Happy Mother’s Day, Mom
If you had met my mother when she was a poised, accomplished adult, wife of a Vice-President of Borg-Warner, you’d have most likely been very surprised to learn that she had grown up riding a horse on a working ranch near Norman, Oklahoma. And possibly even more surprised to learn she’d dealt with discrimination from a very young age, since her father was the son of a member of the Choctaw tribe. In other words, he was a “half-breed Indian.”
At some point in what I laughably refer to as my adult life, I realized what an extraordinary woman had given birth to me, and I made a point of telling her how much I appreciated who she was. She married my dad the summer after her high school graduation (I realized eventually it was most likely a shotgun wedding) in the depths of the depression. I recall she took some college courses when I was in elementary school. She read constantly. She was one of the most observant people I knew, and because of that and her intelligence she remade herself as often as necessary to keep up with my dad’s rise in the corporate world. She was devoted to my father. She was the wife he needed; she kept a beautiful home; she was a gracious hostess.
She was also an incredibly kind, witty, loving, nurturing, and considerate person. When writing Eli's Heart and recalling the friendship I enjoyed with Samuel Sanders the summer I was fifteen, I also remembered the role my mother played in that relationship. We met him one spring evening near the end of my sophomore year when he performed for our Junior Music Club while visiting his sister, who lived in my home town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. His genius as a musician and pianist was apparent from the first notes he played, and everyone who was there that night was enthralled.
When he returned for a longer visit during the summer he came to our house on several occasions. As I recall, he generally arrived in time for lunch and he always requested the same thing: a grilled cheese sandwich, Coke, and Hershey’s chocolate. Mom and I were both aware of Samuel’s heart condition ─ one of the first things he told us was that he’d had an operation which took away the blue color from his lips and fingers, but that he wasn’t expected to live past the age of thirty. So we knew this extraordinary boy was dealing with two challenges, a bad heart and the burden of being a prodigy.
His activities were restricted because of his heart condition and we were confined to indoor activities. We talked, listened to baseball games on the radio, listened to recordings of classical music. He seemed to enjoy playing piano for me while I stood next to the piano and watched and listened. He played with such confidence, and the music seemed to pour out of him. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe this prodigiously gifted boy was seated at my piano, performing solo recitals for me.
He also wanted to play piano duets with me, which I found intimidating and he seemed to enjoy immensely. Sometime during his college years, he changed his career path and became an accompanist … a collaborating artist rather than a soloist. He said he found performing with other artists much more enjoyable. Considering the isolation he suffered as a child, it makes perfect sense, and he had a vibrant career, playing with many important artists. Over the years, additional surgeries, including two heart transplants, extended his life to twice what he had anticipated. He was sixty-two when he died.
Samuel seemed much younger than sixteen and I looked at him as a sweet, funny, slightly geeky little boy with this huge talent. Mom never said much, but she may have seen what I did not see ─ that he was most likely going through a late puberty and experiencing a lot of emotions I was totally unaware of. She said many nice things about him, but never suggested I should look at him differently or think of him as anything more than a good friend. Both my parents encouraged me to think for myself, to be my own person. Which meant making my own sometimes bad choices.
After that summer I saw Samuel Sanders only one other time, when he returned some months later to perform with our local symphony orchestra. He played the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto ─ brilliantly, passionately. He’d also grown up. He wasn’t a little boy any more, but a poised and appealing young man. I think my extraordinary mother saw what this extraordinary boy was going to become.
My book Eli’s Heart is not about Samuel Sanders, but it was inspired by the remarkable opportunity I had to enjoy a brief friendship with him. My mother, (Lillie) Erma McKee Moore, appears in the book as Lily Porter. And Lily definitely is my mother. I’m glad I had the foresight to preserve some of her wonderful qualities in the book.
Eli's Heart is available on Amazon, paperback and Kindle