Michaele Benedict: A Terrifying Sea Tale

New Story by Michaele (Mikie) Benedict

Email Mikie (mlbenedict@att.net)

A Terrifying Sea Tale

By Michaele Benedict

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The abalone diver probably has forgotten all about the time Edward almost killed him, since he hasn’t gone after abalone for years—nobody has—and worse things surely happened to him in the years he was prowling the Pacific floor for the delicious mollusks.

Jack (I’m changing the names, though anyone who knows these two will immediately recognize them) lived next door to us in the canyon. He was a romantic figure, tall, smiling and confident, the son and brother of fishermen. He ran the Abalone Shop in Princeton, assisted by his beautiful wife and by sundry neighbors.

At the shop, they cleaned and pounded abalone and sold it, along with fish, sea urchins, and whatever was running.  Now that  abalone are rare on the California coast and no diving is allowed south of Mendocino, it seems surprising that there were so many of them in the early 1970s. Next to Jack’s house was a virtual mountain of abalone shells, strikingly fragrant on warm days.

Jack dived in one of those spaceman outfits you see in old ocean movies. Underneath it he wore a ragged union suit which we were convinced must have belonged to his father. He needed a tender, and he took Edward out in the boat with him one day to show him what a tender did.

Full of enthusiasm for the job, Edward got a tender’s license and went out with Jack, probably composing fish stories in his mind. But very soon after Jack’s helmet disappeared under the water, the boat began lazily rotating and Edward saw that the lifeline had become wrapped around the engine.

As he was trying to free the lifeline, he heard a muted voice coming through the air hose, saying “Get me out of here!” With a snarled lifeline, the only way to get Jack—weighing a couple hundred pounds in his diving suit—out of the water was to haul him in by his air hose, which of course cut off his air supply. The two of them had a tense trip back to the harbor. Edward, not noticing the motion of the boat while he was trying to untangle the lifeline, had dragged Jack off the reef. Jack had cut his weights, abandoned his catch, and surfaced twenty feet or more from the boat.

Edward arrived home pale as a ghost. When finally he could speak, he said “I almost killed Jack.”

The next day, he tried to get his money back for the tender’s license, since he was resolved never to go to sea again. I don’t remember how much money it was, but it was several hundred dollars, and his career as a tender had only lasted a day.

Jerry Brown was attorney general in those days, and Edward had known him slightly when they both lived in the same apartment house. Edward wrote him and asked to help get the money back for the tender’s license, and actually Jerry did just that, saying that fair was fair.

Jack donated the mountain of abalone shells to the KQED auction, and they brought a good price.

Michaele Benedict: Piano Daddy

Story by Michaele Benedict

Piano Daddy

Once Robert Sheldon accidentally locked himself out of his house in San Francisco. He peered in the windows and his cats peered back at him.

“If you had had children instead of cats,” a friend told him, “there would have been someone to let you in.”

But in a sense, Mr. Sheldon had many children (just none at the house on Aptos Street that particular day) and I was one of them. The bond between music students and their teachers is sometimes our own homegrown guru-apostle situation and has been for a very long time. Piano teachers are so partial to their own students that they must excuse themselves from the juries of piano competitions if their students are playing. Musicians always cite their teachers in their biographies, but do not always name their natural parents. Some musicians even trace their musical genealogy, teacher, grand-teacher, great-grand-teacher.

Mr. Sheldon was my piano daddy. He was not concerned with feeding and clothing me as my natural father was, but he attended to my mental and professional growth for fourteen years. He pushed me to my musical limits, he expanded my horizons, and he provided me with a much-needed ongoing reality check.

I had already had years of piano lessons by the time I met Sheldon, so he was not concerned with teaching me to read music. Instead, he introduced me to the architecture of music, the background and foreground of the compositions I was trying to learn. It was no piece of cake, let me tell you.

If I arrived early for a lesson, I learned to park around the corner, out of sight, because Mr. Sheldon would come outside and get me, sometimes pausing to hose the dust off my car (Montara still had dirt roads in those days.) After the lessons, I would drive a block or so away, park, and take notes on the lesson before I forgot everything.  Sometimes I was convinced that my lessons would be the death of me.

“Play it again. Now play it with the other hand. Play it hands together. No. Play it back to front. Play it up an octave. Play it down an octave. No, that will never do. Try again. Write the date on it. Here, finger every note. Try it again.”

His mild blue gaze seldom showed impatience or annoyance, but one felt that if he could stand all this noise, the least one could to was to keep trying. Sometimes I had to go home and take a nap after a lesson.

