Throughout the 1970s my parents and several neighbours held a progressive dinner on a Saturday night each fall. In ’72 my parents were in charge of appetizers, the McNeils handled salad, the main course was served next door at the Burkholders, and the Redshaws hosted dessert and after-dinner drinks.
It was almost midnight and the three Redshaw boys had gone to bed. My dad’s bursitis had been acting up so he went home early. My mom was in the kitchen with the women doing dishes and packing leftovers into Tupper Wear. I was downstairs in the rec room with the men. Mr. Redshaw got up from his Lay-Z-Boy and turned off the big Zenith that sat in the corner. The Leafs had just thrashed the California Golden Seals by a score of 11-0 and the men were in a back slapping mood as they prepared to leave.
As they sorted through a pile of winter coats laid out on the badminton table, Bob, the local electrician, nudged Mick, my best friend’s dad, and said, “When you see Belf (my dad), tell him a guy showed up in a Rolls and he wanted his white fur coat back.”
This was apparently the funniest thing anyone in the room had ever heard. The men doubled over in laughter for what seemed like an eternity. Mick nearly choked on his pipe. I was the only one in the room who didn’t get it. I had an idea who they were talking about but I didn’t know why this was so funny – and it bothered me.
Two weeks earlier my parents and I had gone to The O’Keefe Centre in Toronto to see a man play the piano. I really liked it. I liked the big silver car he was chauffeured onto the stage in. I liked his sparkly pants and long fur coat. I liked his gleaming black piano. I liked his candelabra. But most of all, I liked the man my mom called Liberace. He was a nice man, I thought. He made everyone happy and he played the piano way better than Miss Clendening – my Grade 3 teacher who had to start from the beginning every time she made a mistake. Liberace didn’t make mistakes and he didn’t have to start over – except at the end when he left the stage and people clapped until he came back. Three times.
I was pretty sure the neighbour men weren’t laughing at my dad so they must have been laughing at Liberace. For some reason I took it personally and I felt sad for Liberace. I told myself that if Liberace came to the Redshaw’s side door, as Bob seemed to be joking, and he came down to the rec room dragging his 20’ long fur coat, and the men didn’t notice, then I would go sit with him and maybe try to warn him that the men had been laughing at him.
The next morning I sat at the kitchen table while mom made pancakes. I was drawing a floor plan of Liberace’s Palm Springs villa based on photos from a souvenir booklet mom had bought at the O’Keefe. I had just finished working out the layout of Liberace’s bathroom when I heard my dad walking down the hall to our bathroom. Unlike the house in the book, we didn’t have a bathtub shaped like a baby grand and we certainly didn’t have a piano and candelabra in the bathroom. This was my chance to ask mom what the men were laughing at without my dad hearing.
Mom thought for a few seconds before explaining that it wasn’t a very funny joke and the men were just jealous that they couldn’t get up on stage and do something that made so many people so happy. That made perfect sense, I reasoned. Case closed. I went back to my drawing. A bay window would work better beside the piano-shaped tub, I thought.
Concert: 11/11/1972 – The O’Keefe Centre, Toronto, ON
Dinner: 11/25/1972 – Harold, Edward and Schell Streets, Stouffville, ON
NHL Game: 11/25/1972 – California Golden Seals: 0 at Toronto Maple Leafs: 11