was overwhelmed,
however, at the size of the girls' glee club; I responded that it was because of
his youth, crew cut and red convertible!
Lutz '58 Dye:
Philomena! We called her Sr. Full-of-mean-ness when she was out of ear
shot. She was strict but she was also soft spoken & humble. She
had a way about her that made you want to do your best, and I think we all
really knew that she was a very important influence in our lives---even if the
realization didn't come until after graduation.
Our dear friend, Judy
Ussery '58 Johnston, kept in close touch with the Franciscan nuns up to the time
of her death. She told me several years ago about a day she spent with
them at their convent. Judy drove her little sport car (I'm sure she said
it was a convertible) and offered to take some of the nuns for a ride. She
said it didn't take much to coax Sr. Philomena into the car. She was
almost 80 yrs. old at the time. Judy said Sr's veil was flowing in the
breeze, she had a big grin on her face and every once in a while Judy would hear
Sister's trademark "tsk." I can see the two of them now.
What fun they had that day!
I also remember Judy hurt
her arm at school one day. We must have been in 6th or 7th grade.
The nuns didn't have a car so they let me walk Judy uptown to Dr. Brasher's
office. I don't remember why, but when we got there they told us to walk
on over to the hospital. It must have been for x-rays but I'm not
sure. I do remember that even though Judy's arm was injured, we had a
great time and laughed all afternoon! Even talking about it was a good
thing it wasn't hurt too bad or she could be dead by the time she saw the
By the time we got
through at the hospital; school was over for the day. It was just the two
of us. No one asked for insurance cards or for a responsible
adult! Try that today, people!!
And now, as the
sun sinks slowly in the west, we say farewell to Lexington memories for another
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