“I know you are having a hard time at home,” he once said, “but at least you turn it into something, music or poetry.” He would set my lyrics to music and ask for more. He would assign me a Chopin Polonaise so I could thrash the daylights out of the piano instead of going through emotional turmoil.

My natural father thought everything I did was just fine, so I could hardly believe him when it came to an objective view regarding my music. Sheldon had no such constraints. “Well, that’s the Mr. Magoo school of piano playing,” he would say,

“Grope around and hope for the best.”

Or “If there’s a hard way to do something, you’ll find it.”

Or, more encouragingly, “You will be a great teacher, because you have every problem you are likely to encounter in a student.”

“I may not always be kind,” Sheldon once said, “but I try always to be just.”

Sheldon’s was a holistic approach to music-making. It might involve lunch, if he thought you looked undernourished. If you seemed tired, a lesson might consist mostly of music history or even stories: “In this Bagatelle, I think of people who live on the west side of a tall mountain. They know morning has come, though it is still dark. There is no real dawn. Imagine the sheep bells, the sounds from the other side of the mountain. Then suddenly the sun clears the mountaintop in a blaze of light. That’s what Beethoven makes me think of here.”

Sheldon might accept payment for some lessons, (the Conservatory scolded him for not charging enough) but not for others. If you were preparing for a performance, he might insist you have a lesson every day, but he would not charge for the extra lessons. He once used a life insurance payout to send a student to England for further study. He only taught people he wanted to teach; we students would whisper about unfortunates who had been dismissed after a lesson or two.

Sheldon declined after Margaret, his wife of many years, passed away. He gave his car to a waiter at a nearby restaurant because the waiter “needed one.” He gave away his nine-foot grand piano. He asked his students what they wanted and put their names on the paintings, the books. He talked me into accepting a lovely Chippendale mirror along with the thing I really wanted, the bottle of Golliwogg perfume from Paris, 1906, (which inspired Debussy’s “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk”.)

What does a good father do, anyway, other than beget us? He goes first and shows us the way. He protects us, looks out for our welfare, provides a moral example, loves us, takes pride in our accomplishments and pleasure in our company. He teaches us how to get along in the world. When he leaves, the loss is made bearable by remembering everything he gave us.

RobertSheldon

Sheldon cartoon-7

(Michaele Benedict has written more about Robert Sheldon and his teacher, Egon Petri, athttp://www.pianoeu.com/petri.html.)

[Images of Robert Sheldon and a cartoon that reads: John Maxwell and Michaele Benedict, a new piano duet, play for Mr. Sheldon!}

Author/Musician Michaele Benedict: “Mystery with Strings”

Email Michaele: (mlbenedict@att.com]

Mystery with Strings

A Short Story by Michaele Benedict

violin

 

 Musical instruments have their own lives. Most of them outlast one generation, so they get passed down, passed along, get lost and found again, get put away in attics, get stolen, recovered, or offered at junk sales like the little violin which finally regained its voice recently in Montara.

            It was a rather battered orange-painted instrument missing some essential parts, so it was impossible to know what it might sound like. A friend whose daughter plays violin had found and bought it, thinking it would be a shame for an instrument, even a battered instrument, to wind up among garage sale cast-offs.

            Burned into the back of the violin were the words “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, School District.” “I telephoned them,” the rescuer said, “and asked if they wanted it back, but they said they hadn’t had a string program for years, so they had no use for the violin.”

            My cellist husband, who sometimes makes minor repairs on stringed instruments, heard about the discarded violin and asked if he could look it over for a while. Chipped varnish covered the maple and ebony. There were various scars and dings. But visible through the F-holes (the scrolled openings on the tops of stringed instruments) was a label which said “Antonio Curatoli, Mittenwald, Germany, 1928” and “Copy of Amati”.

            “This might be a pretty good German violin,” Charles speculated.

            I was curious about Antonio Curatoli and tried to research the mysterious luthier or instrument maker. The consensus among fiddle fanatics seemed to be that there may or may not have been an actual maker named Antonio Curatoli. He may have been a Neopolitan seller of violin strings who learned to make instruments. Or the name may more likely have been a trade name of the German violin company E. R. Schmidt, whose instruments were imported in the early 20th century by various companies including Sears. “Sort of like Betty Crocker,” Charles said.

            The Curatoli violins sold for about 25 dollars in the 1920s, but they are bringing two or three thousand in these days of scarce fine wood and carbon fiber substitutes. The Philadelphia violin was, of course, virtually worthless as it was.

            For several months, the violin sat in various places in our house, being scraped, sanded, and finally varnished with amber, a bit at a time. It perched, drying, on a kind of stand, where it was frequently examined (longingly, I thought) by the teenager whose father had found it.

