Friday, April 19, 2013

Pick Temple

Pick Temple, one-time local TV star, died last year and I was immediately overcome by memory.

At age 14 when I moved to Fairfax Village on the southeast edge of Washington, I took little notice of the neighbors.  I was too busy feeling sorry for myself and getting the hang of the neighborhood, the bus and streetcar system, the high school and algebra.

On one side of us lived the Davises and on the other the Haydens.  Neither couple had children so they weren't particularly interesting to me. Then the Davises left some months after we arrived and the Temples moved in.  There were Lafayette Parker (call me "Temp"), Jeanette and their four-year-old daughter, Faye. They had a red piano, a spinet really but red.

Temp was originally from Baltimore and Jeanette was from Washington.  He worked in the census bureau just up the road in Suitland.  They were pleasant young people and now it was my mother's turn to show them the ropes, bus routes, how to order either of the morning papers, the Post or the Times-Herald, where the grocery store was and how to use the community washers and dryers in the basement of the very large apartment building.

I got to know them gradually.  My father, whose name was Parker, struck up an acquaintance amused by the coincidence of two Parkers living side by side.  He and Temp had occasional cribbage games together.  Jeanette kept a very up to date, attractive, perfectly-kept house and played the Minute Waltz on the red piano.  Since the piano was on our common wall, I soon memorized it.  As I got to know them, I occasionally got to go over and pick out tunes on it.

Temp played guitar and a small ukulele and sometimes would sit in the back yard and play and sing.  I liked to sing along and learned some folk songs and a funny advertising ditty from Baltimore's Horschel Cohn department store.

I started baby-sitting in the neighborhood at the going rate of twenty cents an hour and sat for the Temples among others.  Faye sat on the stairs once and refused to mind me or to go to bed.  I was getting a taste of my own medicine as I remembered doing the very same thing.

I could also indulge in smoking illegal cigarettes (mostly cadged from the houses I sat in.)  Since Temp smoked, there was a good chance that there would be a few left around.

The Temples along with other neighbors became part of the daily life of my three and a half years in Washington.  They learned the ilf-talk we teenagers used (my name for ins was Silfally Deful.)  They watched the comings and goings of me and my friends.  

Jeanette combed my hair carefully into a bun and supervised makeup one Saturday when a friend and I decided to get really dressed up and go to the movies downtown. We saw The Informer at the Little and unfortunately my makeup got smeared from crying.  So much for sophistication!

Temp introduced me to his record collection and I particularly enjoyed the Victor Borge and Danny Kaye albums. I bought my first classical record, Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony," after listening to his copy.  He had a rare Lawrence Tibbett's takeout record when, after flubbing a note, he said goodnight.

After my graduation when my mother and I were preparing to go to Caracas, Venezuela to join my father, the Temples gave a farewell party for us and all the neighbors came.

A year or two later, the Temples had another child, a little boy.  We lost touch as I went on to Hood College and my mother settled in Pennsylvania.  I heard that Temp was recording his favorite railroad songs for the Library of Congress and was occasionally appearing on one of the smaller radio stations singing some of them.  Every once in awhile, I could tune it in on my dorm radio and say: "I knew him."

After graduation I moved back to Mount Pleasant and shared a house with friends.  I became engaged to Cliff who I had met in Venezuela and one night my parents took us to the Temples at their new house in northwest Washington.

Some of the old neighbors were there and daughter Faye, now a grown up teenager, accompanied her father on guitar.  We all sang songs and again I got to harmonize on some of the old favorites, “Wreck of the Old 99” and “On Top of Old Smoky” among them.

When I was married at my parents' home in Arlington, Temp had by then turned into Pick Temple TV star.  He had a dog, Lady, who appeared with him as he entertained local children who got to appear on the Saturday show.  He appeared at my wedding reception in full cowboy regalia on his way to the studio.  I almost didn't leave the reception because we sang a song or two together for old time's sake.  That threatened to go on forever.

When our first son was five, we sent in his name to appear on the Pick Temple show.  Cliff, standing by the door nervously folding and unfolding a piece of paper, reminded me to was time to go.  Steve, in a borrowed cowboy hat sat quietly as I drove down Connecticut Avenue to the studio carefully explaining how I knew Pick Temple from a long time ago.

After the program, from which mothers were carefully quarantined, we got to march past the great man, shake hands and receive a bag of goodies from Giant Food, the sponsor.

I said: "Hi, Pick, remember me?" 

"Oh, sure, hi!" he said brightly and moved on to the next person in line.

I was utterly chagrined, Steve and I and the borrowed cowboy hat drove home in silence.  My mother later asked if he'd had his glasses on and, when told no, said: "Well, he's blind as a bat without them."  It helped a little.

Thirty years later after he had moved the show to Philadelphia and then retired and moved on to Arizona, I met someone who had graduated from Anacostia High School ten years after I had.  He was reminiscing about Faye Temple and how he'd lost track of her.  I spoke up and said I could probably get her address.  I did find out her parents whereabouts and wrote a long note re-identifying myself and asking Faye's whereabouts.

A week or so later I got a wonderful reply full of complimentary memories of me and my high school days, amused that I'd remembered the Horschel Kohn ditty and saying yes, my mother was right.  No self respecting cowboy wore glasses and he apologized after the fact for not seeing me at the broadcast.

I sent a Christmas card that year and then read of his sudden death in the paper.  It was another nudge from mortality, but at least I can still re-read my letter from time to time.

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