On Saturday afternoon, as Doug and I crunched through the fallen leaves with the dogs to California Street, I listened to a podcast about the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. And then Kurt Andersen stopped talking, and the little iPod seemed to swell with the opening chords of Pablo Casals playing Bach's cello solo No. 1. I was instantly transported back to Duluth, winter, Sunday evening, maybe 1963, maybe 1965.
All year round, we listened to classical music in the evenings. We called it "dinner music," no matter what it was--Respighi's ancient airs and dances, Mozart's 40th symphony, it didn't matter. It was all background noise to our clattering forks and bickering chatter, and it was years before I knew that most people called this "classical music" and paid good money to sit in a darkened concert hall and hear it performed. To me, for years, it meant food.
We were not allowed to answer the phone during dinner, nor watch TV. We lit the candles, someone put dinner music on the big console hi-fi, and we all sat down together, like the family of "Downton Abbey." This does not mean that we behaved in a similarly civilized way. Sometimes, to get us to quit bickering or talking over each other, Trish would say, "Listen!" and wave her fork. "Chew in time to the music." And she'd chew elaborately, moving her jaw along with Mozart, and we would roll our eyes.
In my memory, Respighi and Mozart were midweek. Bach was for Sunday nights. Those cello solos--so rich and dark--throb with the deep, complicated feeling of Sunday. The end of the weekend; the windows of 2315 steamed up from our Sunday night baths; the snow deep outside, the icicles hanging jagged from the eaves; inside, the mitten-strewn radiators clanking, trying to put out heat. They would grow too hot to touch, but the rooms, high-ceilinged and drafty, remained cold. I pressed my fingertips against the frost on the inside of the leaky windows, melting little circles that dripped into the sill.
The house smelled of roast beef; Paul was in the kitchen, mashing the potatoes, the Mixmaster whirring, shards of yellow butter and potato flying up against the wall in his enthusiasm; Trish was stirring gravy in the bottom of the roasting pan with a metal spoon; Guv was mixing one more drink, cracking an ice cube in his bare palm with the back of the ice cream scoop.
Upstairs, Tinkerbell flitted across the black and white screen of the portable television, where the twins and Heidi were watching "The Wonderful World of Disney." (In living color! But not in our house.)
And downstairs, Pablo Casals pulled his bow across the trembling cello strings, which vibrated with hominess and sadness, comfort and despair.