            This young woman applied for and received a scholarship from the Coastside Community Orchestra with the hope of having the violin finished off by Charles’ luthier friend who made his lovely cello. The varnished violin, missing tailpiece, bridge and strings, went to San Francisco.

            The maker reshaped the fingerboard, replaced a missing peg and rebushed the other three, made a bridge and recalculated its placement according to the original specs. He put on strings and wrote up the bill for a third what the work was worth.

            Yesterday, the luthier returned the Curatoli in working condition, and as fate would have it (I love to say “as fate would have it”) the young violinist happened to be at the house at the time, taking a piano lesson. The luthier handed over the violin. Four of us waited breathlessly to see what the violin would sound like.

            First things first: She tuned it, she borrowed a bow, and she tucked it under her chin. Then she played the beginning of a Bach violin concerto. It was beautiful.

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Michaele Benedict lives in the “artist community” of Montara. Her latest book is called “Searching for Anna.”

Bill the Tree Man and the Cypresses: New Story by Michaele Benedict

 

Bill the Tree Man and the Cypresses

 

By Michaele Benedict

 

Bill the Tree Man is a little larger than life, and the nineteen cypress trees which surround my house are much larger than you want old trees to be. Bill played in these cypress trees when he and they were much younger, and once or twice a year now he comes to address a cypress emergency.

            This past Christmas, as he was dealing with yet another tree mishap, Bill told a story of pilfering lumber to build a tree house in that very same cypress, and then of having the structure collapse on him after the contractor said he had to dismantle his shack and return the two-by-fours. (Bill began the demolition from the bottom instead of the top.)

            This experience has not made him cautious. He still will shimmy up an eighty-foot tree with nothing but a rope and a chainsaw, and in fact did so a week after the Christmas episode when he noticed another enormous broken branch hanging over our house like the sword of Damocles. “I believe you are in harm’s way,” he said calmly. Since Bill is not an alarmist, we prayed for no wind until he reappeared with his rope and saw.

            Others have worked on the trees when Bill wasn’t available. He is an actor and for a while divided his time between the Coastside and Hollywood. One tree man fell and broke his jaw. Another used a cherry-picker. Yet another shook his head at a threatening branch sixty feet up. “No,” he said, and walked away.

            Bill fixed a chain around a similar branch which refused to yield to the chainsaw. He calculated just where it would fall in order to miss the fence and the other trees, he hitched the chain to his truck and inched the truck up the driveway with the engine laboring. The ground shook when the branch landed. I was too frightened to watch. When I came outside, Bill was discussing eating poison oak with a passer-by. It gives you immunity, he said. “Doesn’t it taste bad?” the other man asked. “Nah,” Bill replied. “I’ve kissed women who tasted worse than that.”

            We have had at least three major repairs to the house because of heavy branches falling in high wind. When Chuck lived next door, he said a limb outside fell on his television cable and pulled the set right off the table. We have had nervous telephone calls from all the neighbors because of the trees; the last time, Bill walked over and reassured the neighbor that once a limb hit the ground, it wasn’t going to fall any farther.

            Cupressus macrocarpa, the Monterey cypress, and in some cases the hybrid cupressocyparis, were sometimes planted as a quick-growing hedge. The trees are “picturesque in age, especially in windy coastal conditions,” according to the  Sunset Western Garden Book. The hybrid can grow to 20 feet high in five years,  usually reaches 60 or 70 feet tall, and “will quickly get away from you without regular maintenence.” “Takes strong wind,” the book adds.

            The cypresses offer gifts as well as sudden danger. At Christmas, enough green twigs with festive round cones will blow down that we can make wreaths and garlands. A raucous family of ravens lives in the trees, so fierce that they repel even hawks. At night, there is an owl who calls balefully from one tree near the road. Once three baby raccoons climbed sixty feet up a cypress and couldn’t figure out how to get down. Occasionally we see a squirrel, though I’m afraid they are rather low on the food chain.

            Our stacked log fences, five feet high, are made from dead cypresses which had to be cut down. The same logs feed the wood stove, and chipped wood from fallen branches goes back into the garden for mulch.

            In Greek mythology, Kyparissos  or Cyparissos, for whom the cypress tree was named, was  the grandson of Hercules and a protege of the god Apollo and of Zephiros, god of the winds. His favorite companion was a mighty stag, but he accidentally killed the  deer with his spear. He asked the heavens for a favor, that his tears would roll down eternally, and so the gods turned him into a cypress tree.

