This is a story of mind-blowing surprise, or at least it was for me. The problem is that I haven’t found anyone my age or younger who really gets it. As such, this may jump around a bit as I provide some background.

Lunch – A few months ago, I met two of my fellow authors from my writer’s group, The Parkland Writer’s Café, for lunch. One of the young ladies was Alice, who published her first novel, Acapulco, at the age of 91. The other was Fedora, who published a wonderful novel called Jaffa Beach, a few years ago. I recommend them both and they are available on Amazon. Fedora had been working on a memoir, and I was helping her out. She was born in Romania and lived there during the communist occupation. She later moved to Israel during both the early years of the country and her marriage. She and her husband subsequently came to America and spent time in New York, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Detroit, and currently Delray Beach, Florida.

Fedora’s memoir consists of an amazing array of stories, both heartwarming and heart-wrenching from all of these places. I had suggested that she create a three volume series entitled An Immigrant’s Tale, with each volume being called individually, Song of Romania, Song of Israel, and Song of America. She had put her Romania stories in chronological order, and had brought me several photographs of her life and family in Romania to get ideas for a cover.

Fedora had spent much of her life as a concert pianist before becoming an author, and this is where things got interesting. It seems that Alice was also a semi-professional musician and I was also pretty versed in the subject. My musical background is strictly amateur, but my grandfather, Oscar, was an extremely talented violinist and I had significant exposure to classical music as a youth.

While looking through Fedora’s pictures and discussing her background for a book bio, I asked her a question.

“Forgive me for asking this, Fedora. I know that you performed professionally as a pianist, but can you give me some perspective as to what level of a musician you were?” I asked.
She reached into her bag where she had kept her photos and pulled out a photocopied page containing two pictures and a lot of writing in Russian. Even though I could not read a word of it, my mouth fell open.

KABOOM!!! Mind blown.

1958 – In 1958, at least two significant things happened. In July, I was born. Okay, maybe not so significant, but two weeks prior to that event, something bigger happened.

This was during the height of the Cold War between Communist Russia and the United States. Russia held the first quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Competition for pianists, violinists, cellists, and singers. This was the classical music equivalent of the Olympics. In an upset as significant as the 1980 US Hockey gold medal or possibly even David beating Goliath, a 23-year-old Texan named Van Cliburn won the prize for the piano competition. I know this doesn’t mean much today, but this was as much a watershed event for classical music in America as has ever taken place. Van Cliburn came home to a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan, still the only classical musician to be so honored. He was on the cover of Time Magazine and appeared on Ed Sullivan. If by chance any young people are reading this, you can google these things. They were quite a big deal at the time.

Since my grandparents were classical music fans and also wanted to inspire my brother and me, they took every opportunity to make us watch any televised performances by Van Cliburn and explained the significance. To me, he was as big as or possibly bigger than Elvis or the Beatles at the time. By now, you must be wondering why any of this this is important.

Lunch – I stutter to Fedora, “Is this what I think it is?”
Fedora tells me that a former colleague of hers went to a recent Tchaikovsky Competition and had the opportunity to see their archives. He was able to photocopy the original program from the inaugural competition. On facing pages were the picture and bio of two of the participants, Van Cliburn and Fedora.

Fedora Van Cliburn

No translation needed.

“Wait…Whaaaat? You were there?” I asked.

“Sadly, no,” said Fedora. “My family had applied to emigrate to Israel for several years. At the last minute, the communist regime decided that it would be embarrassing to allow me to represent Romania. Thankfully, shortly afterward, we were able to leave.”

“That’s even more amazing,” I said. “It means that you could have won.”

“Impossible,” said Fedora. “I was no Van Cliburn.”

“That’s my point,” I replied. “Don’t you see? Every other participant knows that they lost, that they were no Van Cliburn. You were and still are, the only one on the planet who still had a chance.”

© Copyright 2015 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 thoughts on “Wait…Whaaaaat?!

  1. What a fascinating story, Bob. You know some really interesting people and you have a wonderful flare for writing stories that you really learn something from. Way to go, Bob.

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