Monday, August 4, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn and my parents

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel prize-winning Soviet writer whose tales of totalitarian Russia under the Iron Curtain brought him worldwide recognition and who was expelled from his country for his writings, is dead at 89.

That I even know who this man is is because of my parents, Stan and Jean.

I remember the name from when I was very, very young. I even learned to say it---"Sol-schzen-EET-sin".

The house I grew up in contained hundreds of books lined up neatly and not-so-neatly on shelves in what was known as the Library. Not pop culture books either; these were classic works of literature, books about political systems and philosophy, religion, humor and subjects which constantly expanded my young, open mind in between the Flintstones and Felix the Cat.

At no time were any of these books forced upon me; my natural curiosity led me to read "The Death Of A President", "The Communist Manifesto", "Why England Slept", "The Sea Wolf", "Greek Mythology", The Bible, "Lord Jim" and dozens of other books which are still in print dozens or in some cases hundreds of years after they were published. And, of course, works by Solzhenitsyn.

A friend from the second grade I recently reconnected with said, during our hourlong conversation, "I remember you could read the New York Times." I read it because it was made available. We three boys may have smashed, burned, hit and run over through most of our childhoods, but never once did we harm a book.

It never occured to me that other kids' houses didn't value reading, the mind, intellect.

Neither of my parents really gave a damn about making money to the extent that some adults let that pursuit drive them. Dad spent what he had, Mom saved what she earned. The development of the mind was most important, but even that concept wasn't hammered into me. The message was, "This knowledge is here, right in front of you, when and if you are ready."

I chose to be a musician first, a writer second. It is writing that has brought me the most success thus far. Thus far.

I have my parents to credit for my love of words, the ability to use them and make a good living from them.

When I brought home a Bentley several years ago, my father thought it was fun and such, but he was more impressed when I got my first full-page story about Minnie Marx in the Daily News. He cut it out and put it up on his wall.

One of the last things my father said to me before he died two years ago was, "I think you're ready for a book."

If I'm ready, it's because he and my mother prepared me for it from my earliest years by surrounding me with knowledge.

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