             As for the Monterey cypress and the tears of Kyparissos, it is true that the trees, despite their happy, hungry and sometimes raucous occupants, shed resinous tears all the time. The gummy tears stick to the cars and harden into clear patches impossible to remove. The cat comes in smelling like Christmas trees, with sticky patches of cypress resin gumming up her fur.

            I found a picture of the cypresses made in about 1949, and they appear to be small bushes. Now they are craggy giants which moan, groan and crackle when the wind blows. Bill the Tree Man says that the trees are getting toward the end of their life, but despite all the tears and the trouble, I’ll be sad to see them go.

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Michaele Benedict’s latest non-fiction work is called  Searching for Anna.

A Love Affair with Mozart: Story by Michaele Benedict

Story by Michaele Benedict

A Love Affair with Mozart

Mozart and I have been spending two or three hours together every day for the past two months. Sometimes I grumble at these meetings. I have been known to swear. But I have never failed to show up, and I am never bored. I love Mozart more now than I did when I knew him less intimately.
On Saturday, Feb. 7, I am supposed to play the solo part in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, Köchel 467, with the Coastside Community Orchestra in their winter concert at the Community Methodist Church in Half Moon Bay. My part is about 50 pages long and takes about 25 minutes to play if you don’t stop.
Although I have been getting paid for playing the piano since I was 13 and had my first church job, I have never played anything as long, as exposed, or as difficult as a Mozart piano concerto. I got the job when the orchestra decided it wanted to do a piano concerto and two likely soloists politely declined to perform without pay. I am the orchestra’s regular pianist; it is a volunteer orchestra, and if they ask me to play, I have to do it. Usually I enjoy it.
In this case, my confidence was not boosted by the reaction of two musician friends when I told them about the concerto. “What? WHAT?” one of them said. “Oh, dear!” another one said. That made me mad, so I practiced so long and so hard that I worked myself into a disastrous muscle spasm and had to go to the doctor.
You may know Mozart from the film “Amadeus”, which was a singular allegory about the nature of musical genius but which wasn’t very true to history. In February, 1785, when Concerto 21 was written, Mozart was married to the dippy Constanze, whom he adored, and had a year-old son, Karl Thomas, one of his two surviving children. He had presented six string quartets to Joseph Haydn, who considered Mozart the greatest composer he had ever known. He was short of money as always, though he lived well and had a special affection for gold buttons on his jackets. He was 29 years old and had only six more years to live.
As one studies a major work like the piano concerto, things begin to reveal themselves which are not obvious from listening to recordings, or even from playing through the work the first dozen times. My first realization, of course, was that when you are mad, scared, or unconfident, it is difficult if not impossible to play Mozart.
The second and happier realization was that this particular concerto is truly play…as in play the piano, not work the piano. The conversation between the orchestra and the solo instrument is so lighthearted and joyful that the player cannot help but join the party.
Lesson three: You cannot read music when you are crying. The slow movement of this piano concerto, which is sometimes called the “Elvira Madigan” because it was used in an old Swedish movie of that name, pulls at the heartstrings, and it does it every time. Fish up a performance of the Andante on YouTube or iTunes and see if it doesn’t get you.
The entire work is like a little opera, but to tell you more would be against the whole premise of classical music, where you get to create your own plot as you like. I can only say that Mozart, who could sometimes be coarse or unkind in his everyday life, is angelic in his music; in this, the film “Amadeus” was absolutely true.
Who could fail to love someone who saw and wrote so convincingly about a finer, brighter world than the one we live in? It is more than 200 years since Mozart walked the earth, but the power of his vision has remained undimmed. What a privilege to get to play one of his major works. I hope I don’t make too many mistakes.

——-

Michaele Benedict lives in Montara.

Her most book is called “Searching for Anna,” for more information, please click here

