1921. On this day 96 years ago, my Mom was born. Notable events of that year include:
• The De Young Museum in San Francisco opens.
• Women get the vote in Sweden.
• The first Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City is held.
• Charlie Chaplin’s full-length movie The Kid is released.
• Warren Harding begins his Presidency.
• World War I ends and the Allies decide that Germany has to pay 33 trillion dollars in reparations for World War I. (It was finally paid off in 2010.)
• Hitler becomes the Fuhrer of the Nazi Party
• White Castle hamburger restaurant opens, the first of the fast-food chains.
• Albert Einstein wins the Nobel Prize.
• The vibraphone is invented.
• Donna Reed, Carol Channing, Betty Friedan, Errol Garner, Steve Allen, Jon Hendriks are born (my Mom outlived them all except for Jon Hendriks, still alive at 95 years old!)
• D.H. Lawrence publishes Women in Love, Langston Hughes his poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers.
• Picasso paints Three Musicians, Mondrian Composition in Red, Yellow, Blue.
• Schoenberg composes Opus 25 for Piano.
• Hit songs include Irving Berlin’s Say It With Music, Zez Confrey’s Kitten on the Keys (part of my Pentatonics Jazz band’s repertoire) and April Showers (a song I played at my Mom’s Memorial Service in 2014).
• Louis Armstrong goes to Chicago to play with Joe Oliver.
• A pound of bacon costs $.52, a pound of coffee $.47, a pound of cheese $.38.
• There were 7 million cars in the U.S. (now 263 million).
That was the world my Mom was born into. Growing up in Coney Island, she was 8 when the Great Depression hit, 12 when Hitler rose to power in Germany, 24 when World War II ended, 28 when my sister was born, 30 when I was born, 71 when she moved to California, 87 when she moved into The Jewish Home for the Aged (thanks to those Liberals who gave us Medicare) and two weeks short of her 93rd birthday when she left us. The world changed more in her lifetime than it had in the previous 500 years.
Yesterday driving to school, I listened to a recording of a concert I gave in her honor. Titled “Flowers for Florence,” it was all jazz tunes that had to do with flowers—April Showers, Lotus Blossom, Passion Flower, Blue Orchid, Menina Flor and more. At the end, I told a story to the audience of coming to visit her when she was in one of her belligerent “I’m-old-and-tired” moods and I managed to soothe her with some ice cream and conversation. Then I wheeled her over to the piano and asked her, “What would you like to hear?” and without missing a beat, she replied, “That you love me.” And I ended that little story with “Easier words were never spoken.”
So Mom, I’ll say it again. I miss you pinching my cheek and showering me with your praise and conducting at my side while I played piano. Tonight I’m going with Ginny to see a show about Irving Berlin and I’ll let him say those words “I Love You” with the song he wrote the year of your birth: Say It With Music. That’s what I’m trying to do, every time I sit down at the piano, at least part of the time, I’m playing a love letter to you. No more counting the years when April 27th rolls around, but still and always, I’m so happy you were born and I had the privilege to be your son. Your name won’t make the Wikipedia list, but for me, the most important event of 1921 is that you were born. That’s my history lesson for today.