My father was handsome. Handsomeness was at the core of his physical presence: carefully trimmed curly ginger hair over an aristocratic forehead, blue eyes, fair skin, a smile waiting in the wings of thin expressive lips, he used to be mistaken for Rudy Valee. Danny Kaye reminded me of my father and, later, Gerard Philippe. The seeming rarity of his physical type added to his mystique, so it was both nightmarish and liberating during an afternoon assembly in Governor George Clinton School, in which we were being entertained by a male chorus called the Germania Singers from the Germania Club, one of many ethnic fraternities in town, but one which, for obvious reasons, then kept a low profile, to realize that every other Germania Club chorister resembled my father.
In the evening after a hard day’s work, when other men would have been simply tired, my father became languid, which I suppose could be defined as romantically tired, and sometimes sat down at the piano, leaning over the keyboard in a meditative swoon, playing the first bars of the Moonlight Sonata over and over again. Like just about every Jewish boy of his generation, he had taken violin lessons, and had once been called a prodigy by a distant relative who knew that this would be her only visit. His old violin, not old for a violin, but old in the sense that it belonged to my father’s past and not his present, like the Moonlight Sonata and the nine slim, grey volumes of Edna St. Vincent Millay that huddled among the shiny Book-of-the-Month Club editions which filled our bookshelves, was kept behind the coats in one of our front hall closets. Occasionally he would take it out of its battered black case, sit down on the arm of one of the easy chairs and, with a cheerful melancholy, or melancholy cheerfulness, touched by the same winning theatricality with which he doodled at the Moonlight Sonata, dreamily bend his head over the strings and tenderly, if ineptly, tune it. This would be followed by a nervous, truncated performance of a passage from Dvorak’s Humoresque, after which the violin would be put back in its case and hidden behind the coats.