Real Estate: Story by Montara Author Michaele Benedict

Real Estate

Story by Michaele Benedict

The Purisima board game we invented was probably a reaction to the landlord shuffle. When we first saw it, the modest little frame house on Purisima Creek Road had a sign saying “Maggie’s Farm” over the front door.
Of course, we all knew the Bob Dylan song of the same name.  “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”
“Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them.”
We had jobs. The children went to school. Apart from this, the three families who lived at the farm on Purisima Creek Road were trying our best to be just like we were.  We weren’t really farmers, but we pretended we were, with our gardens, overalls, compost bins.  We invented our own fun, lacking anything ready-made. We wrote poetry, played the piano, painted pictures.
Before we moved to Purisima Canyon and while we still had television and  could watch Star Trek, we had invented a three-dimensional chess game (trying to duplicate the one on the TV show) which was so complicated that nobody could play it. We were used to entertaining ourselves.
The woods at the end of the road, now the 3,361-acre Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, was still wild and there were no houses about. We loved to walk to the end of the road and back, passing by the part of Purisima Creek where the bachelor flock of mallards hung out. We would quack back at the ducks, collect miner’s lettuce, admire the wild roses.
We rehearsed choral numbers together, shared produce, planted a garden, kept a joint journal about the motley flock of chickens. We made plum jam, plum wine, plum leather. The kids played gopher golf with a set of clubs they found at the dump (one day an archeologist may wonder why there are so many golf balls a foot or more beneath the earth surface.)
We cheerfully waded through the mud to get to the chicken coop and each other’s houses. We parked our rubber boots at the front door.
After we ran out of buckets and house plants to put under the leaks, we put a new roof on the house. When the tap water stopped, the fellows would hike up to the spring to clean out the leaves.
At first, we paid our modest rent checks to a bank, since the farm was in probate.
Then the Evil Landlord bought the 350 acres with its tumble-down shacks, barns, and pens and immediately raised the rent. He appointed a deputy who told us to remove our stored items from what had been a millhouse and informed us that we would have to move pretty soon.
Work began on converting all the farm buildings into rental units. We laughed about it until we realized that we were ourselves standing between the Evil Landlord and a neat profit which he planned to realize from preserving the rooflines of derelict buildings and making them into houses.
“Why do they call it real estate when it’s so unreal?” I asked a friend.
“It’s a feudal concept,” he said. “It means ‘royal’ estate, from the days when all land was considered the property of the king.”
We invented a board game called Purisima, based, of course, on Monopoly. We drew and painted a kind of loop which included the next canyon over, and we played with a huge wad of toy money and a pair of dice. When we moved from Purisima Creek Road, we gave the game to somebody who would be staying there. Playing the game, we had the illusion of control over make-believe real estate. We shrewdly parlayed our fake money into pretend real properties, hoping  to accumulate homes, farms, and lots of animals.
About the only thing I remember about the game is that it had, in addition to Christmas tree fields, meadows, houses, coops and sheds, a plastic rooster which allowed a player to collect more rent. A neighbor called R. Gaines had a plastic rooster in his front yard, much admired by our family. The few houses which were on the road in 1972 were all represented on the Purisima board: There was Bud’s place, Stan’s place, Nancy’s place. Instead of going to Jail, if you lost all your Purisima money and your house, you could go to the Hippie Commune.
It is, of course, very different out at the canyon now. There is the beautiful Open Space Preserve. There is the Elkus Ranch, donated by the Elkus family to the University of California in 1975 and now used as an environmental education center. There are lots of big houses and mown meadows. The buildings near where we used to live are all freshly painted.  The present owner has a gated entrance, but she has replaced the mossy old grapestake fence with new weathered grapestake and has extended it all around the fields near the barn, which I think was tasteful.
We all grew up to have our own real estate, all with sound roofs on the houses. Many of us are still in touch with each other. I wrote some of the others and asked if they remembered the Purisima Game, but nobody else recalled it.

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Michaele Benedict’s most recent book is called Searching for Anna

Remembering Bryant Wollman (1947-2008) by Michaele Benedict

Remembering Bryant Wollman

By Michaele Benedict

Bryant Wollman said he didn’t much like reading about himself, especially on the Internet, but he forgave my mentioning him in a story about Farmers Feed, our old 1970s food club, because he said it was sweet.

The last time I saw Bryant was at Davies Hall in San Francisco, maybe a year ago. He was impossible to miss, decked out in full Scottish plaids, kilt, sporran, the works.

He looked wonderful. He said that he had had trouble with his heart, but that he was in a hospital group focused on recovery from cardiac incidents, and that they told him he was a model patient.

There were lots of things about Bryant that not many people knew. They saw him in his mail truck, delivering letters along Half Moon Bay’s Route One, but they probably didn’t know that he had once belonged to Mensa, the genius society, or that he briefly attended medical school.

They may have known that he played the lead in “Fiddler on the Roof” in Santa Cruz, but they may not have known he played Wicked Willie Whoppergotter in a Farmers Feed production at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society some years earlier, in 1972.

I’m sure they didn’t know that Bryant tried a few piano lessons with me, hoping to learn to read music in a hurry so he could join a Russian men’s choir. “They said my voice was all right,” he said, “but I have to learn to read music.”

Some people may remember when Bryant dressed up like Saint Nicholas (“Not Santa Claus,” he said. “This is how the real Saint Nicholas dressed.”) He would distribute toys and gifts on his way to midnight Christmas mass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. We were on his route one year, and he gave us a little candlestick which angels would fly around when you lit the candle.

