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Opinion: My mother made beautiful music with my dad, for her family, and for the community

A bouquet of flowers sits on the rocks near the beach in Encinitas
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

My mom recalled concerts with my dad in beautiful Severance Hall in Cleveland.

Hill is an attorney, a consultant for nonprofit organizations and philanthropists, and a community volunteer. She lives in Point Loma.

My mother met my dad in a very cinematic way, like a scene from a Jimmy Stewart movie filmed in Ohio. She was, at age 16, the piano accompanist for the Akron Men’s Chorale. My dad had a beautiful tenor voice and decided to try out for a trio, but mistakenly arrived at a rehearsal for the men’s chorale. After noticing my mother at the piano, all thought of auditioning for the other group faded.

My mom recalled concerts with my dad in beautiful Severance Hall in Cleveland. She also mentioned how, when my dad’s shoulder would brush against hers, it felt like magic sparks. They married in 1936 when she was 19 and he was 25. For their honeymoon, they drove to Niagara Falls and New York City, the farthest either had been from Ohio. My mother loved the home my dad built in 1939 in Kent, Ohio, which featured a bay window for her piano, and she taught piano and took classes at Kent State.

World War ll changed everything for everyone, and my parents realized that the future of my dad’s career was on the West Coast. He drove to Seattle and was offered a job, and when he returned, my parents agreed to make the move. Though it was thrilling to set out for a new life on the coast, it was also heartbreaking to leave behind everyone and everything (except my dear eldest brother, then age 4, and whatever essentials fit into their 1941 Hudson sedan). When I think of their brave decision to move west, I am awed by the confidence in their abilities and faith in the future, even in a world at war.

My mother read all of Zane Grey’s novels about the American West and suggested the southern route to San Diego, where they could visit college friends before driving up the coast to Seattle. Trips down dusty side roads to see Native Americans were not what the novels had described, but it was a great adventure. In Arizona, they stopped at a roadside stand for fresh orange juice — a fateful decision. My mother and brother suffered food poisoning and their recovery extended their stay in San Diego for several days.

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Their San Diego friends encouraged my dad to visit Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp. (later Convair) where thousands of workers were being hired to build B-24 Liberator bombers. While my mother and brother recovered, my dad attended a tour of the plant on Pacific Highway, which was entirely camouflaged. They were desperate for my dad’s electrical engineering skills and offered him a job at “twice whatever they are going to pay you in Seattle.”

My mother had seen neither San Diego nor Seattle and agreed that if my dad liked San Diego, that was fine with her. Many people had moved away from the coast after the Pearl Harbor attack, and they were thrilled to find a house in Point Loma with a view of the Pacific Ocean. She wrote hundreds of letters home to describe San Diego, which was filled with sailors and brimming with newcomers. Gas was soon rationed, and their first trip to another country was a drive to Tijuana where you could buy gas for the return trip. Mom was an amazing cook and baker and learned to substitute Karo syrup for sugar, which was also rationed. In the evening, she recalled being careful to close the blackout curtains before turning on a lamp.

After the war ended, the Baby Boom began and my mother had two more children — a second son and eventually a daughter — me. She made up fascinating bedtime stories and filled our home with music. Family recitals included piano and violin, but those evenings when my mother accompanied my dad singing “Because Of You” or “Roses of Picardy” or “God Is Ever Beside Me” were the very best. She became active in musical organizations, accompanied soloists and choral groups, and provided piano accompaniment for fashion shows for her many women’s groups. Though trained in classical music, as a teenager she had realized that she could play anything by ear and could easily transpose music.

She also had a wonderful sense of adventure. One time, while my brothers and I rolled down the hill in front of the Serra Museum in Presidio Park, she decided to roll down too — in her 1950s high heels and wool coat.

My mother made beautiful music with my dad, for her family, and for the community. It’s hard to realize that it has been 25 years since she passed away, but she is forever in our hearts, especially on Mother’s Day.


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