My Huckleberry Friend

On Tuesday, Andy Williams died at the age of 84. To me, he’ll always be the handsome crooner who offered up sweet pabulum to my young, chaotic life each week in the form of the Andy Williams Show.

Yes, that’s me on the far right, the 1968 Claudine Longet lookalike.

In the sixties, he married the darling Claudine Longet. As she grew in popularity, my friends and I tried to imitate her doe-eyed looks and sweet soft voice, stopping just short of the French accent. (French was not widely spoken in Spokane, Washington.)

Moon River was Andy’s theme song. For a brief time, it was also mine.

Pupils in my third grade class were offered the opportunity to learn how to play the violin. The smarter students declined. I readily accepted. Why? I do not know. Every Saturday morning, five budding violinists from Franklin Elementary gathered with a larger group from two other elementary schools. I learned how to tune strings and apply resin to my bow. I also kind of learned how to play the thing.

We were required to practice an hour a day. To my young ears, I was a maestro. To the ears of my four siblings, I was a set of fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. They’d shout at me to stop. Defiantly, I’d continue to play in our cramped upstairs hallway, frequently begging my overburdened mother to intervene and kill them all.

By fourth grade, our violin group had mastered Farmer in the Dell, Lightly Row, and Three Blind Mice. We were deemed capable to train for the spring citywide concert. We would perform Moon River.

Each time I played that song, I envisioned standing by a river on a cloudless autumn night, the full moon reflecting on the water’s rippling surface. I fantasized that Andy was my father; he crooned that song to me each night as I fell asleep.

(A few years later, after Claudine dumped him, I imagined he could become my husband—either him or Mick Jagger. This was cause for many internal debates until I reached high school and Andy was no longer cool, but Mick had grown even cooler.)

I did not put in anything close to the hours of practice required to be prepared for the spring concert. How could I? The idiots I lived with did not appreciate orchestral music. They did everything they could to interfere with my practice sessions. I’d fight off the three younger ones by threatening to stab them with my violin bow, but was no challenge to my older brother who would eventually sock me in the arm, rendering me handicapped.

In the car on the way home from the concert, my mother said, “When the bows of the other kids’ violins went up, yours went down, and vice versa.” She chuckled.

I sat in the back seat brooding, gazing out the darkened window at the full moon, and making the bitter decision to give up the violin.

Long ago, Moon River made Andy Williams my huckleberry friend. It makes me sad that he, like so many others of that generation, is gone.

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