Bryant’s friends made sand candles at the 40th birthday party he gave himself, alas, only 21 years ago. He and Gene Fleet made a paradise garden on the Tunitas bluffs, planting right over the tracks of the old Ocean Shore railroad. When my daughter disappeared, they brought food to the house, even if I couldn’t eat.

They had Joe and the kids build a bridge over a gulf their goats would not cross, and I wrote a poem about it.

GOATHERDS

He blew the conch to summon the herdsmen.
From the next valley came an answering call.
And lo! The Golden Goatway Bridge
built of huge stringers and consummate daring
crossed over the sheer drop to the ocean.

Bridges are something else, he said.

The children cut the ribbon.
He drove the gold stake.
The goats refused to walk across
to honor the occasion;
in fact, Bryant chased them up the cliff,
looking like a goat himself,
but gathering ceremonial flowers.

When he changed his tactic
and ran away from the goats, they chased him.
“The goats have taught me all I know,”
he said, panting,
distributing the flowers.

1974

Bryant Wollman
Nov. 15, 1947-July 9, 2008

(Picture is Bryant at my piano Feb. 2, 1984)

Michaele Benedict is the author of “Searching for Anna,”  for more information please click here

“Jubilate Mimi”: A Jewel of a Short Story from Michaele Benedict

The name Millie didn’t suit this grey tortoiseshell at all. There was something French about her, something about the way she sashayed about and looked at us over her shoulder.”

Jubilate Mimi

By Michaele Benedict

The English poet Christopher Smart, confined to an English madhouse in the 18th century, wrote about his cat Jeoffry in his “Jubilate Agno”, an ode to the Divine found in the natural world.

A busy music studio in Montara is far away in time and space from Bedlam in the 1700s, but a Montara cat named Mimi seems to consider keeping peace and order her primary job. It was not always so.

The San Francisco SPCA Maddie Center, where we first met Mimi, is a testament to the generosity of animal lovers. Individual air-conditioned light-flooded pet apartments have climbing trees, carpeted towers, videos of birds and fish, running water and fresh plants. The animals have social workers.

In fact, most of the cats at the Maddie Center are so comfortable that they seem to have little interest going anywhere else. Mimi, then called Millie, had only recently come to the shelter and did not yet consider it home.

She had been moved to San Francisco from a Sonoma facility at the age of seven months. She was born September 3, 1998, and was adopted by us on April 2, 1999 after we filled out questionnaires, submitted to an interview, signed papers, proved that we had a home, and paid $35.38 in fees. The Maddie Center employees informed us that they followed up on adoptions and would reclaim the animal if terms of the adoption were not met.

The name Millie didn’t suit this grey tortoiseshell at all. There was something French about her, something about the way she sashayed about and looked at us over her shoulder. We wanted to give her the French name, Solange, but the music students couldn’t pronounce it. Since French cat owners call “Mi-mi-mi” instead of “Here, Kitty-kitty”, she became Mimi.

At first, she was a daredevil, climbing up to the roof, refusing to come down, scaling one of our 80-foot-tall cypress trees. She would not drink water from a bowl, she often bit the hand that fed her; she would not sit in a lap or come when called. The sound of the cello drove her insane, and she would jump from table to chair to piano to stereo until the music stopped or she was evicted. The sound of a violin would send her straight to the door. In a twelve-by-eighteen-foot studio with a grand piano, a
bounding cat was impossible to ignore.

However, Mimi had two redeeming qualities. She was beautiful, and she loved children. Like Christopher Smart’s Jeoffry, Mimi became “an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.” When music students showed up for their lessons, Mimi would greet them at the door and escort them to the piano, rubbing their legs as they walked.

Over time, she acquired other virtues. Jeoffry, Christopher Smart said, was docile and could learn certain things. ”For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.” Over time, Mimi learned to tolerate and even like the music in her new home. She would take her place atop the piano and listen attentively, sometimes commenting on the performances with an appreciative Meow. She learned to purr.

She began to like even the violin and once made a fool of herself over the Bach double violin concerto, weaving between the legs of the teenaged players, climbing on the piano bench, rubbing her face on the music score. The anxious performers discovered that it is difficult to be nervous when you are laughing.

Singers, rehearsing, have sung to Mimi as she gazes into their faces from her perch. Although she isn’t allowed to nap in the cello case, she now sleeps through most cello music. She allows small children to use her as a pillow.

