CHILDHOOD LESSONS, LIFE LESSONS
By Grandma Ellen
I am four years old. I stand in the door of the parlor, listening and watching as my father gives a weekly violin lesson to one of his students. By then, I had been playing the piano by ear for two years and had started to take formal piano lessons. My father had begun to play the violin when he was three years old. He was a child prodigy who gave public recitals starting at age eight, and he was destined for fame as a talented soloist.
When he is not giving violin lessons or playing in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, my dad teaches me how to roller skate. I am pretty much a natural athlete; so all he really has to do is walk by my side and hold my hand for a while, until I gain a bit of confidence. Before long, I am the best roller skater on the block, whizzing down the sidewalk at breakneck speed. (I also jump off garage roofs and climb to the top of tall trees. But that doesn’t require any instruction from him).
When I am six, my dad teaches me how to ride a full-sized two-wheel bicycle. He holds onto the handle-bars to steady me at the beginning, and pretty soon I pedal off. I don’t know how to stop, though, and so I just fall over. He encourages me to right myself and the bike, and tells me how to apply the brakes. And so off I go again. This time I dismount from the bike in a less exciting fashion. Soon, with his encouragement, I can ride the bike at lightning speed. And when I want to take it just a bit slower, I ride free-hand.
Happy days and years are spent on skates and the bike. I wear my independence proudly. But I am also my father’s little girl. He reads “Babar, the Elephant” to me, and on
Sunday morning we have a special ritual: I crawl into bed with him and snuggle up before it is time to get dressed to go to Sunday school.
My father is able to spend so much time with me because his symphony rehearsals are limited to four two-hour sessions per week and two evening concerts. And the lessons he gives don’t begin until after the school day ends.
This was not supposed to be the pattern of his life. He was meant to appear all over the world in solo recitals. But when he was fourteen, he was sent off to Manhattan, far from his home in St. Louis, to study with a famous violin pedagogue. Famous, but fierce. And tyrannical. He broke my father’s spirit. And so the young boy returned to St. Louis, knowing that he was disappointing his parents, and realizing that his dreams of a solo career were over. But he picked himself up, as he had taught me to do on the bike, borrowed a pair of long pants from one of his older brothers, and auditioned for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Never complained, never bemoaned his fate. Just played his parts the best he knew how.
Ellen Baron is a wife, mother and grandmother who has had three distinctive careers:
1) as an editor at an educational laboratory;
2) as a businesswoman who ran a private-label group at Black & Decker, and then served as Director of Marketing for a consumer electronics start-up company; and
3) as an academic administrator who was director of a post-baccalaureate business program.
Her 'Just Jobs' (as opposed to "Careers") included piano teacher and French tutor (her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis having been in French).
Now retired from both careers and jobs, Ellen serves on the Maryland State Attorney Grievance Commission, as well as the Boards of several non-profits. She has lived in England, Switzerland and Germany, as well as St. Louis, Boston, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and, now, Baltimore, MD.