Smart’s Jeoffry would “not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.” Although she is fed exclusively on weight-control kibble, Mimi has clearly outgrown her tree-climbing days. Now that she weighs 20 pounds, confrontations with other cats are out of the question: They stay well away from the giant kitty, even though she seems wistful as she watches them.

Since her only companions are humans, Mimi has taken on some human characteristics. She answers when spoken to. She almost always comes when called. She will sit politely at the dinner table without begging. She kisses. But like Jeoffrey, her best trait is that she can “tread to all the measures upon the music.”

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Montara musician and author Michaele Benedict’s new book is called “Searching for Anna,” To learn more and to buy the book, click here

Joan McBride: The Coastside’s Best of the Best..Story by Michaele Benedict

Mother Teresa, Jane Austen, Martha Stewart, the Marx Brothers: Joan McBride has a touch of each of them.

Recently, Joan was directing the Coastside Chorale’s weekly Tuesday evening rehearsal at the OddFellows Hall on Main Street in Half Moon Bay. The group is preparing for a special concert to be held in the Hall at 7:30 p.m. on
Saturday, May 24.

After warm-ups and some advice on breath control, vocal placement and phrasing, the Chorale began to practice a piece based on an Ogden Nash poem:

“The cow is of the Bovine ilk.
“One end is moo, the other milk.”

“Oh, don’t say ‘other’,” Joan said. “Say ‘udder’.”

And of course the choir cracked up.

With an age range of 14 to 80, the community chorus has featured humorous selections as well as classical repertoire and show tunes in their concerts over the past two years.

Joan sang with the 50-year-old group for a while when she, her husband and three children moved to the Coastside from Kansas in 1976. In the fall of 2006 Joan took over from Kay Raney as director.

After more than 25 years of teaching Special Education classes at Half Moon Bay High School, Joan retired from the Cabrillo Unified School District in June 2006—for a few months. She now teaches five subjects at the men’s county jail in Redwood City, preparing inmates for their General Education Diploma (GED). She directed the prison choir for a Christmas program this year.

Joan was a church music director in Half Moon Bay for 28 years, starting with a few singers and eventually counting five choirs and a bell choir. Under her direction, the church choir not only sang service music every week, but performed major choral works such as the Mozart Requiem, the Mozart Coronation Mass, the Rossini Stabat Mater, Rene Clausen’s “A New Creation”, Bach cantatas, the Faure Requiem, and even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”.

At community Christmas carol sings, Joan usually conducts participating Coastside church choirs and the audience in the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah, as she did the past two Decembers.

Joan has been singing all her life. She was born in Belleville, Illinois, and sang for community organizations and events all through high school. When she auditioned for the music department at Milliken University in Decatur, Illinois, she was granted a full scholarship to study music. Meanwhile, Dick McBride, who had lived on the same Belleville street when and Joan were children, was attending Milliken on an athletic scholarship.

The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Dec. 17, 2006, with a dinner at Caddys (formerly Mullins Bar & Grill) attended by family, friends and some of the original wedding attendants. Joan sang the couple’s favorite song. Dick sits in the tenor section, and acts as librarian for the Coastside Chorale. He is a part-time marshall at the Half Moon Bay golf links.

“All my children are musicians,” Joan says.

Her eldest, Kris Ann, a physician in Seattle, played saxophone with the University of Southern California Trojan marching band, and now plays piano for her church, as does her son, Joan’s teenaged grandson Christopher.

Second daughter Kim, a lawyer, was a flute player who also sang in the church choir. She lives on the Coastside with her two daughters.

The McBrides’ son, Kelly, played oboe in high school, but traded his oboe for a saxophone and a carburetor when he went to college. He raced sports cars, and working on one was the cause of his untimely death in 1993.

Since her own college days, Joan has been a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, an international honorary music fraternity whose mission is to encourage, nurture and support the art of music. The organization gives scholarships, awards and student loans and furnishes music and instruments for special needs music students. It provides a cottage at the famous MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire for musicians who wish to study and work there.

Joan McBride has made a difference and is still making a difference in the lives of many students and singers, but somehow she also finds plenty of time for home and family. She taxis granddaughters to lessons and activities, cooks spectacular meals, makes award-winning quilts, reads voraciously and even builds doll houses.

The Coastside Chorale’s next concert will be at 7:30 P.M. Saturday, May 24, at the Odd Fellows’ Hall, 526 Main Street, Half Moon Bay. Sponsored by the Cabrillo Adult School, the group is open to anyone who likes to sing. For information, telephone Mrs. McBride at 650-726-9266.

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Michaele Benedict, seen here with her dwarf crabapple in full bloom,

is a noted musician and the author of this article. She will be the group’s piano accompanist on Saturday, May 24. Michaele’s latest non-fiction mystery is called “Searching for Anna.” For more information, click here

Montara’s Michaele Benedict, author of, “Searching for Anna,” Tells the Story of Richard Brautigan’s Unique ‘Mayonnaise’ Library

Follow Author Richard Brautigan’s lead: Tell your own story.

And Michaele asks, “Did the famous Brautigan “Mayonnaise” Library make it to its new home at the Presidio branch library in San Francisco?…… Whether or not the collection actually made it, I have not been able to find out, despite many inquiries and phone calls to the Presidio Library.”

Telling Your Story

hulk.jpgStory by Michaele Benedict

In his novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966,

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Richard Brautigan wrote about a library where anyone with a story to tell could write it out and put it on the shelves for others to read. The overseer of the library, which was open 24 hours a day, lived there. The fictional library was based on the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library,

Inspired by Brautigan’s idea, in 1990, the Brautigan Library was founded in Burlington, Vermont, by Todd Lockwood, a Brautigan fan, together with poet Robert Creeley and Brautigan’s daughter Ianthe..

Instead of the Dewey Decimal System, used by most libraries, the Brautigan library categorized its books according to the Mayonnaise System, referring to the fact that the library in the novel used mayonnaise jars as bookends.

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My unpublished novel, The Dioscuri, registered with the Brautigan Library on May 25, 1990, was given the Mayonnaise catalog number LOV1990.05.003. The 325 books of the Brautigan Library archive (which included Brautigan’s typewriter) traveled to Seattle for a book fair, then back to its basement home in Vermont. It changed addresses in Burlington a number of times, finally winding up in the public library.

In 2005 the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington decided it would be fitting to ship the collection to the Presidio branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Whether or not the collection actually made it, I have not been able to find out, despite many inquiries. The last posted information about the move was a 2005 story in the Boston Globe.

What I wanted to talk about, however, was not the Brautigan Library 3.jpg itself but rather the idea behind a library where everyone could tell his or her story, without the assistance of agents, publishers and editors. True, there is the Internet. But not everyone has access to a computer, and some people still like the idea of something written on paper.

I spend at least four hours a day writing at the computer, mostly for fun these days, though occassionally I will send something off to a magazine, and once in a while something will be published. I am a hundred pages into “Murder at the Parthenon,â€? a mystery novel set at a Tennessee newspaper in 1954. Certainly this effort is spurred by the love of the old newspaper technology, with its Linotypes and locked pages. I meet regularly with a writer friend so we can toss ideas back and forth, and nag each other about keeping our noses to the grindstones.

I am working on a biography of the pianist and Teacher, Egon Petri, part of which has appeared in magazines and on a piano pedagogy website originating in Finland, of all places. I am editing a wonderful work in progress by a friend who wants to tell her story about meditation. And I am proof-reading an exquisite collection of songs by a composer friend.

There is a modern facility which somewhat resembles Richard Brautigan’s library. My nonfiction mystery, Searching for Anna, promo_2005085.jpg was published in February by Lulu.com. Lulu is an international print-on-demand publisher, some of whose thousands of titles strongly evoke those of Brautigan’s fictional library, such as “Growing House Plants By Candlelightâ€?.

Anybody can tell a story on Lulu. For a small fee, a book can even get an ISBN number and be entered into Books in Print, which means it is available through outlets such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Everyone has a story. Jung said that in most disassociated “normalâ€? living, one’s story was often interrupted. He said psychology’s primary function was to retrieve that story and reunite the individual with it.

One of the best pieces of writing I ever encountered was by a Skyline College student who had brought his essay to the Tutoring Center, hoping for help with his English. The story, laboriously written in longhand, was about how to wash dishes. The student’s grandmother had taught him the proper way to wash dishes, and in the telling of the story, the student revealed himself: Loving, respectful, obedient, attentive to detail, humble. The language was awkward, but the story was truly touching.

How to tell your story: Hemingway said to place the seat of the pants on the seat of the chair and move the hand from left to right, or something to that effect.

I would add a bit about spelling and grammar, but it really seems to be mostly about having
something to say, saying it as honestly as you can, and then hoping somebody reads it and understands what you meant.

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Author Michaele Benedict lives in Montara. To read Mikie’s “Searching for Annaâ€? website click here

“Searching for Annaâ€? tells the heartbreaking story of Michaele’s search for her beautiful young daughter, snatched from her Purisima home in the early 1970s. For info and to purchase the book, please click here. Email Michaele: mlbenedict@att.net